Replaying a golf course called Ireland
Bestselling golf author Tom Coyne wrote about trekking across Ireland for sixteen weeks in search of the greatest round of golf ever played. He shares his experience and excerpts from his book A Course Called ireland exclusively for Irish America
Every adventure sets out to answer a question. It might be, “Can I?” or “Should we?” or “What if?” In my case, my endeavor to walk and golf the whole of Ireland began and ended with one particular question, an inquiry I bumped into almost every step of the way:
“Yer doin’ what?”
It was a question with another question quick on its heels: “Really – yer doing what?” often followed by, “Why in the hell are you doing that?” to the point where my four-month adventure in Ireland became a search for a satisfying solution to this last, and most relevant inquiry.
After 1,000 seaside golf holes, 1,100 miles on the hoof, and 320 pages, I hope that I have pieced together a proper answer. And perhaps some of the following will help explain why anyone would mistake Ireland for the world’s greatest round of golf, leaving his wife at home for a summer, and setting out from the Shannon airport with ten clubs on his back, and ten pages worth of tee times. My plan was to go and figure out why so many felt as passionately as I did about the golf being played along the coastline of Ireland, and to understand how golf had become the thing that had reconnected so many people of Irish descent with the home of their grandparents. I found Ireland to be a place that revels in its ironies, and none more so than the fact that a game brought to Ireland by an occupying army is now the pastime that brings so many thousands to its shores, a game that Ireland now does as well as (and for my euros, better than) any golf destination in the world.
A country the size of Indiana possesses some 40% of the true links courses on the planet (a links is a course built on sandy dune soil, designed by the wind, and perhaps the truest – or certainly, the original – expression of the game). It’s an astounding statistic (by strictest definition, there are no true links in the United States), one that should be celebrated as a tremendous source of Irish pride, and one that certainly seemed to require some investigation.
It was a golf map of Ireland, its outer edges ringed with golf holes, that first had me contemplating a round of golf that would truly go around, the ultimate game of golf played across a course called Ireland. But as I chased my disloyal golf balls around the dunes of Ireland, those golf holes became the least important characters in this journey. The people, the pubs, the roads, the history, the friends, the chippers, the sea cliffs, the gossip, the Gaelic, the caddies, the travelers – hell, even the dogs – all quickly became the easy answer to that question of why.
There was one other question that I heard in the clubhouses and on the roadsides as I made my way, a question I felt less equipped to answer: “Are you (bleeping) mad?” Some days, it felt that way. But on most days, like these days here, I just felt like the luckiest golfer, husband, tourist, and distant son of Ireland in the whole damn world.
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