Q&A: 'A Course Called Scotland' author Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne Courtesy Kevin Kirk, Recounter Photography

Q&A: 'A Course Called Scotland' author Tom Coyne

Digital Edition

Q&A: 'A Course Called Scotland' author Tom Coyne

Tom Coyne is the author of “A Course Called Ireland,” the story of his four-month walk around the Emerald Isle. He also wrote “Paper Tiger,” which documented his effort to secure a PGA Tour card, and the novel “A Gentleman’s Game,” which was adapted for film.

Coyne, an associate professor of English at St. Joseph’s University, talked with Golfweek about his new book, “A Course Called Scotland,” which chronicled a 56-day, 107-round journey across the British Isles.

Q: How did the trip change you?

A: The trip changed me in terms of my expectations of what I thought I could do. In planning the trip, I was very ambitious because I felt that at some point along the way, it was going to overwhelm me and I was going to say, “I’ve got enough. I get it. Scotland, thank you. I’m going to write a story now.” It changed me in terms of what I feel like I now can do. I feel like I can do anything. That’s definitely given me a sense of peace and confidence that I probably didn’t have before doing the trip. I can look back at this map (of Scotland) that’s in the book and say, “I did that.” That’s pretty cool.
With (“A Course Called Ireland”), I walked all the way, and that was four months, and that was a feat that definitely inspired some confidence. But my life had changed a lot between Ireland and Scotland, and those are things readers will learn about – how I didn’t play golf anymore, how I was in poor health, to say the least, and didn’t think I would ever golf much anymore, and certainly didn’t think I would golf and travel anymore. So to go and play all of Scotland as the new person I am today has given me a lot of hope and confidence. …

Pretty early in the book, I explain that I don’t drink anymore. It’s not a book where that theme of sobriety overtakes the story. That wasn’t my intention. But in being honest about what the trip represented to me, where I was and where I had come from, I couldn’t be totally honest about that journey unless I talked about where I’d been. And I’d been in some really dark places. The book, first and foremost, is funny and light-hearted, so I did not delve into war stories and the darkness, but I did touch on how life has changed.

Q: Did you find the trip to be therapeutic?

A: Absolutely. Getting through a challenge is its own sort of therapy. Doing the things you’re afraid of is a good way to get more comfortable with yourself and make yourself feel better. Traveling Scotland, the land of whiskey and ale, and being alone for most of it, was certainly a challenge. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go. Being able to not just get through it, but thrive and enjoy it and be present – the fact that I don’t rely on alcohol anymore has sort of made me present – places and people and experiences and golf and all that snuck up on me and made me feel a keen sense of place and how grateful I was to be there. When I was drinking, those moments were a lot more elusive.

Q: Do you ever look back on the trip and wish you had more time available to do things other than golf?

A: No. I probably wish I had a little more time to rest. In that the book is about my quest to learn the secret of golf and Open qualify, my game would have been better served with just a little more downtime. Golf-wise, my scores and ball-striking peaked around the middle of the trip, but I could have built in a little more rest. I was down 38 pounds at the end and was like a walking, golfing zombie. Obsession is one of the themes of the book. I really thrive in obsessive states of thinking and being, and getting off the golf course, I just loved the fact that I was going back out first thing in the morning because I could rectify the bogeys, I could fix the three-putts, I could hit the fairways that I missed. … So, no, I wouldn’t have played less. I probably would have played more.

Q: You say in the book that you don’t like to compare Scotland and Ireland, but inevitably golfers debate that. So how would you compare them?

A: They are different trips. If you want to just have fun and laugh for eight days straight and hit the pubs, Ireland is tough to beat. If you want the visual, stunning drama and jaw-dropping vistas, Ireland has all of that. It’s tough to top an Irish trip for the craic (e.g., good conversation), as they say. But if you want to golf your brains out and you’re into golf history and you’re interested in course design and you’re a bucket-list golfer who wants to visit the places where the game started, Scotland can’t be beaten. The key differences are, first, the distances that you have to travel. If you want to play the best of Ireland, get ready for the bus. Now, you can camp out at St. Andrews for a week and play 20 links courses and not drive more than 45 minutes. And you can do the same thing at North Berwick, and at Nairn, and at Prestwick.
Then there’s the difference in the courses. A lot of Irish links – the dunes of Enniscrone, the quirkiness of Lahinch – you don’t always find that in Scotland, where some of the links are subdued, like the Old Course, and you have to understand the nuances that make them great. You have to understand angles and things to understand their genius, whereas you can play the back nine at Tralee and think, “This is insane.” You don’t need a fine lens to see what makes that special, and I think sometimes at Scottish courses you do.
The people in both countries are awesome. Some of the Scottish courses can feel more British – places like Muirfield and Troon – whereas in Ireland, even at Royal Dublin, the welcome you get is unbelievable. There’s no snootiness at all.

Q: You’ve done “A Course Called Ireland” and “A Course Called Scotland.” Will you keep going?

A: I honestly thought if I did another “A Course Called. . .” travel story, the biggest gaping hole in my travel résumé is America. I can tell you everything about golf in Scotland, Ireland, some of England and Wales. But I have never played golf in Wisconsin. I’ve never played golf in Michigan. I’ve never played Pebble Beach. I’m going to Bandon Dunes in two weeks. So I have a lot of America to explore. Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home