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Great Golf Movie Moments

For all of the movies about golf, we’re as fond of the movies in which golf simply appears, either as a setting or as a plot device, for in these films the game most closely mimics its role in our day-to-day lives—well, sometimes anyway.

Great Golf Movie Moments

For all of the movies about golf, we’re as fond of the movies in which golf simply appears, either as a setting or as a plot device, for in these films the game most closely mimics its role in our day-to-day lives—well, sometimes anyway.

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or all of the movies about golf, we’re as fond of the movies in which golf simply appears, either as a setting or as a plot device, for in these films the game most closely mimics its role in our day-to-day lives—well, sometimes anyway. We hope you never have a karate fight on course, as John Saxon did in Enter the Dragon, but that film and the others on our list all thought enough of the game to give it some screen time, and for that they deserve mention here. Pop some popcorn and enjoy…

Pat and Mike golf film

Pat and Mike

1952  Directed by George Cukor
Katharine Hepburn plays Pat Pemberton, who’s set to win the ladies golf championship until her fiancé shows up. He wants her to forget sports, but she won’t give up that easily. Spencer Tracy is employed to help, and romantic fun ensues. Written by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, good friends of Hepburn and Tracy, the film showcased Hepburn’s real-life athletic abilities as a golfer and tennis player. She performed all the sports scenes herself, and did so quite brilliantly as far as we’re concerned. Filmed at the Riviera Country Club and at Occidental College, the film also featured cameos by Babe Zaharias, Betty Hicks and Helen Dettweiler. Look for a young Charles Bronson as well (credited as Charles Buchinsky). Jim Backus— aka “Mr. Howell”—also appears.

Call Me Bwana Arnold Palmer Bob Hope

Call Me Bwana

1963  Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Albert R. Broccoli of James Bond fame, this is the only non-Bond film made by Broccoli’s production company. That’s not to say there’s no connection, though: much of the crew for Bwana also worked on Dr. No and, if you look quickly in the “sniper” scene in From Russia With Love, the Russian agent attempts an escape through a window situated on a wall-sized poster for Call Me Bwana. After falsely representing himself as a “great white hunter,” Hope’s character is hired by the U.S. government and sent into the heart of Africa to retrieve a secret space probe before enemy agents find it. Hijinks ensue, with the lovely Anita Ekberg playing a foreign spy opposite Hope’s typically good-hearted bumbler. Though hardly the stuff of Academy Awards, the film contains a notable cameo in Arnold Palmer, who appears as himself playing a golfer who just happens to be playing a round in the African bush. Palmer later said that “An invitation from Bob Hope was like an audience with the pope… You said, ‘Yes sir,’ and showed up on time.” Of course the two were already friends by the time Bwana was filmed, which likely made for great times on set.

Sideways golf film


2004  Directed by Alexander Payne
A superlative film about finding and appreciating beauty in life (among other things), Sideways pours a lot of wine as its sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, plot unfolds. But if the film is remembered by most for the stuff in the glass, golfers will take note of one of the funniest golf scenes to appear in recent memory. Characters played by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are ostensibly away on a golf-and-wine weekend prior to Church’s character’s impending nuptials. While golfing (at the Alisal Ranch River Course in California’s Santa Ynez Valley), they have an argument on the fairway. Their delay of play frustrates the trailing foursome, one of whom hits into them. Giamatti’s character decides to give their ball back—with his iron—and a new bar is set for acceptable behavior on course. Church’s battle charge with his driver is worthy of a medieval epic—hilarious stuff.

Lost in Translation golf in film

Lost in Translation

2003  Directed by Sofia Coppola
As a scene-setting device, golf is often exploited for the humorous extremes of its personalities (see Caddyshack’s Judge Smails or Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore), the self-destructive frustrations it can inspire (as in the “give me another ball” scene in Tin Cup) or the life lessons it offers (think Will Smith’s fairway prophet in Bagger Vance). Rarely is golf just left alone and celebrated for its essence: that is, the stark simplicity and mediation at the heart of the game. Coppola gave us perhaps the purest golf moment ever on film with her short clip of Bill Murray’s character at the Kawaguchiko Country Club course in Japan. With no dialogue or music and with Murray’s character filmed in silhouette, Murray tees up, takes a practice swing and simply hits his ball into the Zen landscape, complete with Mt. Fuji in the background. In a single moment, a perfect snapshot of golf and the levity it offers within our chaotic world.


