Imagine yourself out in the world. A gentle breeze caresses your face, the feeling of grass below your feet carries each one of your steps to the next like you are walking on clouds. Your friends are there, your stress is gone, heck, you might even have a beer in your hand. And then bang! You hit your 3rd tee shot into the fucking woods.
Welcome to golf. Easily the most fun and infuriating sport or activity to ever grace Earth. A sport that gets you excited, yet leaves you frustrated and confused on why you ever started with it in the first place. I am assuming this is how most of my past relationships have felt but that’s neither here nor there.
And with a sport this exasperating, this vexing, this mind-numbingly maddening, why play at all when you can just kick back and watch a beautiful film about other people doing it? Golf movies have been an underrated past time in sports cinema since the dawn of the moving picture. That’s clearly an exaggeration. Let’s say they have been since Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis starred in The Caddy. Well, not really, truly there are only a handful of films that seem to get it right. And so, below you will find the indisputable list of the five best golf movies of all time. (Spoilers ahead.)
- The Greatest Game Ever Played.
The Greatest Game Ever Played starring Shia LeBeouf and Stephan Dillane portrays the true story of Francis Ouimet (LeBeouf), a young amateur beating the great Harry Vardon (Dillane) in the 1913 US open. A heart-warming tale about a boy following his dreams, meeting and facing his idol, and overcoming adversity. Which is exactly why this film barely squeaks into the top five. How many films can we see where a boy’s father (in this case played by Elias Koteas, who does a fantastic job of being one hell of a hard ass) tells him his hopes and goals are dumb and that he should be working hard manual labor like him and all those before him have done. And then what?! He becomes great and also earns his father’s love?! #Disney. But what this film loses in its clichés it makes up for in pure fun. It’s always a joy to see the poor underdog fight his way up from the trenches, or for the sake of this article, the bunkers, and win. Both Ouimet and Vardon fight personal demons within them and class battles around them to get to where they are. We see growth in both men, both on and off the course. And while they battle each other on the links, the antagonist of the film is Lord Northcliffe. Northcliffe, played by Peter Firth, represents the upper class society that has kept Ouimet and Vardon down their whole lives. And when Ouimet, a poor caddy wins, he shows that “he’s the best, because of who he is. Not who his father was, not how much money he’s got, because of who he bloody is!” But let’s get to the best part of this film. Peyton List. Oh good Lord. List portrays Sarah Wallis, a rich girl headed off to college who has had passing eyes with Ouimet since their younger years. The fact that she didn’t explode on to the Hollywood scene after this movie is a travesty.
- Caddy Shack
If you think Caddy Shack should be number one, then fucking @ me (@DLEDWITH42). Don’t get me wrong, this 1980 classic is just that, a classic. With a cast including Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield, this film leaves you laughing on your first, second, and 18th time through it. But while this movie holds up as one of the funniest films to come out of that decade, it lacks what true GREAT sports movies have, suspense, drama, and a plot line that has more going for it than Danny’s scholarship. While the plot bounces around a bit, the story mainly focuses on Caddy, Danny Noonan’s (Michael O’Keefe) quest to earn a scholarship from his home club’s leader, Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight). But this takes a backseat for Smails who can’t get away from Al Czervik’s (Dangerfield) invasion of the country club. His loud, brash, and hilarious antics anger Smails to no end and leads to a final showdown. And don’t forget the patron saint of mediocre golfers everywhere; Bill Murray plays a groundskeeper hell bent on ridding the country club of a devilishly destructive and cuddly cute gopher. And there’s the umpteenth subplot about Chevy Chase’s character, Ty Webb, an uber-confident yet fumbling club member whose wealth and advice dip in and out of the story like me reaching into my bag for another beer every time the round seems a little dull.
