A Golf Course Called Ireland

American writer Tom Coyne
American writer Tom Coyne

You don’t have to be an adventurer like American writer Tom Coyne to turn your golfing trip to Ireland into a voyage of discovery, writes Brian Keogh

Take just a few pointers from the New York Times bestselling author and you can make your holiday an unforgettable life experience.

Intent on designing a golf trip to end all others, Coyne looked to Ireland – the place where his father had taught him to love the game years before. He quickly realised that the island was ringed with golf holes making it one huge, gigantic golf course. In his 30s and married, the Philadelphia native set off to play every single seaside links course he encountered…on foot.

With just eight clubs in a light bag and with little more than a change of underwear in his backpack, Coyne trekked over 2,400km around the rim of the island, playing every links course in his path over a 16-week period. 

It’s an experience that has marked him forever.

Coyne chronicled his experiences in the hilarious and uplifting book, A Course Called Ireland, which the cover aptly describes as “A Long Walk in Search of a Country, A Pint and the Next Tee”.

The long way round

Along the long road he says: “I faced off against a gang of galloping livestock, went toe to hoof with a mountain goat... climbed my way out of sandy pits and thorny ditches, scrambled up stone walls, splashed my way through deep and icy waters... and felt speeding cars brush the hair on my knuckles.”

He also made a lot of new friends.

Go where the road takes you

If you’re a golfer, the only walking you’re likely to do is on the golf course – and unless you’re a super tourist like Coyne, you usually plan out a meticulous itinerary before you even pack your clubs and suitcase. But Coyne believes you should sketch out only the bare bones and leave the rest to chance. After all, there’s a surprise around every bend in the road.

“I get a ton of emails from people asking me where they should go,” he says. “They’re not going to do what I did, so I tell them to get lost! Go find some town you didn’t expect to find. Go have lunch or have a pint somewhere. Don’t spend your time in a car, staring down at a map. Don’t get too stuck to your itinerary. Let it come to you.”

Don't just play golf

Aside from the golf courses, Coyne believes you should “get off the beaten path. Go and see Croagh Patrick and Yeats Country; or go and check out the ‘Forgotten County’ of Donegal, not only because it is so far off the beaten track, but because the people there are so special.

“Even though an Irish welcome is always warm, some of the pockets where people don’t often visit are even warmer and the conversation even easier. You get that ‘What are you doing up here?’ reaction.”

Some favourite spots...

If you’ve never been to Ireland, Coyne reckons “you can’t beat the southwest,” where you can stay in Killarney or Kenmare, play Ballybunion, Tralee, Dooks or Waterville, and still see Dingle and the Ring of Kerry.

“People say, ‘Well, I’ve done that trip three times, where next?’ And I usually tell them to go up into the northwest, go to Mayo and up to Sligo and Donegal. Those are places that I really loved. That to me is the Ireland of the imagination. It’s like you’re going back in time a little bit.”

Naturally, Coyne walked around the stunning coast of Northern Ireland, too, and found his new favourite course: Ardglass in County Down.

“It is overshadowed by Royal Portrush and Royal County Down, but it is so much fun to play,” he says. “Ok, I might be biased. I made such great friends there, they made me a member!”

Get to know more about Ireland’s beauties from the man who takes golf pictures for a living!