The proper and peaceful arrangement of the married man’s golf boondoggle requires decades of thoughtful practice. Golfing obsessively and remaining happily married demands preparations that predate a wedding, an engagement, and even a first kiss. One must bring one’s love of the game into a partnership like a child from a former marriage: I hope you like kids, because I already have one, and he golfs 278 times a year.
If you have discovered your love of the game later in life, there is still hope for a golf binge, as long as you’re confident that your partner condones obsession. This may require years of aloof or solipsistic episodes in order to ingratiate a spouse to your individualistic nature, warming them to a partner who sometimes—often for five hours a day during the summer—enjoys time alone. You must also be willing to put the time and work into establishing yourself as someone who is charismatically inconsistent, so that self-centered surprises become the charm of you being you.
Brokering a married golf boondoggle is also a craft best practiced upon a foundation of low spousal expectations. Ideally you have provided your partner past glimpses of what an asshole husband looks like, thus fostering a sort of hindsight gratitude—At least he doesn’t do that anymore—for your future semi-asshole episodes. In my case, I had offered hard evidence of my asshole-husband potential when I wrote Paper Tiger, a smorgasbord of selfishness that saw me moving to Florida and playing golf 542 days in a row. Such precedent made the four months needed for A Course Called Ireland an easy request—a 120-day retreat seemed magnanimous in comparison to that year and a half I spent on the driving range. This progression suggested that a summer in Scotland would seem status quo. That was my hope. But this was AK—After Kids—and kids blow the asshole metric to bits, to where ten extra minutes on the toilet spent staring at one’s fantasy team lineup feels like a rare and heavenly indulgence.
Allyson—or, as my friends and family sometimes call her, St. Allyson—was well accustomed to my questing and migratory tendencies. We met in college, she a published poet and me a future mutual-fund salesman. But by graduation our paths had crisscrossed, and she headed for law school while I set off to write a novel. She became the adult in our relationship, with a buzzing work phone and a 401(k), while I dreamt up plot points and punch lines and took far too long to ask her to marry me. Tall and beautiful and selfless to a fault, Allyson was a steady anchor around which I orbited, often scared, sometimes broke, and always lucky as hell that the tether held tight. She never made me feel like she was putting up with me, even when I struggled to put up with myself. Somehow, I made her happy—happy enough that it felt as if she expected it when I told her about my plans for a summer in Scotland.
My previous golf-quest inspirations had been met with smiling headshakes and looks of amused surrender. But this request—my first attempted AK—was met with a look of genuine fear. Two little ones were tough to handle with both of us present and caffeinated. I could see the months of exhaustion and solo child-wrangling flashing before her eyes, and I said something I had never contemplated in such moments before, going off the boondoggle script I’d thought so cleverly written. I told her I didn’t have to do it. I could stay here. It would really be fine if I didn’t go, I told her, and I meant it.
Kids. They really do change everything.
For one of the first times in the life of teenage entitlement that I had managed to stretch into my fortieth year, it wasn’t up to me. And I wasn’t running something past her; I was asking her, and would have been content with a laugh and a request to go empty the recycling. Maybe that’s why she said yes—or, rather, that I needed to go. I suspected I might have needed to go, but when I heard it from Allyson, I believed it. I believed it enough that this dream, in an instant, came to life and took over my days.
Needing to go wasn’t about my needing more golf. There are only a handful of people on this planet whose résumés need more golf less than mine, and most of them play it for a living. I think she meant that I needed to go now, after so much had changed—whole oceans of life had transpired since I had last been this bold in my ambitions. It was as if she had a new husband with an untried bag of tools who wanted to see if he could make it, as if that former husband had passed away. A few years before, he actually had, but that was something we didn’t need to talk about now, because life was moving forward in ways that neither of us dreamed it ever would again, and we had plans to make. Surely the kids were ready for Scotland. And I had already researched homes to rent in St. Andrews, finding one with room for a family and a long and blooming garden. She didn’t even ask if Robert was coming. Approaching ten years of marriage, that was one of those questions upon which we no longer needed to spend our breath.
Whether I had gotten a green light or a red, my greatest boondoggle was marrying Allyson. She was full of joy, and had remained so through real darkness. She was still always up for the good, and what might be the grandest golf trip ever attempted—excavating the secret to golf and sharing it, taking my own stab at the tournament to top all others—was plenty good enough for her.
Excerpted with permission from A Course Called Scotland by Tom Coyne. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.