Skip to Main Content

A Course Called America

Fifty States, Five Thousand Fairways, and the Search for the Great American Golf Course

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Globe-trotting golfer Tom Coyne has finally come home. And he’s ready to play all of it.

After playing hundreds of courses overseas in the birthplace of golf, ​Coyne, the author of A Course Called Ireland and A Course Called Scotland, returns to his own birthplace and delivers a rollicking love letter to golf in the United States.

In the span of one unforgettable year, Coyne crisscrosses the country in search of its greatest golf experience, playing every course to ever host a US Open, along with more than two hundred hidden gems and heavyweights, visiting all fifty states to find a better understanding of his home country and countrymen.

Coyne’s journey begins where the US Open and US Amateur got their start, historic Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. As he travels from the oldest and most elite of links to the newest and most democratic, Coyne finagles his way onto coveted first tees (Shinnecock, Oakmont, Chicago GC) between rounds at off-the-map revelations, like ranch golf in Eastern Oregon and homemade golf in the Navajo Nation. He marvels at the golf miracle hidden in the sand hills of Nebraska, and plays an unforgettable midnight game under bright sunshine on the summer solstice in Fairbanks, Alaska.

More than just a tour of the best golf the United States has to offer, Coyne’s quest connects him with hundreds of American golfers, each from a different background but all with one thing in common: pride in welcoming Coyne to their course. Trading stories and swing tips with caddies, pros, and golf buddies for the day, Coyne adopts the wisdom of one of his hosts in Minnesota: the best courses are the ones you play with the best people.

But, in the end, only one stop on Coyne’s journey can be ranked the Great American Golf Course. Throughout his travels, he invites golfers to debate and help shape his criteria for judging the quintessential American course. Should it be charmingly traditional or daringly experimental? An architectural showpiece or a natural wonder? Countless conversations and gut instinct lead him to seek out a course that feels bold and idealistic, welcoming yet imperfect, with a little revolutionary spirit and a damn good hot dog at the turn. He discovers his long-awaited answer in the most unlikely of places.

Packed with fascinating tales from American golf history, comic road misadventures, illuminating insights into course design, and many a memorable round with local golfers and celebrity guests alike, A Course Called America is an epic narrative travelogue brimming with heart and soul.

1. Vidalia, Georgia VIDALIA, GEORGIA


The soil was perfect for onions and for golf. It wasn’t a place people visited unless they were interested in one or the other, and as I didn’t care for onions on anything, I was in Vidalia for one reason: to give my buddy a haircut.

Brendan was a former college player with a legit scratch handicap, and our regular matches were the benchmark against which I measured the health of my game. (It wasn’t very healthy, if you asked him—he denied my ever beating him, though I had eyewitness accounts to the contrary.) He was ten inches shorter than me, with a ponytail he’d been cultivating for the last five years, and I couldn’t decide which of those details frustrated me more when it came to his closing me out on the seventeenth hole.

We were the same age, raised in suburbs on opposite sides of Philadelphia. My side left my accent flat, while Brendan possessed a regional twang that less charitable folks might call hoagie mouth. His idiosyncrasies were widespread: A former Deadhead turned therapist, he golfed in obnoxiously tinted pants and proudly slept in the nude, aside from a scrunchie that kept his hair out of his face (yet he often wondered aloud why I refused to share a hotel room with him). His texts typically included a phallic vegetable emoji, and the signature line in his emails read By the power of Grayskull! At one point, he had programmed the keyboard on his wife’s phone to change the word she to nipples and to convert his name to balls. He cherished the small joys in life, but I don’t think anything gave him more joy than saying, in simple terms, “Tom, you cannot beat me.”

I was playing well, and had certainly been playing enough—two hundred rounds over the last four months—yet our match in Georgia felt like the only one that mattered. Our ongoing debate was tired; it was time to put proof on the record and teach balls a lesson.

Brendan was so confident that he wagered his hair; if I won, he would submit to the clippers, terms that immediately placed his wife on my team. If I lost, I had to get us a game at the course of Brendan’s choosing, anywhere in America. When it came time to pick a date and place for our showdown, I zeroed in on the week I would be in Georgia and invited him to thirty-six holes at the Ohoopee Match Club, the only venue suited to such a contest.

It was a course built specifically for grudges: No real pars on the scorecard, no set tee markers, holes designed for risk-taking and one-upmanship. The winner of the previous hole picked the teeing ground for the next one, and if your dustup wasn’t finished by eighteen, or if the loser wanted quick vengeance, there were four extra holes to settle all grievances. Forget your tally of total strokes—all that counted was winning golf holes, and without a course rating, you couldn’t post your score if you wanted to. The only news of consequence at Ohoopee was in the club’s motto, a question embroidered on belts and hats in the shop, and one we had both traveled a long way to answer: WHO WON THE MATCH?

