Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It's
about five o'clock in the morning.... A murder has been reported
from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block ...
cut! Sorry, wrong script. Take 2:
This is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. That's the
Beverly Hills Hotel to your right, UCLA on the left and, as we
move farther west, the Riviera Country Club, site of Sunday's
victory by Craig Stadler. That's it, that huge fortress of a
building. It overlooks one of the great golf courses in the
country, home to many Hollywood stars over the years. The golf
scenes in Follow the Sun, the movie about Ben Hogan, were shot
there. So was much of Pat and Mike, one of Tracy and Hepburn's
Golf has played a part in many movies in the past, going back to
the Three Stooges, W.C. Fields and even beyond. Now there's a
flurry of new golf movies coming out, the most publicized of
which stars that well-known high-handicapper Kevin Costner. As
anyone who has watched golf on television this winter can tell
you, Costner has looked like a man bent on joining the Tour. He
has become a fixture on the pro-am circuit, often accompanied by
his guru, Gary McCord of CBS, microphone in hand. The two of
them have been shamelessly promoting the Costner film about a
driving range pro who somehow winds up in the U.S. Open.
We have seen Costner playing golf in Arizona, Costner in Palm
Springs--NBC's Saturday telecast of the Hope showed little
else--Costner at the rain-aborted AT&T. When he won a celebrity
shoot-out at Pebble, it gave him the opportunity to tell the
gallery, "If you love movies and love golf, go see Tin Cup."
Yes, that's the name of the movie, and you won't read it here
March 4, 1996
But give the devil his due. The man swinging a club in the movie
is Costner himself, not a look-alike from the Nike tour. How
often he had teed it up before filming began is murky, but
members say they have seen him at Riviera frequently during the
past year, and the longtime pro at Bel Air Country Club, Eddie
Merrins, has spotted him there, too. In any case, McCord, a
fringe Tour player, was brought in to give Costner a crash
course on the game. The results have been impressive: an
infinitely smoother swing than those of such pro-am stalwarts as
Clint Eastwood and Jack Lemmon, and drives that carry a long
way, sometimes landing in the fairway.
Just as important, McCord taught Costner to look like a pro, how
to stand leaning on a club when others are hitting, how to pull
off his golf glove or hitch up his pants the way Arnie does.
Because he is an actor, Costner has adopted these mannerisms
perfectly, so that watching him in action, one would not guess
that his experience on a golf course is limited. Preparing to
tee off as a gallery crowded around him at Pebble Beach, he
said, "It's scary to think these people assume I know what I'm
doing." But obviously he has been enjoying himself. Either that
or he's the greatest actor in the world.
Costner is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood biggies
who have been bitten by the golf bug. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary
Pickford were original members of Riviera when it opened in
1927. The course was more difficult then, and Fairbanks was said
to have offered cash rewards to pros who shot good scores--$100
for a 70, $200 for a 69 and so on. There were few winners.
Harold Lloyd often played there, even though he had his own
backyard nine-hole course designed by Alister McKenzie of
Augusta National fame.
Fields, Clark Gable and Katharine Hepburn all played frequently
both at Riviera and at the nearby Bel Air. In her book Me,
Hepburn relates this story. "I was playing golf with the pro at
Bel Air and we were about to finish a nine-hole lesson when
there was the noise of an airplane. Howard [Hughes] landed
practically on top of us. He took his clubs out of the plane and
finished the nine with us. Naturally the club was furious. He
had to have a truck come over and virtually dismantle the plane
to get rid of it."
Hughes was a pretty fair golfer, often taking lessons from
Riviera's Willie Hunter, a blunt little Scotsman. But during a
lesson one day he asked Hunter if he could ever become a good
player. Hunter said no, whereupon Hughes dropped his club and is
said to have never played again.
However, a number of movie stars were impressive players.
Randolph Scott, a silver screen cowboy, was a Bel Air member. He
entered the U.S. Amateur once in the '40s, although he failed to
qualify for the match-play portion of the tournament. Long after
she stopped making movies, Ruby Keeler played in the Women's
Senior Amateur. And Bing Crosby played in the British Amateur.
Crosby and Bob Hope used to hit shots on the Paramount lot
during breaks on the set. One Sunday during the filming of Road
to Utopia they were playing at Lakeside, a course often
frequented by the stars. They had reached the 4th tee when they
were intercepted by Paul Jones, the producer of the movie, and a
man carrying two suits. Seems Crosby and Hope had been ducking
the wardrobe man in favor of golf. The suits had to be ready for
the next day's shoot, so a fitting took place right there on the
tee. As other groups came to the 4th, Crosby and Hope waved them
Although the two of them loved the game and eventually lent
their names to tournaments, they never got around to making Road
to Pebble Beach. But they came close, appearing in a 1943 short
called Don't Hook Now. A musical comedy, it includes footage
from the Crosby Pro-Am showing top pros such as Hogan, Sam Snead
and Byron Nelson.
Fred Astaire's sense of rhythm never translated to his golf
swing--he was a 90s shooter--but he loved the game. One day at Bel
Air he did a few impromptu dance steps before teeing off and
decided to use the routine in Carefree. The scene took two weeks
to shoot at the RKO ranch, an outdoor studio in the desert, and
required 300 golf balls, five men to shag them, a piano and
several cases of beer to combat the 95-degree heat.