1964  Directed by Guy Hamilton
As Sean Connery likes to remind us, he’s Scottish, so it only made sense to include a golf scene in a Bond film. This one was filmed at Stoke Poges, not far from Pinewood Studios where numerous Bond films have been shot. In addition to being tremendous fun (and a favorite of Arnie’s, who told us he loves James Bond movies) the film offers the almost amiable scenario of 007 golfing with an über-villain (Goldfinger). Not surprisingly, Goldfinger cheats, with a little help from his top-hat-wearing caddy/henchman Oddjob. With two holes to go and all square, Goldfinger tries to distract Bond by talking in the middle of the agent’s swing, but it doesn’t work and Bond puts his ball on the fairway. Goldfinger, however, hits into the rough by some trees, where his ball disappears. Oddjob surreptitiously drops another ball in a more favorable location, then claims to have found the missing ball, prompting Bond’s caddy to exclaim, “If that’s his original ball, I’m Arnold Palmer.” After a bit of trickery, Bond wins the match, culminating in an angry Oddjob hastily shoving Goldfinger’s clubs into the trunk of the villain’s car (which Bond identifies as a Rolls Royce “Phantom 337,” likely meaning a Phantom 3 from ’37 as there is no “337” model). Sitting in the back, Goldfinger makes out a check to “cash” to settle an agreed-upon $5,000 wager, while Oddjob, behind the wheel, crushes a golf ball into dust with one hand before driving off mad.

Enter the Dragon

1973  Directed by Robert Clouse
In this epic Bruce Lee film, a character named Roper played by co-star John Saxon is attacked on a golf course and beats up a few thugs. Saxon choreographed the scene himself the day before, and told an online fansite that he was quite proud of his work in rehearsal, showing off “high scissor-type kicks and spinning slap type kicks… which I demonstrated for more than an hour with foolish exuberance.” When Saxon got home that night, he realized he’d torn his hamstring, so when the scene was filmed the next day (on one of the courses in LA’s Griffith Park), the fight was much more subdued than it might have been. No matter, as the final product is one of the best Kung Fu movies ever made—and certainly shows a different use for a golf course!

Johnny English Reborn

2011  Directed by Oliver Parker
In this spy-thriller spoof, in a scene only faintly reminiscent of Connery in Goldfinger, Rowan Atkinson is far less suave on the first tee at Brocket Hall. When his caddy offers him a glove, Atkinson’s Johnny English chides him: “I may not know much about golf, Tucker, but I know how to hold the bat.” Thankfully luck is with him: despite the fact that his driver goes soaring into the air after he swings, it ends up landing in the caddy’s hands and his ball ends up squarely in the middle of the fairway. A nice nod to Bond, then, with a bit of a smile.


1996  Directed by Doug Liman
The two characters played by John Favreau and Ron Livingston manage to have a nice, long conversation about a career letdown, family and an ex-girlfriend while playing a single hole at the Los Feliz Golf Course in Los Angeles—quite a feat considering that it’s only a par 3. After asking Favreau to tend the pin on a 12-foot putt, Livingston putts to within four feet while yelling “Get there!” It takes two more putts to put it away, which is about as well as Favreau is doing. Upon [finally] putting out, both men need a good 30 seconds or so to calculate their scores on the hole, eventually giving up and settling for 8s.

The Thomas Crown Affair

1968  Directed by Norman Jewison
Perfectly played by Steve McQueen, Thomas Crown is a bored millionaire who’ll do anything to break the humdrum life of the man who has everything, including trying to inject some spark into a Sunday round. In a scene filmed at Belmont Country Club near Boston, Crown hits out of the sand to within inches of the cup. His playing partner’s surprise is doubled when Crown bets that he can do it again—and that the partner can bury the ball in the sand. Crown’s second attempt goes past the hole, but he’s not done yet. He offers double or nothing that he’ll make the putt and still get down in two. “That’s a sucker bet!” exclaims the partner, remarking that it’ll cost Crown over $1,000 if he loses. When Crown misses and doesn’t care, the partner exclaims: “You’re mad! Absolutely mad!” To which McQueen cooly replies, “What else can we do on Sunday?” A 1999 remake had Pierce Brosnan’s Crown betting $100,000 on a shot while offering, “It’s a beautiful Saturday morning… What the hell else have we got to do?” Not bad, but we’ll take McQueen on this one.

Casino golf in film


1995  Directed by Martin Scorsese
In this film about Vegas and the mob, Robert DeNiro’s low-lying mob pro Frank is frustrated with Joe Pesci’s high-profile thug Nicky. While DeNiro meets with members of the Nevada gaming control board in the back yard of his house on Las Vegas National Golf Club’s course in hopes of renewing his casino operator’s license, Nicky and his pals are enjoying a round. “I got my job on the line and this guy’s out havin’ the time of his life,” DeNiro says. “He’s got every cop in the state watching him, and he’s out playing golf!” Suddenly a small plane starts having engine trouble right over the course, sputtering and flying low, prompting Pesci to exclaim, “Where’s this f****n’ guy gonna land at, the fairway?!” And that’s exactly what happens. It turns out that Federal agents had been watching Nicky for so long, their plane ran out of gas. As embarrassed agents sprint past everyone without a word, leaving their plane parked on the fairway, Pesci steps up to his ball, chomps on his cigar and makes an offer: “$100 t’whoever hits the plane!”


Masters that changed golf

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