IF TOM Coyne doesn’t progress past the regional qualifying stage for this year’s Open Championship when he joins the hopefuls at Bruntsfield Links in just over a month’s time, it certainly won’t be down to a lack of preparation.
He’s got at least one round – often two and sometimes three – planned for every day between now and then, after all, as the American author undertakes a whirlwind Scottish golfing odyssey. “It’s the longest practice round in the history of golf,” said scratch player Coyne, an assistant professor of English at St Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, of playing 107 courses in 57 days on a journey that will end up in print.
A Course Called the Kingdom is a follow-up to Coyne’s New York Times bestseller, A Course Called Ireland. The new book is a combination of that and Paper Tiger, which entailed Coyne playing 548 days in a row as he spent a year trying to compete in the professional ranks.
For his latest golfing marathon, Coyne warmed up by playing just over a dozen courses in England and Wales before arriving in the ‘Home of Golf’ at the beginning of the month. Since starting off at Eyemouth, he’s worked his way along the East Lothian coast and is now buzzing about Fife. His journey will take him all the way around the mainland, with some island visits included, too, before he arrives at Bruntsfield Links for that qualifying test on 22 June.
“Right now, I feel I’m the luckiest golfer in the world,” admitted Coyne, having been joined briefly by The Scotsman as he played the Craighead course at Crail, where the neighbouring Balcomie layout was due to be tackled as well in the afternoon. “Extreme golf quests are sort of my thing and I think it is my most ambitious challenge yet.
“I sold this idea to my publisher over a year ago. The plan was to try and do it last year but, with the Ryder Cup going on, it was hectic for everyone involved in the tourism industry. So it’s been a year in the planning and VisitScotland has been amazing, having booked all the golf for me – you couldn’t book 100 tee times on your own unless you want to go broke.
“The logistics are the difficult part – trying to get a ferry that works in with a flight, for example – and it’s amazing when you wake up every morning and ask yourself two questions – ‘where am I?’ and ‘where is the bathroom?’ – as I’m in a different room almost every night. There’s also a moment of terror when you realise that you could have three rounds ahead of you that day, but once you get out on the golf course that soon disappears. It is such a joy, such a pleasure to be out on these great links courses.”
Mother Nature has dished out a mixed bag so far. “I’ve had four seasons in one day,” said Coyne, smiling. “It started off in a lot of wind and rain – North Berwick was probably the worst conditions I’ve ever played in and that’s saying something. But it’s been sunny the last couple of days and I feel reborn, albeit a bit tired.”
He enjoyed seeing his father-in-law’s eyes light up when they played the Old Course, where Coyne himself had visited once before. But other highlights so far have included visits to less-heralded venues. “I played Anstruther on Wednesday and it was really enjoyable,” he confessed. “I’m trying to keep a list of the holes that stand out and the sixth at Eyemouth is right at the top of that at the moment. The first few holes you think ‘okay’ but then you get to the sixth, where the tee shot is from one side of the cliffs to the other, and you are hit with a ‘wow’.”
A shank apart with his first shot in front of this correspondent, his game is getting sharper with each round. He admits, however, that ending the epic journey with an Open Championship appearance at St Andrews is a tough task. “Hey, that would be amazing,” said Coyne. “But, if I can make it to the final qualifier, that would be my Open Championship.”