Tom Coyne, author of Paper Tiger, is making his way across Ireland on foot this summer, playing every links golf course in the country. In Fall 2008, he'll publish a book about his adventures, A Course Called Ireland. In the meantime, he'll be writing a travel journal for GOLF.com. This is the first installment.
It's A Course Called Ireland in the States, but when this book comes out in Ireland, a better title might be, Yer Doin' What? It's the reaction I've gotten from every man, woman and child in Ireland who's gotten word of what I'm attempting this summer.
"How long you in Ireland for? You over on holiday?"
"Sort of. I'm here for four months, actually."
"Four months. Really? What for?"
"Well, I'm playing every links golf course in the country. On foot. I'm walking around the whole of Ireland. With my golf clubs on my back. For four months."
After a few confused moments, an open-jawed look of huh?, that's usually where the Irish title comes up.
And so the adventure began this past Monday as I arrived in Shannon and was met in the airport by one of my first-week companions, a friend from home named Denis. As Denis has explained to me on a number of occasions, he's addicted to golf, and addicted to Ireland, so there was no way he wasn't tagging along for a few legs of this trip.
He was there to bear witness to the first 18 holes of my adventure on a sleepy little seaside course called Kilkee. Standing on the first tee, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, where the water was torn white against the jagged, charcoal-colored coast, Denis stood tall and breathed it all in.
Pepper-haired and old enough to be my Dad, that day he was a young boy staring into the sea, looking over this land he loved. He placed his three wood behind his ball with reverence, took one long contemplative pause, and brought his club back, ready to make his golfing mark in Ireland ... just as a guy driving buy in a blue pick-up leaned out his window and yelled "FORE!" with perfect, mid-backswing timing. Denis just about pirouetted as he went down after the ball, knuckling a heel shot into the very nearby weeds.
I had come a very long way, and this felt very far from home, from my wife and our tiny street in Philadelphia, where it was now just getting warm enough for the stoop sitters to come out, where they'd all say hello on your way home at the end of the day. But as I watched Denis curse himself in Kilkee, the rest of our foursome sharing a good laugh at his heckled misfortune, I felt a warm familiarity coming over me. The drive-by-back-swing-golf-scream is a well-known joke, a street-side tee box classic. And Kilkee or Philadelphia or wherever I might find myself tomorrow, it still plays funny everywhere.
Doonbeg, 10 miles or so, on a lovely high-70's morning. (Joe had generously volunteered to fly over from Chicago and join me for the first leg of my festivities.) The weather has been outrageous thus far, close to 80 every day with a light breeze. Considering we packed for wet, wind and cold, we've basically been sweating our way around Ireland, knowing not to complain, that it would change soon enough.