In 2009, Kevin Markham published Hooked, a book assessing and ranking every 18-hole golf course in the country.
An update followed in 2011 with another to follow in the near future and it has justifiably become a reference point of sorts for those wishing to play on these shores.
This year, though, Kevin has published another book, Driving The Green, which charts his travels compiling Hooked in 2007 and ’08.
While Hooked, by its nature, had to be a sober analysis, this is full of the twists and turns he encountered while piloting a 1989 Hymer camper van, which he named Rusty, and the characters he met.
“Philip Reid in The Irish Times actually reviewed Hooked and said, ‘Where’s the story?’”, Kevin said.
“Obviously, there were very entertaining things which happened along the way but my objective had always been to write the book. Maybe a third to half of the way through, I started blogging, so I had very brief accounts of the things that happened.
“That was when the idea for this book first started, I had stories and I’d think, ‘I’m not going to put that on the blog, it’s going to fit very well in the book’. Whether I was ever going to write it, I didn’t know.”
Remembering the various details at a remove of seven years from the events was not a problem for Kevin, who says he has a very visual memory. Distilling everything into 232-page book was the tricky bit.
“I would love to have had it out sooner,” he said. “I don’t think it was a problem selling the idea, once the publisher saw it they loved it, but when I first started, I spent about a year writing four chapters and I’d say that — about a third of my trip — was twice the size of the book.
“I was talking about the courses too and I went to my literary agent and he said that I had done the courses and to forget about them. I pretty much started it again and that’s why it has taken longer.”
As a freelance copywriter, Kevin had to weigh up the hours involved against lost work. “I had work which comes to me most years and I knew when things were coming,” he said, “but the book was never going to supplement my income.”
“I would say that I lost income but I don’t think I lost any clients, which is obviously very important. I didn’t go hunting for work, and that was difficult at times because there were periods when I didn’t have any work and I was wondering where my income was coming from.
“At the same time, I had put aside a year and knew that I had to be prepared for that.”
Rusty the camper van drew plenty of attention — unfortunately more from mechanics than Kevin would have liked, but he said that “19 times out of 20 it wasn’t a problem” when he rang ahead to ask if he could stay in a club’s carpark the night before an early tee-time.
What really shines through the book are the golfing characters encountered. Two obnoxious gentlemen at Kirkistown Castle don’t emerge with any credit for the way they teed off while he was setting up and then ignored him, while he is gobsmacked when a group in Mount Wolseley ask if he wants to play for “five, five and five” (wagers on the front nine, back nine and overall) and he learns they are talking in hundreds.
There are lighter moments, too. He congratulates a lady in Limerick on winning a ‘nearest the pin’ competition and asks her what she hit only for her to reply, “It was my three-wood…and then a pitching wedge for my second shot.”
Moira and Juliet at Youghal GC were two of the nicer partners he fell in with.
“Moira had two new hips and that summed up to me that you can play golf for as long as you want, until you die really. She didn’t hit the ball very well but she enjoyed it and I thought that that was lovely.
“Meeting the guys at Mount Wolseley who were gambling all that money, it blew my mind.
“I asked if they were barristers but they were plasterers and carpenters. Their rationale was that it evened out as they paid each other for birdies and eagles. I did work out how much it would have cost me, it was something like three and a half grand.”
Kevin admits that there were times when he got fed-up with the whole thing. This was especially so during the winter, when a clubhouse would close early and his prospects for the night involved pasta in Rusty followed by work.
“Absolutely, yeah,” he said. “I went to The Heritage and had an absolutely appalling round, I’d forgotten how to play golf and I was tired and fed up. It just got to the point where I was asking myself why I was doing it.”
Despite the existential crisis, he got through it and now has two books to show for it. The summer will see him re-visit a number of courses as part of the update to Hooked, but thankfully the roughing it is a thing of the past.
“There’ll be a fair bit of change in the next edition, obviously some courses have closed in between,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to it, but this time I think I’ll bring my wife with me and stay in nice places!”
* Driving The Green, published by The Collins Press, is out now in all good bookshops.