The 10 best golf movies


by Owen Williams |
Published on

The great Arnold Palmer described golf as "deceptively simple and endlessly complicated"; a pastime that "satisfies the soul and frutrates the intellect." G.K. Chesterton, meanwhile, called it "an expensive way to play marbles". Whatever your opinion, golf has inspired some great movies. Here's Empire's pick of ten of the best.

1. Caddyshack

After writing Animal House and Meatballs, it was only natural that Harold Ramis would move into directing. The golfing nonsense of Caddyshack was inspired by his and co-writer Brian Doyle Murray's (Bill's older brother) genuine experiences of country club caddying. It manages to be marginally less chaotic than its ramshackle predecessors, which is impressive given that it was basically hijacked and improvised into submission during production by Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield, who weren't even supposed to be the stars (teen-lead Michael O'Keefe was apparently not best pleased). Predictably though, it's Bill Murray as the gopher-cidal groundsman Carl Spackler, who steals the show.

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2. Tin Cup

Better known for baseball movies (Bull Durham, Field Of Dreams), Kevin Costner also took a decent swing at this golfing rom-com in 1996. He plays Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a washed-up and cynical former pro now slumming it as a driving range instructor. Goaded into trying out for the US Open, his aggressive and eccentric style of play draws attention. PGA pro Peter Jacobsen plays himself, and Costner trained extensively with professional player and commentator Gary McCord, who also appears in the film. The film's climax – McAvoy's game-sacrificing determination to get a ball across a lake, costing him a dozen shots – is based on something McCord actually did.

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3. Happy Gilmore

The phrase "Adam Sandler golf comedy" might not be one to immediately fill most observers with great optimism, but 1996's Happy Gilmore was, and remains, one of the best films on the SNL veteran's CV. Full of quality elements like Ben Stiller's Nazi nursing home manager and Carl Weather's wooden-handed coach, it successfully walks the line between sentimental and stupid that other Sandler films fall off. Happy, the psychotic hockey goon who loves his grandma, is one of best pegs on which Sandler has hung his angry man-child schtick, and there's even a sweet romantic sub-plot, which Sandler would successfully enhance two years later for The Wedding Singer.

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4. The Legend Of Bagger Vance

Robert Redford's sumptuous and sentimental Depression-era golfing drama is plagued by some tone deaf racial politics. But if you can manage to tune out that nagging wrong note, there's a stately core here about the love of the game and its metaphorical relationship to life itself. Excellent turns from Will Smith and Matt Damon too, plus this was the great Jack Lemmon's final film. Its based on a 1995 novel by Steven Pressfield.

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5. Dead Solid Perfect

Apparently one of PGA champion John Daly's favourite films, this HBO golfing dramedy stars Randy Quaid (it was made at around the same time as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation) and is based on a bestselling novel by Dan Jenkins. It also boasts a Tangerine Dream soundtrack, and that score accompanies Quaid's struggling PGA hack as he tours America's courses dreaming of success. Never released on DVD, director Bobby Roth's film has become a sought-after rarity with quite the following among golf enthusiasts, and collectors will pay pretty high prices on eBay for a VHS tape.

6. The Greatest Game Ever Played

A biopic of Francis Ouimet, the first amateur golfer ever to win the US Open: a feat he achieved in 1913. He was also the first non-British captain of the R&A in St Andrews. A pre-meltdown Shia LaBeouf plays Ouimet, and he's supported by Stephen Dillane and Stephen Marcus as his opponents Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Bill Paxton was the director: only his second film following Frailty. At heart it's a generic underdog sporting drama like pretty much any other. But it's a quality item for all that.

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7. Tommy's Honour

Clearly having inherited his father's love of golf, Jason Connery directed the reverent Tommy's Honour, based on Kevin Cook's acclaimed history of golfing pioneer Old Tom Morris and his son (the title's Tommy). Peter Mullen and Jack Lowden play, respectively, the older and younger Morris men, with Ophelia Lovibond as Tommy's wife Meg and Sam Neill as R&A captain Alexander Boothby. The story revolves around St Andrews legend Old Tom's relationship with Tommy, who showed a remarkable golfing talent of his own and matched his father's achievement with four Open wins (the first at the age of 17), managing the feat in consecutive championships. Although both father and son profited from their share of rich gamblers' side bets on their matches, times were still hard and life for the Morris family in mid-Victorian Scotland brought its share of drama and tragedy to their story.

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8. Seven Days In Utopia

That's Utopia, Texas: the tiny settlement where Lucas Black rocks up after burning out on the golf course, and undergoes a spiritual turnaround at the hands of the eccentric-but-wise Robert Duvall. Seven Days... is a Christian film, make no mistake, but it isn't too heavy-handed with its proselytising, and is made pleasantly watchable by its cast, which also includes Melissa Leo and professional Korean golfer K.J. Choi. Black takes on Choi at the Valero Texas Open for his comeback.

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9. The Caddy

Proving that the golf comedy wasn't invented by Harold Ramis or Adam Sandler, this was a vehicle for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis way back in 1953. It's one of their better ones too, with Lewis the instructor (son of a pro golfer) who can't play due to his fear of choking on the green, and Martin his student who gets good enough for the tournament circuit and drags Lewis along as – you guessed it – his caddy. Antics ensue, as does the singing of the perennial That's Amore. You heard it here first, kids. Or at least, your grandparents did. Many of the era's golf pros (Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Julius Boros) show up as themselves, making the film a genuine shapshot of a bygone golfing era. Although it's now equally infamous for an outtakes tape revealing Martin and Lewis giving it some Derek & Clive while recording a radio commercial{ =nofollow}.

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10. Bobby Jones: Stroke Of Genius

Rowdy Herrington's 2004 film is a biopic of the first – and still only – golfer ever to win all four major golf championships in a single season in 1930: the British Amateur, the US Amateur, the Open and the US Open. Jim Caviezel plays Jones, with Jeremy Northam, Malcolm McDowell, Aidan Quinn and Paul Freeman elsewhere in the cast. This was the first film ever to be allowed to shoot at the R&A in St Andrews. Production took place in the summer of 2003, after which Caviezel immediately went off to Italy to be crucified by Mel Gibson. Acting, like golf and football, is a funny old game.

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