Tom Coyne may disagree, but that's really what he got to do for himself as he trekked around Ireland, playing golf all the way and getting to know the land of his forebears:for a time, he got to be Chester A. Riley. Even though he got lonely, had sore feet, spent more time underneath pouring rain than he'd like, spending four months playing golf in Ireland can't be described anything but life lived well. And I would bet anyone who has read 'A Course Called Ireland' would agree -- and maybe looked out of their office window, wishing they could have an adventure like Coyne's. Sore feet and drenched clothes would be a small price to pay for getting to explore a special part of the world and getting to play a lifetime's worth of great golf courses.
You may remember Coyne as the guy who took a year to see if he could become a PGA caliber player if he used the same training techniques, regimens and teachers as the guys who make a high living playing the game. In the end, he fell a little short, but reading Coyne's journey in his book "Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play With The Pros" was a delight for those of us who have harbored that particular fantasy. Difference is, Coyne gave it his shot, and wrote a great book in the process. And while he may not have sharpened his skills sufficiently to be the next Tiger Woods, he did sharpen his pencil and become the next golf-writing version of George Plimpton. Plimpton wrote one of the most literate and funny books on the 1960's era of golf, "The Bogey Man" and "A Course Called Ireland" approaches that level of writing. Coyne's writing skills are also reminiscent of a young Tom Wolfe in his groundbreaking "The Last American Hero." That's pretty heady company for a writer, and that's where Coyne belongs.
Here's the premise of "A Course Called Ireland:" Coyne spent sixteen weeks trekking his way around the coastline of Ireland, playing roughly sixty golf courses, playinh over nine hundred holes and covering more than one thousand miles. On foot. He said that in Ireland, you walk golf courses, and since he considered his trek 'a round' of the linksland courses of Ireland, he'd walk too. That's a lot of walking. His golfing itinerary included the famous resort courses and also the unknown local nine-holers where sheep and barb-wired pastures marked the edges of the fairways. Not being an experienced hiker he discovered a lot along the way about the Irish, things not covered in the guidebooks and he also discovered a lot about himself he never knew before. Reading through "A Course Called Ireland" it seemed like Coyne had one helluva time along the way -- in both senses of the the word. In that sense, you come away from Coyne's book with a feeling that he was honest about travel writing in a way not seen since Paul Theroux.
Coyne visited places I had never heard of, for example the Cruit Island Golf Club (click link for photo), in County Donegal -- and I have an Irish stepmother from Dublin. He described Cruit Island as a hidden gem, and looking over their web site, you get that exact feeling: a special golf course off of the beaten tourist track that's so authentic that they don't have a fancy web site for the curious...it looks like a place where a visitor is more than welcome but one that is designed for the members. I like that. As nice as Pebble Beach is in California, a trip there leaves one feeling a bit...overdone. Coyne didn't get that experience at Cruit Island and I suspect that no one else would either. That's golf the way it's meant to be, and something that American golf needs to return to if it wants to grow the game here.
Another thing that Coyne comes back to repeatedly is the uniquely Irish thing called "the craic." Pronounced like "crack," the craic is a Gaelic work describing something akin to "fun, with enjoyable company." That's my stepmother's best definition of the word, but she says that the craic is much more than that, yet somehow even simpler than the definition. That's always intrigued me, and when Coyne writes about it many times in the pages of 'A Course Called Ireland' it intrigues me even more. Coyne makes me want to have a craic or two of my own, and the only place you can truly have one is on the Emerald Isle. Perhaps that's why a trip overseas to visit is now on the forefront of our 2010 vacation thinking.
(pictured: Waterville Golf Club, one of Coyne's Irish desinations. Photo: George P. Burdell, via Flickr)
In summary, "A Course Called Ireland" will make you laugh, feel sad, feel sorry for Coyne, feel jealous of him and also may have you in front of a computer checking out the prices for flights and hotels for your own Irish adventure. For summertime reading, I can't recommend it enough. No matter where you are on this old Earth, reading it will be a craic of a good time.
You can read an excerpt here.
To purchase "A Course Called Ireland", click the photo of the book, or visit your local bookseller.
Photo of Tom Coyne, above, courtesy of the author.