Power Players – A “Golf Profile” Series AUTHOR: Tom Coyne
By E. Nolan
There’s a tier system to the term “dream job.” Traveling the globe on someone else’s dime, staying at 5-star resorts, dining at 5-star restaurants and playing the world’s best golf courses for free… that’s a dream job. But someone with that job might have a different idyllic position… perhaps of being an award-winning author with a multi-book contract, preparing for his next great adventure story. Those two dream jobs collided last summer in Ireland, on the fairways of Golf Digest’s #1 ranked global course, Royal County Down, when I met the man, Tom Coyne, where his legend essentially began.
Tom wrote three of my favorite golf books, “Paper Tiger,” “A Course Called Ireland” and his newest release, “A Course Called Scotland.” He is everything I’ve ever wanted to be as a writer – hard working, genuine and blessed with increasingly valuable opportunities. Whether you’ve heard his name or not, know this… Tom is working on a new book – “A Course Called America” – and will be touring Minnesota with my son and I for about 10 days this summer. On the tightest and craziest of schedules (trying to golf in all 50 states) he can’t go everywhere I would like him to, but he’ll visit at least a dozen of the state’s greatest “must plays” with many of his experiences published in print, in a book certain to be another bestseller, for all the world to read.
So… if you see a tall redhead strolling our fairways this July, with a warm smile and a smooth swing, give him your best Minnesota Nice (in case it’s Tom) and try not to hit him.
“A Course Called Ireland” was published in 2009. Tom had taken golf trips to Ireland with his dad since he was 14, well before Ireland was viewed as a “golf destination.” Twenty years later as he studied a golf map of Ireland, the country started to look like one giant course. He thought, “What if I tried to play the whole thing? Play Ireland as one giant golf course?” And he was off… walking. You don’t take golf carts in Ireland. Tom walked the whole way – 1,100 miles – playing 60+ courses in total, from classics to hidden gems like Cruit Island and Mulranny. Tom advises anyone considering an Ireland golf trip, “Play Carne, Enniscrone, Lahinch, Tralee and Old Head for a golf experience you’ve never had before.”
“A Course Called Scotland” was published in 2018. Tom played 100+ courses in writing that book – in only 57 days. He raves about a largely unknown gem called Askernish, out on the western islands. “They literally lost this Old Tom masterpiece,” Tom says, “then found it in recent years and have left it as discovered, so it’s like playing in a time capsule.” Why go to Scotland? “It is the Home of Golf. Genuine golf lovers have to see and experience St. Andrews.” The five must plays I dug out of him (out of the 60+ he mentioned): Cruden Bay, Prestwick, North Berwick, Brora, and (of course) the Old Course.
His next and most ambitious project is “A Course Called America.” Why America next? “Plenty of countries were considered for the next book – New Zealand, Australia, Canada – and I might get to them someday, but there’s a huge hole in my golfing resume. I know golf in Scotland and Ireland FAR better than golf in my own country. I need to fix that.” Tom hopes to get to know each state, and the country as a whole, better this year – a country where headlines imply we are irreparably divided, but on the golf course, he believes we’re not that different. “I hope to find that the America of my childhood and imagination still exists.”
Tom is married with kids. I asked him about that – about “walking out on his family” over and over to write these books. “I hate being away from my kids at this age, but my family is incredibly supportive – I obviously could not do this if they weren’t. These adventures have afforded us some pretty amazing experiences around the world – the girls are incredibly well traveled for their ages. And my wife, St. Allyson, is accustomed to my nonsense. She knows these obsessive adventures are part of who I am, what I do, that it’s how I’m wired.”
The planning for the “America” book had to be insane. With hundreds of people telling him where he should play in every state, I asked about his “selection process.”
“My strategy for plotting the itinerary was essentially to cover every state and visit every course to host a U.S. Open – 50 or so main points to build the rest of the trip around. Ultimately, I want to focus on accessible golf, and I want to meet golfers beyond the country club set; locals and dewsweepers, etc. I’m looking for the best stories, best characters, best surprises and best adventures. My list is over 300 strong and I need to whittle that down A LOT to wrap by the end of 2019.”
I gave Tom a list of 24 “must play” courses in Minnesota. (And that’s just Minnesota.) He told me I had to cut that in half. HOW? He laughs. “I don’t know. I really don’t. I’ll cover as many as I can.” (Challenge accepted.)
We have great general managers, golf professionals and generous members in Minnesota who will be happy to host him, feed him and show how great our golf truly is. Minnesota is a lot like Ireland and Scotland in that way. VERY welcoming. But that isn’t the case everywhere in the U.S. Some places think they’re too good for the common golfer. There will be some cold shoulders and slammed doors. Tom knows that. “One reason I want to write this book is to highlight the difference between the U.K. model of visitor-friendly play at member clubs, versus our gated country club approach. You can play any course over there with a credit card and a handicap. I never had to write about rejection over there. But when the door gets slammed over here – as it will occasionally – that just becomes part of the story. The story needs its negatives; it can’t all be smooth. So when the no’s come, that’s good material… a chance to remind that it’s pretty absurd to consider a course great merely because it’s tough to get on. That’s just dumb, and it’s the absolute opposite of what they’re doing in the Home of Golf.”
What does he do about rainouts or injuries? “Setbacks are part of the story. The universe is in control of this itinerary more than I am, no matter how hard I try to wrestle it into submission. But if the course is open, you know me… no matter the weather, I’ll be out there.” (Our hurricane round at Royal County Down is proof enough for me.)
There are some radical adventures in the pages of his Ireland and Scotland books. I was curious how “honest” he was in his books. “I pretty much tell the stories as they happened – with setting, detail and context. Good nonfiction books read like novels because they are described and recreated artfully.” Offensive material and all? “Like it or not, that content makes for a better story and honestly, the crazier the circumstances, the better the story. In a few rare instances – where someone got way too drunk, or said things that were great for the story, but would embarrass them or their family – I have provided anonymity.”
This book figures to be “The American Encyclopedia of Golf Courses” when it’s done, with every course anyone should ever want to play contained in its pages. Seems like that’ll take 10 years to write. “Ha – it better not take 10 years!” Tom says. “Plan is to have the writing finished in 2020, and the book out in 2021.”
Sounds like a pretty unbelievable life! “I won’t be caught complaining about my life and career – I get to live people’s dreams. But it isn’t all rainbows and ice cream. Travel is wonderful, but people might not understand the isolation and tremendous self-doubt that comes with being a writer. They say you’re only as good as your last book or story, which is scary… but also one hell of a motivator.”
So, if “A Course Called America” is his best book ever, that will likely be entirely because of Minnesota. (That’s what I took from the interview.) I asked him, “Where to next?” He laughs and says, “You tell me.” (Oh… don’t get ME started.)