“The Auld Sod” by Dave Edson
by Jim Pasero
When a banker asks you to read a book he’s written, your first reaction has got to be …
uh oh, this could be pretty boring.
And worse, when that banker happens to be the president of a bank and his book is a
novel … egads.
But, once in awhile there’s a banker who can write. Dave Edson, president of Umpqua
Bank and author of “The Auld Sod,” is that banker. His novel is more than just a golf
novel — it’s part golf, part travel log, and part history of the British Isles. And Edson
weaves the pieces together in a very readable way.
But back to the banker.
In between Edson’s retirement as president of Idaho’s Bank of America in 2000 and his
current job as president of Umpqua Bank, this Nebraska native and his wife made a two-
month trip of a lifetime to golf’s home, the British Isles. During those eight weeks, Edson
kept a journal of the sights, sounds, characters, and moral tales he found in his
pilgrimage. The journal would be the basis of his novel.
Once home, Edson, who minored in English literature in college and lists his favorite
authors and poets as James, Thackeray, Yeats, Hemingway, and even Jane Austen,
believed he’d found the rudiments of a novel, where life’s passions and betrayals are
played out against the romance and backdrop of competitive amateur golf, as it was
played in the 1920s and early ’30s. In Edson’s romantic tale, life is brutal and golf is its
Edson is not alone in his belief that golf is this civilizing force. Arnold Palmer told
BrainstormNW in May 2005, “It would be nice with all the problems and conflicts
throughout the world to bring golf into those countries having these problems. Iraq,
Arabia and Pakistan are now interested in golf. The more golf gets started in these places,
the more influence golf will have on their political leaders. We can have our conflicts on
the golf course. Sure you can say introducing golf into conflict areas is just scratching the
surface, but scratching the surface is where you have to start.”
Edson’s novel is told mostly through the memories of three friends and competitors:
Angus Mackenzie, a Scotsman; Collier Ames, an Englishman; and Mick Callahan, a
citizen of Northern Ireland. The three travel by train across Ulster, across the Republic of
Ireland to Lahinch to attend the funeral of their Irish friend, Riley O’Neill.
By the time of O’Neill’s funeral in 1975, the four share strong bonds and have discovered
an even deeper relationship. But that’s not the way their story starts in 1921. When Irish-tempered Riley O’Neill is defeated on the 40th hole of the British Isles Cup by Collier
Ames, he reacts to the Englishman’s incessant political taunts:
Standing in the center of the fourth green, the impetuous little Irishman became airborne
to compensate for his eight inch height disadvantage and landed a sweeping right hook to
Ames’ jaw, crumpling him to his knees like a heron whose spindly legs had failed. He was
poised to lay Ames out with a left cross, when Sir Thomas Forgan raced onto the green
and intercepted Riley’s punch mid-flight. By the time Angus reached his side, Riley was
being unceremoniously ushered from the grounds.
Score one for the Fenns over the Prods.
American golf legend Bobby Jones makes a brief appearance in a match against O’Neill.
Throughout the 1920s, O’Neill and Ames compete in amateur golf, while O’Neill and
Mackenzie fight for the novel’s love interest, London’s Sarah Shiells. Woven through
both conflicts and driving both plots is O’Neill’s involvement with the IRA. But O’Neill
mellows with age, which allows the final plot resolution, much in the way Northern
Ireland and the British government eventually reconcile with the Republic of Ireland.
Plot construction is the great challenge of first novels — how to keep the plot moving so
readers stay engaged. Edson’s mathematical mind may have helped because he divides
his book into four sections named after four Old Tom Morris designed courses:
Muirfield, St. Andrews, Royal County Down, and Lahinch. Each of the four sections hold
nine chapters — 36 in all, precisely the number of holes O’Neill and Ames play in their
epic British Isle Cup matches.
Finding out that your banker can also pen a pleasurable story is something like
discovering an overlooked savings account, with compounded interest.
BrainstormNW - August 2007