These days, you’re most likely to find Tom Coyne on a golf course or in his car, driving to the next track. The author of New York Times best-selling novels has chronicled his journey to become a professional golfer to playing every links course in Scotland. His latest book journey: A trek across the United States for his next venture, A Course Called America.
We asked Tom a few questions about his process, advice to aspiring writers and how the art of written word has changed in his time.
Imperial: Do you find that readers gravitate toward personal journey stories? Why?
Tom: Absolutely. I think there is something vicarious in reading about someone doing something interesting, going somewhere new, or living life in an exciting or unexpected way. In doing these books, I often try to consider my wildest dreams — what would I do if I could do anything? Where would I go? How would I approach it? These books have very much been about me living out some of my golf fantasies, but not in an entirely selfish way. I think people get to walk around in some of their own golf dreams by way of my travels and writing — at least that’s my hope. Ever wonder what it’s like to drop everything and golf 542 days in a row? Try to make the tour? Golf every links in Ireland? In Scotland? Well, you can read the books and find out, without having to risk your job or a trip to marriage counseling. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to do these things, but if I didn’t have people who wanted to pick up a story and come along with me, then I wouldn’t get to do them at all.
Imperial: Has social media changed your process at all in writing A Course Called America? How?
Tom: Without a doubt. It has been funny thinking about the progression of SM and my travel stories. Ireland, I wasn’t even on social media, and I was using an actual map — like one you hold in your hand — to find my way around Ireland. Scotland, I was posting some pictures, but it was really more of a way for me to show some friends where I was, and for me to remember where I had been. With A Course Called America, social media has been central to the experience because it has allowed me to build a community around the trip. It has allowed people to join me every day in my next location, via Instagram and Twitter. And it has made it possible for me to reach new people and invite them to golf with me and come be a part of the story. I’ll announce a tee time at a course, and twelve strangers will show up, and in four hours, we’re all friends exchanging emails and phone numbers and trying to get together again for golf. That’s pretty incredible, and for me, that’s the best thing social media can do — take a virtual connection with people, and turn it into a real one.
Imperial: What can we expect from A Course Called America that may be different from the others in the franchise?
Tom: This book is quite a bit different than the other two — first, I’m not a foreigner investigating someone else’s homeland. This is my country. Yet it is so vast, and so much if it new to me, that I often feel like an explorer going to strange new places. What that means, as an American exploring, finding, commenting on America, is that the stakes are higher, at least for me. This is my country, these are my countrymen and women, so what I find is relevant to me, my family, our way of life here. I can’t just hop on a plane and say, Glad I’m leaving and now I can go home. This is home. So the stories I’m finding, in some ways, it all just feels a lot more personal. I think the questions at the heart of this story are different and perhaps more personally important as well — I’m calling it the search for the great American golf course, which means I have to figure out what a great golf course is, but also what American means in 2019. Big questions. But in going to all 50 states, meeting people, teeing it up with them, it’s a big trip as well.
Imperial: How do you feel storytelling has changed with the launch of podcasts, social media and more digital outlets?
Tom: I think all the new platforms are really exciting. I certainly miss some of the print outlets, but I’m not one to bemoan the new ways we consume information. As a writer at The Golfer’s Journal, I’ve seen how print can thrive today — it has its place, but so do podcasts and social media — people want a variety of voices, in a variety of ways. The days of everyone reading the same newspaper and magazine are gone. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are more ways to get your voice out there now–if you have something important to say, and put the effort and creativity into saying it well, then you’ll be heard. You don’t have to be a staff writer or have a book deal to reach people anymore. That does mean a lot of garbage gets out there, but it also means that a lot of overlooked points of view will get out there as well. As a storyteller, I think you have to be open to all the platforms and mediums now — podcasts sell books, books build podcasts, social media impacts it all — it’s all connected, and I think when you wield all these things in the right way, you can reach more people than just book readers, or just podcast listeners, or just Twitter followers. Done right, you have a chance to get your story out to all of them.
Imperial: What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
Tom: Read. Read everything. Read great sentences and practice them for yourself. The idea isn’t enough–the sentences that carry your idea are essential. Be precise; be vulnerable and honest; be unsparing in your editing. And don’t waste a word. Make every syllable earn its place on your page.
Imperial: Last, but not least, what’s your favorite Imperial hat style?
Tom: So many to choose from! I’ve been collecting great Imperial hats everywhere I go this year. I’d have to say two of my favorites are, first, the hat I was gifted at Brough Creek National, otherwise known as Some Guy’s backyard, because that’s a tough hat to get! It’s a pretty special experience to play what they’ve created outside Kansas City. And another I just picked up at the Schoolhouse Nine. It’s a simple logo with 9 in the middle of the map of the county in Virginia, because they’re the only golf course in the county. Clean and interesting design–definitely will start a conversation!