My Scottish Grandfather

By Tom Abts



Sometimes it takes awhile to understand the influences in our lives. I’m not a young man, and I’m finally realizing what an influence my Scottish grandfather had on my life.

He’s probably why I play golf.

I didn’t understand golf until I went to college. I didn’t understand a lot of things until I went to college. Not that I learned so much in classes. I had to learn more about reality because I was away from home. College is a pretty sheltered existence, but not as sheltered as living at home.

My grandfather had no patience for la-la-land. He knew that life was hard and that you had to face it head on… pretending things are not what they are only leads to bigger problems.

No wonder he loved golf. Talk about a reality check. You can’t fake your way around the golf course.

He was from South Dakota, though he went to Wisconsin for college and law school. But he came back to South Dakota – he was as comfortable on the farm as he was in court. He was almost a cliche of his generation – in a good way. Was too young for World War I, but served in WWII though he was in his forties. He relished work and responsibility.

His law office was downtown. He walked to work every day until he died at 87. And he usually walked home for lunch with my grandmother. She was a tough Norwegian. These were strong people. They’d been through rough times, but they never talked about it. They couldn’t imagine being a victim. You made the best of things and kept your dignity.

Their town had a little 9 hole golf course that they called “St. Andrews.” I knew so little about golf that I thought St. Andrews was its real name. My grandmother loved to needlepoint though she had the typical crippled, arthritic hands of many Norwegians. But, she proudly held the course record for fewest putts, which she attributed to her needlepointing. When I took up golf and complained about my putting, she would recommend needlepointing… which my brothers found hilarious.

My grandfather was a decent golfer – pretty consistently shot in the 80s… even in his late seventies when I took up the game. He was pleased that I got serious about golf. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to play golf as a boy. We didn’t really understand each other. He thought I was a goofy city kid and I thought he was an out-of-touch old guy. I always tried to argue with him and couldn’t get anywhere. He wouldn’t let me start from a faulty premise or take huge leaps of logic. His insistence on reality drove me crazy.

However, when I took up golf, and got serious about it, I started to understand the man. Golf wouldn’t let me live in la-la-land either. Getting good at golf takes a lot of baby steps. A lot. There is no magic wand. As Hogan said, you have to dig it out of the dirt.

My grandfather dug it out of the dirt every day. And he got good at life – step-by-step.

He could be fun too. He used to take me out into the country and drive fast… really fast. Sometimes I’d sit on his lap and hold the steering wheel (obviously he was still steering) and I thought I was steering. Now I get it. He wanted me to learn how to steer my life.

Golf is a great tool to learn how to take control of your life. All of his lessons of hard work, logic, and responsibility only made sense to me when I got into golf.

I hope he knows.