Fast and furious: Author’s tale of a raucous race across Scotland

ST ANDREWS, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 18: The par four 17th hole 'The Road Hole' of the Old Course at St Andrews taken from the Old Course Hotel on April 18, 2017 in St Andrews, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Fast and furious: Author’s tale of a raucous race across Scotland

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Fast and furious: Author’s tale of a raucous race across Scotland

Tom Coyne violated Kaufmann’s First Rule of Travel. Flagrantly.

When friends and acquaintances ask my advice before taking an overseas golf trip, usually to Scotland or Ireland, I always say the same thing: Don’t overbook. Don’t spend half your days in a car or a van, racing to make the second (or third) tee time of the day. Take a walk through the charming towns or along the beaches, visit the pubs, talk to the locals, collect some experiences and memories that you can share with friends and family when you return home.

Coyne, by contrast, displayed utter contempt for Kaufmann’s First Rule of Travel.

In the process of writing “A Course Called Scotland,” Coyne shoehorned 107 rounds into a 56-day trip around Scotland and parts of England and Wales. One particularly egregious violation of KFRT came early in the trip, when Coyne played 36 holes in England, then drove six hours to Wales’ north coast to play 54 holes the next day.

Despite flaunting my sensible travel protocol, I’m going to cut Coyne some slack, not unlike the kindly Aberdeen policewoman who let him skate when he was speeding to the next course on his stacked itinerary. I’m doing so for two reasons. First, Coyne plainly has an obsessive personality – obsession, in fact, is a theme of the book – and golf is far healthier than his previous dependency on alcohol.

"A Course Called Scotland"

“A Course Called Scotland”

“This quest was a dry one, but who knew how sober it was,” Coyne wrote during a chapter describing his passage through Inverness. “There was addiction all over it; I was still a chaser, still unsettled. I was grateful that the things I was chasing of late weren’t necessarily going to kill me, and hoped it would remain that way until I figured out how to stand still.”

Second, the upshot of what Coyne calls the “world’s longest practice round” – the trip was an extended prelude to a 2015 British Open qualifier – is a fast-moving, insightful, often funny travelogue encompassing the width of much of the British Isles, leading most memorably to some far-flung adventures in the Outer Hebrides.

(I will, however, share this: When I ran into Coyne at the PGA Merchandise Show in January and he told me that he had played 107 rounds in 56 days, I think I politely mouthed something along the lines of “Oh, that sounds amazing.” In truth, I was thinking: Dear God, that sounds dreadful.)

One of the reasons “A Course Called Scotland” works so well is because Coyne extended an offhanded invitation to listeners of a radio show to join him in Scotland. In short order, he began receiving emails from strangers offering to join him at St. Andrews and Skye, at Gullane and Golspie, at Aberdeen and Arran. The eclectic cast of characters who pop up throughout the story underscore the deep connections forged through travel.

When one of those strangers ­– Penn, a gregarious Georgian – finds Coyne in Durness, in remote northwest Scotland, he hugs him like an old frat buddy. Then he drops a bombshell on the author. Penn tells Coyne that all of these “strangers” had formed their own online support group of sorts, intent on pushing Coyne toward his finish line so he could tell his story.

“I just want you to love the moment,” Penn says. “Enjoy it. I’m so excited for you. Everybody is. All of us.”

Coyne, a lone wolf by nature, is stunned to learn that there is an “us” – that people who didn’t know him were invested in his journey. “But sitting across from Penn and listening to him give a damn, a proper adult who could give without worry, I thought for a moment that maybe it wasn’t the courses that were meant to dispense the epiphanies but the partners,” he writes.

Those bonds might seem ephemeral in concept, particularly when forged via email, but travel makes them real, powerful and durable. That might be one of the most important lessons Coyne passes on to his readers. Three years removed from the trip, Coyne noted that these characters remain a close-knit group and gathered recently in Philadelphia, the author’s hometown, to celebrate the book launch.

“So far the most satisfying thing has been these amazing friendships,” Coyne told me. “It’s just a really broad, random group of people who have become best friends. Golf does that. I think travel does that as well. Travel really binds people, living on the road with somebody. You can’t pretend or hold up any pretenses of who you might be. Your real self is revealed, and you become really comfortable with these people.” Gwk

A Course Called Scotland

By Tom Coyne
Simon & Schuster
Available July 3; $27 hardcover

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