Tom Coyne somehow persuaded his wife that it would be a good idea for him to take four months off and go to Ireland to play golf -- walking from course to course. The result is a delightful and fun book.
Three years ago, golf writer and Philadelphia professor Tom Coyne made a proposal to his wife over a deliberately persuasive dinner -- a proposal that many grown men may dream, but few would dare to ask.
The suggestion: that he embark alone, with golf clubs, upon an overseas pilgrimage to play some of the game's greatest seaside courses. Coyne proposed a four-month, 1,110-plus-mile quest in which he intended to walk all of Ireland -- from Kilkee to County Kerry, the long way around -- and prove that the little island ringed by dramatic dunes is really just one big golf course.
He also had a plausible excuse intended to make the journey seem like a fine idea: He was sure there was a book in it somewhere.
And there was. The result is "A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint and the Next Tee" (Gotham, 320 pages, $26) -- part history lesson, part travelogue, part memoir.
It's also an exploration through 990 holes (par 3,895) and 56 courses (some famous, most not) of the common themes familiar to many golfers: the peculiar gastronomy of the "full Irish breakfast" (generally toast, eggs, grilled tomatoes, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and blood pudding), the country's reliable pubs and people and its utterly unpredictable weather, roads and roundabouts, as well as the intimidating nature of the first tee at Lahinch.
Halfway through his travels, Coyne -- who wrote the golf novel "A Gentleman's Game," made into a movie in 2001 -- grew so tired of the enormous Irish breakfast that he stuffed fried eggs and limp bacon into his pocket and later flushed them down the toilet rather than offend his landlady. (That daily plate of artery-clogging tradition also inspired one of my companions on an Irish golf trip seven years ago to request only bacon and sausage because he was "eating ligt.")
Lahinch's first tee -- a stage set beside the club's sprawling clubhouse with a sweeping view of the Atlantic -- is the gathering place on weekend mornings for nearly the entire town. It is also where Coyne, as a teenager, swung mightily at the ball and missed, a moment he remembers as when he "disgraced himself, his family and his country."
Coyne's travels through Ireland's courses provide a perfect appetizer for anyone about to embark on their own Irish (or Scottish) golf trip; or, you can just live it through his eyes and blistered feet.
Still, nothing he encountered will top the afternoon on our trip when, in search of the Slieve League sea cliffs, the four of us mistakenly drove our van up a hiking trail on a Donegal mountainside. You learn in that moment -- when the van is skidding toward the precipice and one of your buddies is already halfway out the door -- just who your friends are.
Coyne spent four months proving his point, which was not so much about completing that course called Ireland as it was this: "Nothing was as unbelievable about what I was about to attempt -- not the miles, the cost, the girth of my itinerary -- as the fact that I was golfing my way around Ireland while married, with every intention to remain so."
I can't wait for the sequel: "A Divorce Called Golf."
Jerry Zgoda, who covers the Timberwolves and the NBA for the Star Tribune, has been to Ireland twice on golf trips.
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