23 The Lang Way Round Christian Hafer Scotland

The Game Keeps Spinning

A grandmother's lessons on and off the course

Shortly after my grandmother Helen died, my mum gave me a small box of golf paraphernalia that my grandmother had kept for 60 years. Within were an old, reusable scorecard; a faded Royal & Ancient rule book; a handful of vintage balls still shop-wrapped in crinkled black cellophane; and a 1957 membership card to Hazlehead Golf Club, one of Aberdeen’s city council courses. 

She purchased the last of these with her husband, Spence, shortly after their wedding. Doubtless the pair were anticipating years of enjoyment upon the wooded fairways of Hazlehead. However, life, like golf, can throw us unexpected bad runs of the ball. Less than a year later, Spence died of an undiagnosed kidney condition. He was in his late 30s. My mum was 3 and Grandma was still pregnant with my aunt. 

Grandma didn’t speak of my granddad much. My mum and aunt suspect there was just too much pain. But Grandma persisted—with life, and with golf. 

She introduced me to the game as a boy on the local putting green at Pitstruan Place. The 18-hole green formed an inverted L-shape, bordered by gray concrete tennis courts and grayer granite tenements. The first hole sat elevated above the courts, separated by an iron mesh fence. The routing then turned downhill, with the rusted red-metal pin sticking out of the third hole just short of a rhododendron bush.

A few years later, she took me to the next level: the pitch-and-putt at Hazlehead. There I first felt the joy of the pitching wedge—kicking the turf out from under the ball, sending it skyward, a momentary release from its earthly origin. 

Through Grandma’s encouragement, I learned that golf is a conversation with the land. Fairway contours throw the ball away from the target, while winds on a seaside links mercilessly refashion a ball’s flight. Morning dew slows the green while a dry spell can compact it into a  speedway.

Soon I graduated to playing with friends on Hazlehead’s larger courses. The No. 1 course here was designed by Dr. Alister MacKenzie, and while it doesn’t share the reputation of some of his more famed layouts, its towering conifers and views across the Granite City over the North Sea will always be my home of golf. 

In 2019, the family headed to the Hazlehead park café, across the car park from the golf course, for Grandma’s funeral wake. It was a tea-and-cake affair, which Grandma would have wanted given her barely disguised contempt for the demon drink. I thought of her and our time around Hazlehead. Just outside the café, there is a pebbled sculpture of Robert the Bruce and the Spider. 

I thought of Grandma regaling me with the Scottish folk tale of Bruce as a child, about how he had been inspired by the spider’s persistence in spinning its web. I thought about walks with her through Pitstruan, the Hazlehead pitch-and-putt and the 18-hole course just across the road. I thought about my grandma, and I thought about golf.  

Dr. Scott Lavery works as a lecturer and research fellow at the University of Sheffield in Sheffield, U.K. He’s been a Broken Tee Society member since 2022.