- Happy Gilmore
Back before Click, Adam Sandler used to be a comedy god. I’m serious, look at his IMDB, before Click, Adam Sandler was great, after that, BOOM nothing (other than Funny People, but whatever shut up, my point has been made). And one of his crowning achievements is without a doubt the 1996 classic, Happy Gilmore. Sandler stars as Happy Gilmore, a down on his luck hockey player who can do just about two things: fight and slap the shit out of a puck. When he discovers that the IRS is repossessing his loving Grandma’s house, he quickly needs to find a way to earn the money needed to buy it back. Through dumb luck, he discovers he can hit a golf ball a country mile. After hustling at the driving range earning small change towards his lofty goal, a golf pro by the name of Chubbs (Carl Weathers) sees Happy and convinces him to compete in the Waterbury Open. One thing leads to another, and wouldn’t you know it, Happy finds himself on the pro tour. His everyman’s personality and crazy (sometimes violent) antics attract loads of new fans but get him in hot water with the tour as well as the antagonist of the story, Shooter McGavin. Shooter, played by Christopher McDonald (he will never escape this role, I don’t care who you play or even if you win the Oscar, McDonald, you will ALWAYS be Shooter McGavin *finger guns*), embodies the D-Bag rich golfer that we’ve all seen at the course. And if you haven’t seen this type of guy at the course, sorry but you are probably him. The film focuses on Happy’s battle to win back his Grandmother’s house, his battle with Shooter, and his inner struggle to find his “Happy Place.” This film is stocked top to bottom with memorable quotes, fantastic scenes, and true fun-to-watch golf matches. And that’s exactly why it takes the number three spot on the list. So, sorry Caddy Shack fans, but “Somebody’s cloooooser.”
Also, the PR rep from the tour and Happy’s later-on girlfriend Virginia Venit is also the mom from Modern Family?! How did I not know this!? You didn’t know either so don’t act like you’re not surprised.
- The Legend of Bagger Vance
“Matt Damon is in a golf movie!?” you say as you discover this film scrolling through your Netflix options. “Well surely no one else is in it, cause I have never heard of this before. What?! Will Smith! They must have had no money left for the love interest, they probably just casted some nobody. Charlize Theron! What?!” Well, you beautiful reader you, you are surely in for a treat. The turn-of-the-century classic known as The Legend of Bagger Vance follows Rannulph Juna (Damon), a once-great golf player who had everything: his skill, the admiration and respect of his town, and the love of a great woman (Theron). But after he leaves to fight in WWI, he can’t bring himself to return to the life he once knew. And just like all those who stayed awake in their high school history classes know, a little while after the war to end all wars ended, the great depression swallowed up our country whole. And little ole Savannah Georgia wasn’t safe either. Juna’s love, Adele Invergordon, belonged to the wealthiest family in Savannah, and after her father’s suicide she does everything she can to save the course she owns and the town she loves. To do so, she starts a tournament with the world’s best golfers to compete, drawing the attention and interest of sports fans nationwide. And when the town needs one of their own to compete, who happens to return but Juna himself. After much convincing he agrees to participate. But his demons from the war have taken his “true swing” away. He can’t hit the ball straight to save his life, but Bagger Vance appears early on and proves to be just the guiding light Juna needs. This film is fantastic, the acting is fun, the set design and writing are excellent, and the golf feels real. I watch this movie till the end from wherever I pick it up on TV. If you haven’t seen it before, tee it up immediately and if you have, watch it again.
- Tin Cup
Kevin Costner. You gorgeous man you.
1996 must have been the year for golf because not only did Tiger Woods turn professional but coming in at NUMBER ONE the brilliant film that is Tin Cup was also released. Costner stars as Roy McAvoy, a golf pro running a driving range in Salome, Texas. His life is filled with boring days at the range, bets with friends, and not much else. That is until Dr. Molly Griswold (Rene Russo) shows up for her first lesson. McAvoy (nicknamed Tin Cup) immediately falls for her, but soon realizes his old college friend, and current nemesis, pro golfer David Simms (Don Johnson) currently has her heart. The plot goes on to follow McAvoy’s quest to win the Doc’s love, and through careful planning and deliberation (not really) he comes to the conclusion that winning the US open and beating Simms will surely bring him and Molly together. Next comes a fun and frustrating journey of qualifying rounds, bets big and small, and good ole-fashioned golf, all accented by the amazing performance of Cheech Marin who plays Romeo, McAvoy’s caddy and best friend. This film takes the top spot because it has it all: great writing, drinking, betting, strippers, love, missed putts, long drives, and the good guy coming out on top. But the real reason Tin Cup finds itself on the top of the list is because it is the truest depiction of golf there is. McAvoy doesn’t win the US open. He blows up on the last hole, all while trying to prove that he can just make this ONE shot. Golf is the hardest game there is, because no matter how much you practice, or how much you work out, if you can’t get out of your own head… you’re fucked. But Costner’s character isn’t lost or distraught after the loss, he proved himself in a different way, he got the girl, he has his friends, and he loves the hell out of the game.
And that’s what golf is, you hit it into the woods and shank left and right all day, but it’s that one perfect shot that keeps you coming back every time. And each one of these movies are those shots, great in their own ways, and will continue to be re-watched by others and myself time and time again.