In Tom Coyne’s assessment, he’s becoming a quicker researcher, a more efficient golfer and, perhaps most important, a better husband. It took him 500 days to amass the content needed for his first book, 2006’s Paper Tiger. He needed only four months to get it all done for A Course Called Ireland. And the travel and investigation for his most recent effort, A Course Called Scotland, required just two months.
“I’m great,” he says with a laugh, referring to the diminishing stress he’s put on “Saint” Allyson, the mother of his two children and the person to whom he refers as “the hero of all the stories.”
With his new book, the Devon resident has continued a love affair with golf that began when he was a child and has bloomed into more than just a typical infatuation with the game, its countless frustrations and occasional triumphs. It’s safe to say that Coyne has played more golf than anybody you know. In Scotland, he played 111 rounds in 57 days. He also covered 1,100 miles on foot while hitting every course in Ireland. “I’m not crazy about people who write about golf and life affirmations, but I do think there were things I learned that were bigger than golf,” says Coyne. “I learned from traveling what I’m capable of doing. When you’re on the road like that, there are a lot of emotional ups and downs.”
Coyne, 43, attended Archmere Academy in Wilmington, Del., and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. When he isn’t chasing around the little white ball, he’s a professor of creative writing at Saint Joseph’s University and director of the Writing Studies Program, earning his tenure in 2017. Coyne loves writing and thrives on teaching it. But he really loves golf—and his books show it. “The fact that you can never get it right is probably why I love it so much,” he says. “That’s carried through since I was 10. There’s always the next hole, the next round, the next day. It’s the chance to say to yourself, ‘Tomorrow, I’m not going to three-putt that hole.’ It’s an elusive chase. It’s a total obsession.”
Coyne’s first book was nothing like his most recent offerings. After graduating from Notre Dame in 1997, he embarked on an MFA, during which time he wrote some forgettable short stories and eventually a novel titled A Gentleman’s Game. Writers are often encouraged to “write about what you know,” and Coyne did just that, with a story about his time as a caddy at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, where his father has been a member for 40 years. A Gentleman’s Game turned into a not-so-well-received 2002 film, and Coyne then turned to nonfiction with Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer’s Quest to Play with the Pros, focusing on that type of participatory storytelling ever since. “That’s the thing about writing,” he says. “You always hope your last book is good enough so they’ll let you write another one.”
Growing up in Media, Coyne was the fifth of five kids. Because his brother Matt was so good at the game at Cardinal O’Hara, he didn’t want to follow in his pursuit. That recalcitrance didn’t last long. “I ended up getting the bug more than anyone in my family,” Coyne admits.
He played football and golf at Archmere, but since Notre Dame wasn’t interested in a “175-pound, all-Catholic defensive end,” he tried out for the golf team and was in contention for the lone walk-on spot. Then he blew up on the back nine of the tryout round and “turned a 72 into a 79.”
Coyne majored in English and earned his MFA in 1999, two years after finishing undergraduate studies. While there, he kept writing short stories that he hoped The New Yorker would like. He finally turned to what he knew and loved with A Gentleman’s Game, found an agent and sold the book quickly to Grove Atlantic, an independent publisher based in New York City. He optioned the film rights three weeks later. The movie starred Gary Sinise, and Coyne contributed to the screenplay. It received mixed reviews. “I wish I had the perspective I have now to see how cool it all was,” says Coyne of that time. “I certainly enjoyed it, but four books later, I learned you don’t always get a movie deal.”
For Paper Tiger, Coyne employed a swing coach and a sports psychologist to help him navigate golf’s minor leagues in hopes of making it to qualifying school, which can lead to a spot on the PGA or Web.Com tours. He came close but didn’t make it. His 500-day odyssey was well received.
The idea behind 2009’s A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint and the Next Tee sprung from previous golf trips to the country with his father and brothers, along with his “100-percent Irish” blood. While contemplating a subsequent trip to Ireland, he noticed that the whole country looked like one big course. So he decided to traverse the Emerald Isle for four months and to play every layout he could.
That was the same thinking behind his latest effort, A Course Called Scotland: Searching the Home of Golf for the Secret to its Game. Since Scotland is the birthplace of golf, it made sense to sample its wide range of links offerings. Coyne’s family came out for two weeks and stayed with him at St. Andrews. The trip was not easy. Coyne lost 40 pounds in two months. “I was searching for the secrets of golf,” he says. “To do that, I had to go everywhere—and I went everywhere. But it was a tight timeframe, because my last round was a qualifier for the British Open.”
Coyne didn’t make the field, and he isn’t overly eager to embark on his next journey—though he has begun considering potential topics. “The biggest hole in my resume is my own country,” he says. “I can envision myself doing something here. But some of my friends want to go to New Zealand, so who knows?”