Though I had met this Brendan at a golf outing in Pennsylvania farm country seven years before, I had been battling Brendans for decades. They were those voices in my mind’s outer rim, put there to remind me that I couldn’t make this putt, or miss that pond, or win this match. They hammered down hope, turned the possible into the unlikely, and replaced my potential with my shortcomings. The idea that someday I might not hear them kept me sticking tees into the ground. After all, there had been a time before the Brendans; maybe there could be a time after them. I believe it was Lao Tzu who said, “A journey of a thousand golf courses begins with a single hole.” And mine began beside warm blue waters.

My dad had let me tag along on an excursion to the Dominican Republic, an annual reward trip for stockbrokers who’d made their numbers, where he and his colleagues skipped meetings for tee times and smoked cigarettes by the fistful, the collective stress of a week away from the stock ticker hanging thick around the resort.

I was fourteen and headed into my first high school golf season that spring, ready to make, or get cut from, the varsity team. I had spent the winter clipping balls off the mats at an indoor range under the tutelage of a leather-skinned golf pro determined to get me swinging harder. Faster, harder, he would say. You’ve got muscles—use them. He could always teach me to back off, but I had height and needed to use it. And he was right. I was flexible enough to figure out a straightish trajectory, and the balls were bouncing past flags I hadn’t noticed before.

I stepped up to the first at Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog, undaunted by its name and reputation as a ball filcher. So much grass. No more rubber tees. It all looked friendly and simple. I pushed my tee into the ground and swung faster, harder. Fairway. I reached for a 9 iron and spun a divot out of the turf like a dealer tossing playing cards. Ten feet from the pin. Up on the green, my ball turned for the hole not with effort but with inevitability. I’m pretty sure I smiled, but I didn’t feel the need for much more. Golf, after all, was easy.

I dumped a few in the ocean that afternoon, but mixed in six birdies as well, tempting my dad to find his boss in the foursome behind us and tell him he was quitting to ride his son’s coattails to the Tour. I didn’t make any birdies the next day, and though I did make the team that spring, I struggled as fifth man while golf reality set in, a reality I would wrestle with for the next thirty years of my life.

They were years of trophies and shanks; days of junior club championships followed by being cut from the college golf roster; moments of minuscule handicaps followed by a tournament where I ran out of balls and a letter from the USGA placing me on competitive probation for carding such a robust number. Golf took more than it gave as I labored to prove I was better than I was, because for one day in the Dominican Republic, I had been. Golf was easy once, and like an addict chasing the feeling of his first high, I searched the world over for the day when it would be again. I hoped it would be this day, here in Georgia, with a friend I was playing for his hair.

When we finished our morning eighteen at Ohoopee, I was up two holes at the halfway point. As we walked off the green and approached two elegantly prepared lunch plates—we were the only golfers on the property, as if they knew to clear the stage—I asked Brendan how he was feeling about the match.

“Great. Not worried at all.”

But for some damn reason—the same reason behind my life’s every missed cut, shredded scorecard, and three-putt on the last—I was.
Jensen Larson Photography

Tom Coyne is the author of the New York Times bestsellers A Course Called Ireland and A Course Called ScotlandPaper Tiger; and the novel A Gentleman’s Game, named one of the best 25 sports books of all time by The Philadelphia Daily News and adapted into a motion picture starring Gary Sinise. He is podcast host and senior editor for The Golfer’s Journal, and has written for GOLF MagazineGolfweekSports IllustratedThe New York Times, and numerous other publications. He earned an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Notre Dame, where he won the William Mitchell Award for distinguished achievement. He lives outside Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters.

“A heartfelt, rollicking ode to golf . . . Coyne describes playing golf in every state of the union, including Alaska: 295 courses, 5,182 holes, 1.7 million total yards. Along the way, he dives deep into the essence of the game—its joys, its agonies and addictions, its hold on golfers’ souls. But most of what you’ll remember after putting the book down are the people he encounters, in all their great American diversity and passion.”
—John Paul Newport, The Wall Street Journal

A Course Called America is an unequivocal pleasure. Tom Coyne gives a fresh perspective on many places I've been, and I had to pause a number of times to relish the way he reflects on what he encounters—the people, the history, and the humor. Here is a soulful and thoroughly entertaining journey that will give people a sense of what golf means to so many of our friends who love the game.”
—Ben Crenshaw, two-time Masters Champion

A Course Called America is a discovery of our country, our culture, our people and the diverse ways we come to the game of golf. As a golf course architect, I thought I would love the descriptions of the courses he discovered, and looked forward to finding out which would be crowned the Great American Golf Course. I quickly realized that the stars of this book are not the courses, but the people playing them. I became enthralled with the varied experiences of golf, the camaraderie, the matches.  Tom Coyne is a wonderful storyteller, and the stories that unfold across this vast landscape called America—some laugh out loud funny, and some stirringly poignant—get to the soul of our game and the heart of our nation.”
—Gil Hanse, renowned golf course architect

“As Tom uses his gift for storytelling to chronicle his journey through some of America’s best golf courses, you’ll find yourself remembering why you first fell in love with the game. A Course Called America is a beautifully woven together story that is somehow hilarious and moving all at once, and paints a vivid picture of all that golf in America has to offer.”
—Stacy Lewis, two-time major champion

