Old Man Par: Given the number of great courses you played during your round of Ireland’s linkslands, it’s probably hard for you to name an absolute single favorite…but I am sure you have a few that would make the final cut. If someone were to head over for a once-in-a-lifetime trip and could only play a handful of rounds, which tracks would you recommend as not-to-be missed?
Tom Coyne: It's tough to narrow down the choices, but if I was heading back and had a helicopter and I could travel to any golf course in a half hour's time, I'd start with Carne in Belmullet, hope over to Enniscrone, head down to Old Head in Kinsale, stop off at the European Club, jump up to Portstewart for the front nine, head down to Tralee for the back nine, and finish up at Ballybunion, playing the old course more than once. I could add a dozen courses to this list, and this itinerary makes zero sense if you're traveling by car (or by foot, as in my case), but this list would give you access to the absolute joy and madness of Irish links golf. If you're trying to plan a reasonable trip and you've never done Ireland before and might not do it again, I'd go Old Head, Waterville, Dooks, Tralee, BallyB, Doonbeg, Lahinch, Enniscrone, and Carne, sticking to the south and west of Ireland. There's incredible golf t o be found elsewhere in Ireland, but these courses are all stunners, the best of the best, you couldn't possibly leave Ireland feeling cheated with that itinerary.Old Man Par: Your praise for Pat Ruddy’s European Club in County Wicklow was effusive – you seemed to really hit it off with Mr. Ruddy not only as a course designer but also as an interesting man. Have you kept in touch with him since you were there on your walkabout?
Tom Coyne: I haven't kept in touch with Mr. Ruddy since the trip, but I hope to run into him on a future trip to Ireland. He's an accomplished writer in his own right, so we'll have to see what he thinks about how I've written about his country and his golf course. It's interesting to hear the Irish react to the book -- all positive so far, but I wonder what some will think about this American's opinions, thoughts, impressions about life in Ireland.Old Man Par: You mention in “A Course Called Ireland” that the social aspects of golf are (my words) more democratic, at least in the local non-resort courses like Cruit Island. That seems a lot different than here in the US, where golf seems to be a vehicle for business and social status more than the game itself. What in your opinion could the USGA do to help grow the American game at all levels, so that it more closely resembled the Irish and Scottish ideals?
Tom Coyne: I think golf as I experienced it in Ireland is an absolute ideal arrangement that we should strive to imitate here at home, but practically speaking, probably never will. Golf courses in Ireland are a part of the community. For the most part, they're not about status or class or wealth -- they're a place to go play a game when the sun is shining, or to go walk your dog if you're not interested in golf (or to even graze your heard as I found in some places). Memberships are not prohibitively expensive, kids and women have run of the course same as everybody else--if you want to play, grab your clubs and have at it. What a simple idea that completely got lost in the landscape of American golf. I'm speaking from the frustration of living in a part of the world (Philadelphia) with some of the best golf in the planet, but short of winning the lottery or Warner Bros buying the rights to A Course Called Ireland, I'm not going to have access to any of it, because golf here is a members only experience. There's a dearth of decent public golf here, and who knows how one changes that. You go to Ireland, you can play any course you would like, provided you've got some room left on the Amex. I'm stuck playing six hour rounds on cow pastures, while tee boxes in private golf America sit empty. But it's so fundamental to the way the game is organized here in America that I don't think it will ever change, nor do I sense any interest from the powers that be to do so. Consider the fact that in order to have an official handicap, the USGA has decreed that you have to be a member of a golf club. They might have the same rules in Ireland, but when everybody in town is a member anyway, it seems a less exclusive sort of thing.Old Man Par: Any plans for a new golf book? Care to give us a peek as to what you have in mind?
Tom Coyne: I told my wife I was going to do Scotland on a motorcycle, golf clubs in my sidecar, and she threatened divorce. I'm tinkering with some new ideas, potentially less golfy this time, but you never know. The reception to this book has been strong from golfers and non-golfers alike, so I'm a bit up in the air about which direction I might go. That it won't involve any walking, or any Ireland, are about the only two guarantees I can make.Thanks again to Tom Coyne for taking to time to answer my questions, and also for his wonderful golf books. "A Walk Called Ireland" is definitely a book that most any golfer and daydreamer will enjoy, and one the I recommend that you add to your bookshelf sooner rather than later. It is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.