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The Challengers Tom Coyne

  • On screen text: Charles Schwab Presents

    Tom Coyne: I thought this would be fun. I’d get to live every golfer’s dream. It’ll be like we bought a zoo. And it’ll be a good time.

    On screen text: The Challengers
    A series about people who QUESTION. ENGAGE. SUCCEED
    Tom Coyne

    Tom Coyne: My name’s Tom Coyne. I am a golf writer turned operator of Sullivan County Golf Club in Liberty, New York.

    On-screen text: Sullivan County Golf Club
    Liberty, NY

    Tom Coyne: I’m probably best known in golf for doing some pretty wild, ridiculous golf adventures. I walked the coast of Ireland for four months with golf clubs on my back. I played every links in Scotland. I played golf in all 50 states for different book projects. But it got to the point where I’d moved around so much, and I’d explored so many different places that I thought, you know, “I really wanna tell the story of one golf club.” And I didn’t expect to be running that golf club. But a story needs a challenge, and this place brought plenty of problems and plenty of challenges.

    Tom Coyne: So, Sean Smith, the greenskeeper, reached out and said, “Hey, there’s this wonderful course, but it’s gonna close at the end of the year. Would you like to write about it? Do you know anyone who might like to take it on as a project?”

    On-screen text: Sean Smith
    Sullivan County Golf Course, Superintendent

    Sean Smith: The place used to be quite a club. It was built in ’25, and all through ’50s, ’60s, ’70s it had a very strong local membership. And through the ’80s and the ’90s, like so many of these small clubs, it just got lost in the wash of big golf, bigger golf courses, more amenities. And it just got forgotten. I know we don’t measure up in a lotta ways to other places, but in a lot of ways we do, and he sees that, so.

    Tom Coyne: So there is this question of how good can the golf get with the resources that we have? Because we have very limited resources. So I have had to think a lot about what makes a golf course great?

    On screen text: What makes a golf course great?

    Tom Coyne: What does a golf course really need? And I found that it’s a lot less than I thought it was. You need good greens. You need grass on the fairways. You need the tees to be in pretty good shape. But I also think, to make a golf course good, a golf course also needs to be accessible. We had to keep this place affordable. And we wanna maintain what’s special about the place. It should feel old. It should feel Catskills. But it can also keep getting better. And that’s the challenge.

    Tom Coyne: As a writer, you have to be pretty comfortable being by yourself. And now I spend hours at a time on a mower or out on the golf course with my thoughts. And it actually gives me a lotta time to think about, “What am I doing here? What is the story? Are we going in the right direction? How long does this play out? What is the endgame here?” It gives you a lot of time to daydream about where it might go. But also think practically about, “Okay, what’s the next step?”

    Sean Smith: Tom Coyne is a golf nut at the end of the day. I mean, to my eyes, he’s no longer Tom Coyne the writer or the podcaster. He’s been kind of our third full-time guy this year on the maintenance crew. It’s not just been having someone so influential in the golf industry here, but he’s been able to contribute down in the dirt like a proper golf nut. Not just someone who’s here for the pictures and for the golf. He’s contributed at every level.

    On-screen text: I mow the fairways and the tees.

    Tom Coyne: I get here early in the morning. I’m on the machines, and I love it. Yeah, I mow the fairways and the tees. I’ll cut holes. I can change pins. I fix a lot of ball marks. I rake traps. Getting to know a little bit about what a greenskeeper knows on a golf course has changed my perspective as a golfer and has changed my expectations of what I want in a golf course.

    Tom Coyne: It’s funny. People ask me, “Are you writing the book? When is the book gonna be out?” That’s not sort of how I work, and I also don’t know what the ending is. I really don’t know yet if this is a comedy or a tragedy. I hope it has a happy ending. I think it’s going to have a happy ending, but the story is being written every day that I’m out here. But I know that this place should exist for a lot of reasons. And so I feel a responsibility here that maybe I didn’t expect to feel.

    Tom Coyne: This is a point of pride for this town. It should exist because it’s got this great history. It should exist for golf. And it certainly should exist for the people who work here. We need to make sure that we maintain the spirit of what it actually is—a Catskills Mountain nine-holer. We can’t lose that soul. So that makes it a special place for me.

    Tom Coyne: It’s the sort of dream thing, right? A golfer who runs his own golf course. And I have to remind myself at the end of the day, I’ve never been an early riser, but I find myself waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning thinking about, “Did I order golf balls? Is that mower running? What are we gonna do about the dandelions?” All these things running through your head. And you sometimes do have to step back and think, “What we’re doing here, we are doing enough. We’re giving it everything we have. And it’s enough because people are showing up, and they’re having fun.”

    Tom Coyne: I was up here a few weeks ago, and a member had just finished his round and went in and had some beers with his friends. And he walked out, and I was standing outside the pro shop. He said to himself, “That was a great day.” I thought, “That’s why I’m here.”

    Sean Smith: We’re gonna end up with twice, maybe three times the rounds that we’ve done in the last three years. It’s a big, scary future for a little place like this. But he’s made all the difference in the world.

    On screen text: Ask questions. Be engaged.
    [Charles Schwab logo] Own your tomorrow

    Tom Coyne: If old Tom Morris came out of his grave and said, “I’ll give you nine more holes,” I would say no thank you. Just now that I know the work that goes into taking care of nine holes, nine holes is plenty.

    Onscreen text: [Charles Schwab logo] [PGA Tour logo] The Official Investment Firm
    ©2024 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. All rights reserved. Member SIPC. (0224-4P5E)

What makes a golf course great?

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