November 8, 2002
Periodically I become involved in situations that make me wonder why very few others, if any, ever thought of utilizing them as a plot for a novel or movie.
I sometimes felt this way about the inner workings of private country clubs, especially after I joined the board of directors and later became club president.
While driving home from board meetings, after trying to address a host of difficult issues, I’d think about how those last few hours would have made a good chapter.
Tim Southgate beat me to it with Driver, his delightful new novel based upon a troubled private country club in England.
In many respects, this book hit very close to home. Thankfully, in many other respects it didn’t.
David Crowley is a 48-year-old retired headmaster of a British secondary school who suffers from a combination of debilitating symptoms.
He’s a widower who blames himself in part for his wife’s suffering. His method of dealing with the crisis leads him to conclude he was far too selfish.
In fact, he used to be a very good golfer, but has essentially stopped playing as a form of penance.
He also has trouble expressing his emotions in conversations with his son, who nonetheless is pressing him to rejoin the human race.
His retirement from the school system was not exactly voluntary, but in the three years since accepting his pension he’s had great difficulty even considering other gainful employment. In fact, Crowley is so burned out from his old job and grief over his lost bride that he’s deeply concerned about whether the new job he accepted as Club Secretary for Branfield Park is something he can really do.
A Club Secretary is the British equivalent of a country club general manager, as understood in the United States. The Committee (board of directors) for the club is headed by a Club Captain, the equivalent of the American club president.
Other than the differences in nomenclature, however, anyone with experience with non-profit organizations and their governance, especially in the country club context, will easily recognize the common elements that make this book so interesting and fun.
For example, the other leading characters are nicely realistic and well-drawn.
The Club Captain is well-meaning, but he knows that he must temper his own interest in reform with the knowledge that he has to convince the rest of the membership to agree with him.
Brigadier Henry Tufneil, a retired officer, has a long family history with the club and a keen interest in continuing his unusually extensive control over club affairs.
Kathryn Earnshaw, the most influential female member of the Committee, is strong-willed, a skilled golfer, and an attractive woman, but with no apparent interest in romance.
Mark Essam is a local banker with a direct knowledge of Branfield Park’s financial problems, but with a member’s interest in trying to help Crowley figure out a way to keep the Club from going under before the bank’s deadline for improvement.
Toby Kelham is a very wealthy member, whose land holdings include property adjacent to Branfield. He’s somewhat prickly and overbearing, a man accustomed to using his power for his personal benefit. Crowley soon understands that this is a Committee member who bears watching closely.
Crowley’s mission is to find a way to restore the Club’s financial condition, while not losing sight of its status as a real golfing gem.
Others don’t quite share his goal, however, and that’s where the mystery lies. It also forms the crux of the novel’s action.
Crowley enlists the aid of the club staff, some of the Club members, and others in his quest to revive the Club. Along the way, he rediscovers his own interest in professionalism, personal development, golf, and even an unexpected romance.
The parallel track of improvements and reforms for Branfield Park and its manager make for an extremely enjoyable afternoon or two of reading.