Eastwood, long a regular at Pebble Beach, often takes his clubs
on the road when he makes a movie. Filming Paint Your Wagon
proved difficult when costar Lee Marvin kept going off on toots.
The only way Eastwood could stay calm was to duck out for a
round of golf.
One Hollywood star who wound up hating the game was Glenn Ford,
a sometime golfer who played the part of Hogan in Follow the
Sun. Hogan worked Ford so hard trying to make his swing
creditable that every night the actor had to soak his hands in a
solution of vinegar and salt. After four months of filming, Ford
swore he would never play again, a promise he kept.
Movies involving golf go back to the days of hickory shafts.
Surely no one has forgotten The Golf Game and the Bonnet (1913),
A Foozle at the Tee Party (1915) and The Golfers, a Mack Sennett
comedy made in 1929. On film Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney and,
believe it or not, Elvis Presley all took clubs in hand at one
time or another. At least two golf movies have been made for TV,
namely Agatha Christie's 1923 novel Murder on the Links and Dan
Jenkins's saucy novel Dead Solid Perfect.
Whether or not Costner's movie is a birdie or a bogey will have
to await Siskel and Ebert's verdict this summer, but if there
were Oscars for movies involving golf, the following films would
be winners in a variety of categories.
Best Movie with Only a Single Golf Scene: There are four
nominees. In Sunset Boulevard, William Holden, in a voice-over,
says, "Finally I located that agent of mine. He was hard at work
at Bel Air, making with the golf sticks." The scene takes place
on the 4th hole at the Bel Air Country Club.
In The Sting, Robert Shaw, as the heavy, is on a practice
putting green when he tells a henchman to track down and do away
with Robert Redford.
The opening scene of The Philadelphia Story shows Katharine
Hepburn throwing Cary Grant's thin bag of clubs at him,
retaining one club that she breaks over her knee.
But the winner is M*A*S*H, which has Elliott Gould hitting three
balls from a helicopter pad in Korea. And it is Gould swinging
that club, no doubt about it--stiff-legged at address, falling
backward on contact.
Best Golf Scene in Which the Loser Later Gets Killed: Who can
forget the four-minute sequence in Goldfinger in which Sean
Connery as British secret service agent 007 outcheats Gert Frobe
as the eponymous villain? Publicity releases say that Connery's
passion for the game stemmed from this movie, but upon close
scrutiny of his one swing in the film, it looks suspiciously
like 006 is standing in for him.
Best Golf Lesson in a Movie: With apologies to Bobby Jones, who
once made a series of superb instructional shorts, the winner is
Animal House. Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert take aim with a
fairway wood at a mean-spirited ROTC officer on horseback.
Riegert misses, Matheson does not, and the officer is dragged
off screaming by the runaway horse. Matheson deadpans, "Your
left arm is straight, but you're not keeping your head down.
Always try to hit through the ball."
Funniest Movie Involving Golf: You say Caddyshack? Chevy Chase,
Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray get off some great
one-liners, but that's not it. Nor is it The Caddy with Dean
Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Golf Specialist with W.C. Fields
gives you twice the laughs in half the time.
Worst Movie Involving Golf: Just when it seemed Caddyshack II
had it wrapped up, along came Happy Gilmore, which was released
a few weeks back. It's inane and embarrassing, and it was tied
for second at the box office in its first weekend in release.
Most Heartwarming Golf Movie: Follow the Sun. How could it not
be? The story of Ben Hogan's heroic comeback after his
near-fatal auto accident gets serious treatment from Hollywood.
Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret are in the film, but Ford, playing
Hogan, required a double despite all that hard practice that
hurt his hands.
Best Golf in Any Movie, Ever: In Pat and Mike, Katharine
Hepburn--and it is the Great Kate herself--hits 24 shots,
including one from casual water, one from the woods and two from
bunkers. In one scene, demonstrating to an old busybody how good
she really is, Hepburn hits nine teed-up balls on a practice
range in about 10 seconds.
Hepburn began playing when she was five at a private nine-hole
course near her parents' summer home in Fenwick, Conn. She took
lessons as a teenager, and in 1938, hours before the great New
England hurricane ravaged the coast, she made a hole in one at
Fenwick's 9th. Hepburn's stance, as seen in the movie, is a
shade too crouched. She starts her swing with a little forward
press, brings the club around her right shoulder and follows
through low, looking somewhat like Arnold Palmer. But the
overall motion is rhythmic and has none of the glitches seen in
In the movie Hepburn enters something called the Women's
National Match Play tournament and polishes off a few leading
pros of the day, reaching the final against Babe Didrikson
Zaharias. She is ahead until her boyfriend--no, not Spencer
Tracy--shows up and rattles her. The course is undeniably
Riviera, though it is never identified as such, and for some
reason the 16th hole, a par-3, becomes the 17th. The tournament
sequence lasts 10 minutes on screen and is realistic enough in
places to resemble a newsreel.
Over the years Hepburn has won four Oscars, but none were for
her role as Pat Pemberton in Pat and Mike. So unofficially and
retroactively, I now award her a fifth, in the hope that it may
be the start of a beautiful friendship.