LIKE all sports, golf has seen its fair share of memorable moments and is not without some unbelievable stories that couldn’t have been scripted any better. So why haven’t we seen any really decent golf movies?
Golf movies have tended to come in three varieties; comedy, rags to riches or an adapted, poetically-licensed take on a true story. Occasionally it will be a mixture of all three but only a handful have had any sort of success at the box-office, and it’s arguable that they were more likely to be nominated for a Razzie than an Oscar.
The golf movie that most readily comes to mind for most of us is Caddyshack, which holds the distinguished honour of being the most lucrative golf movie at the box office. So it must be good, right?
Released in 1980, the movie made over US$3million on its opening weekend and has achieved a cult following ever since, thanks largely to the roles of Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Their often unscripted scenes, such as the Cinderella Story or the scene in the greenkeeper’s shed, are not only champagne comedy but now part of popular culture.
But aside from these great moments, there isn’t much else that’s very watchable.
The distributors in Denmark knew this when it reached their shores and they decided to cut out 20 minutes of the movie to emphasise Bill Murray’s role in the movie.
I can’t imagine how much of Caddyshack 2 they edited out. Let’s agree not to go there.
Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore came along in 1996 and while golf purists rolled their eyes at the inanity of a washed-up hockey player making it big on the professional golf scene, the game was exposed to a new generation of movie goers - albeit a ridiculously cliched one.
It gave rise to the run-up tee shot that almost everyone has tried at one stage or another. Padraig Harrington included.
Before Transformers, Shia LaBeouf played Francis Ouimet and before Stannis Baratheon, Stephen Dillane played Harry Vardon in the 2005 movie The Greatest Game Ever Played.
Despite a few inaccuracies about the finish to the tournament, the true story is one of the great yarns in golf history and it’s worth a watch to acquaint yourself with the rise of young amateur Francis Ouimet and his remarkable US Open victory in 1913.
Tanking at the box office a few years earlier was Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius. It was the first movie given permission to film on location at St Andrews - a course Jones originally hated. It’s a bit of a yawn though and a missed opportunity to showcase one of the legends of golf.
Ben Hogan’s inspirational story was portrayed in the 1951 movie Follow the Sun, but it was the Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy movie Pat and Mike released the following year that was the bigger hit.
You don’t have to have been alive to know how big these two were at the time. Hepburn was a very good golfer and arguably had the best swing of any actors to ever play a golfer on the silver screen.
One of the better known rags to riches golf movies is The Legend of Bagger Vance, largely because of a cast featuring Hollywood stars Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Matt Damon.
Directed by Robert Redford, Baggar Vance relies heavily on the cliche that golf can be used as a metaphor for life, one that was also used in the not-so rags-to-riches tale of Tin Cup.
Behind Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore, Tin Cup is probably the third-most referenced golf movie thanks to its whacky, water-laden final scenes.
The more recent Seven Days in Utopia and The Squeeze can be put in the ‘Straight to DVD’ (or to be more accurate ‘Straight to your online streaming service’) category. And it’s no great shock to hear that Dan Jenkins’ Dead Solid Perfect novel was better than the movie.
Maybe golf is too broad, too complex and perhaps too slow a sport to convey very well on the big screen, something you could probably argue for sport movies in general.
We all know how just a single round of golf can invoke all of the emotions of a lifetime, something few movies can convey. Maybe that’s not only the allure of the game but the difficulty with bringing it to the silver screen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Green founded AussieGolfer.com.au - Australia's #1 golf blog - in 2007, is a member of The Australian Golf Writers Association and has covered some of Australia's biggest golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and World Cup of Golf.
Michael began playing golf as a 10-year-old in Adelaide where his father introduced him to the game.
He has managed to maintain a single-figure handicap while studying, living and working abroad and keeping a close eye on his three children.
Michael has a PhD in Physics and when not writing about golf, he continues to work in medical research in Sydney.
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