“In A Course Called America, Tom Coyne sets out to discover what makes a great American golf course. Well, I'll tell you what makes a great American golf book—Coyne, an ambitious itinerary, and his eye for what's special on and off the course. This result is exceptional—a big, sweeping adventure, as endearing as it is sprawling, and a fitting tribute to American golf.”
—Phil Landes, aka "Big Randy" from No Laying Up

“This book is one for the ages . . . May be the best of [Coyne’s books] . . . While Coyne searches for the perfect American golf course, what he actually discovers is how golf can build a bridge of harmony between people of different races, religions, and cultures.”
—Les Schupak, The Met Golfer

"Besides oozing with rich golf history and lore, Coyne’s heartfelt anecdotes about people he meets and the joys of companionship are appealing. . . . This is a delightful, entertaining book even nongolfers can enjoy."
Kirkus Reviews

“An entertaining blend of travelogue, memoir, and sports writing . . . Golf nuts will be tantalized by the glimpses of America’s premier courses, while those looking to book an epic post-pandemic golf trip will find plenty of inspiration.”
Publishers Weekly

PRAISE FOR A COURSE CALLED SCOTLAND:

“One of the best golf books this century.”
Golf Digest

“Tom Coyne has a knack for setting impossible tasks for himself. . . . Mr. Coyne is back at it again with A Course Called Scotland. This time he avails himself of cars, planes, and ferries, but the task he sets is no less preposterous: to play 107 courses in 56 days. . . . Readers who enjoyed Mr. Coyne’s rollicking Irish book will be interested to learn how their fearless travel guide has fared in the intervening years. . . . There’s no less wit in the writing—British weather forecasts, he concludes, are ‘as useful as ashtrays on motorbikes’—and almost as many well-rendered characters, both locals he meets and friends and readers who join him along the way. . . . All the famous courses are here: St. Andrews, Dornoch, Turnberry, Carnoustie. But even seasoned golf travelers will be unfamiliar with many of the courses Mr. Coyne finds. He tees it up where nature carved holes that no architect would dream of, where 12 holes instead of 18 suit the members just fine, and where munching sheep, not mowers, keep the fairway grass short. Does he discover the secret to the game? He finds several, including, most practically, ‘never, ever give up.’ ”
—John Paul Newport, The Wall Street Journal

“They said it couldn’t be done—that he’d never be able to top Ireland. But with Scotland, he did it. Damn you, Tom Coyne!
—Michael Bamberger, author of Men in Green

“A fast-moving, insightful, often funny travelogue encompassing the width of much of the British Isles . . . One of the reasons A Course Called Scotland works so well is because Coyne extended an offhanded invitation to listeners of a radio show to join him in Scotland. . . . The eclectic cast of characters who pop up throughout the story underscore the deep connections forged through travel.”
Golfweek

“Coyne has a wonderful way of making the reader feel a part of the quest. You experience his trials and tribulations as well as the sense of wonder and awe that comes with playing golf in Scotland.”
Chicago Tribune

“There is a purity in the Scots’ game that isn’t about manicured greens or a ball’s ‘spin rate.’ Coyne admires their ‘homemade’ swings that merely focus on getting the golf ball around the course and in the hole. He becomes convinced that perfection is an illusion, though a powerful one. He slowly accepts his limitations, one day at a time, swing after swing.”
Bloomberg

“Tom Coyne’s much-anticipated follow-up to his fun book A Course Called Ireland lived up to my high expectations. Who wouldn’t be jealous of Coyne’s adventures getting to play every links in Scotland? He mixes well his commentary on the courses with the historical significance of each place he visits. This is a must-read.”
Golf Advisor

“The author entertains us with accounts of foul weather, fair friends (one of whom got hit in the face with a drive), and astonishing courses, some dating back centuries. . . . Golfers and golf-o-philes will gobble this down.”
Kirkus Reviews

“In this witty and charming follow-up to A Course Called Ireland, Coyne continues living a golfer’s dream by playing every links course in Scotland, golf’s birthplace. . . . Enthusiasts will revel in Coyne’s eloquent narration of his course-by-course adventures, while casual fans might be tempted to pick up their clubs a little more often.”
Publishers Weekly

“Fighting through physical exhaustion, self-doubt, homesickness and spates of nasty weather, Coyne knocks out 111 full or partial rounds on 107 courses, sometimes three rounds a day, in his search for the ‘secret’ of great golf. It’s no secret that his passion for the game (and life) shows through on every page, and we get to follow his every step through modern golf’s birthplace.” 
Golf Tips Magazine

“News of a new tale by Tom Coyne is always reason to celebrate—assuming you love golf, irresistible storytelling, a cast of colorful characters and a poignant journey through the birthplace of the game. Lots of us share Tom’s Mitty-dream of running away to the great links lands and the lesser known coastal gems of Scotland. But he’s masterfully accomplished the feat with his charming pilgrimage around the game’s Holy Land that unfolds as smoothly as a fine single malt. Coyne's trademark wit, humor, unerring ear for the locals, and deep knowledge of the game are on full display, rendering this a poetic journey you won’t soon forget.” 
—James Dodson, author of Final Rounds

More books from this author: Tom Coyne