From cult classics to charming comedies: what happened when golf got the Hollywood treatment

CNNLike a professional athlete’s performance, sporting movies are often hit and miss.

While some become cult favorites, others fall by the wayside after struggling in the hinterland between dramatization and sporting action.

Certain sports lend themselves to getting the Hollywood treatment, and arguably golf falls into that category, perhaps because of the slower pace of play and the focus oftentimes on the personalities away from the course rather than on the action.


This 1980 laugh-a-minute romp was the first of its kind and brought humor to the typically stuffy world of golfing country clubs.

The plot revolves around a high school student – played by Michael O’Keefe – and his journey to obtain a college scholarship.

During his time at Bushwood Country Club, O’Keefe’s character becomes involved in a rivalry amongst a prominent, stuck-up member of the club – Judge Elihu Smails (played by Ted Knight) – and a boisterous, jokester guest named Al Czervik (played by legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield).

Although initially beginning as a caddie for Smails in the match at the culmination of the movie, O’Keefe is thrust into the fray midway through and eventually holes the winning putt as a member of Czervik’s team as the hero of the film.

Elsewhere, there is a subplot throughout the film of the country club’s clumsy, dimwitted greenskeeper – played by Bill Murray – and his struggles to kill a destructive gopher amidst dreams of winning the Masters while destroying flowers and musing about the Dalai Lama’s golf skills and spiritual tips.

Also starring Chevy Chase, the film’s lighthearted nature and unique style earned itself a vibrant fanbase and even a sequel, though ‘Caddyshack II’ was universally panned when it was released eight years later.

In 2002, ESPN wrote that ‘Caddyshack’ was arguably “the funniest sports movie ever made.”

Perhaps just as famous as the film, the movie’s theme song – “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins – became a top 10 US hit, with golfing great Tiger Woods telling CNN Sport back in 2017 would be the soundtrack to his perfect day.

‘Happy Gilmore’

Arguably one of the most famous sports films of all time, ‘Happy Gilmore’ is an all-time classic.

The movie tells the story of the journey of Happy Gilmore – played by Adam Sandler – from failing ice hockey player to golf phenom after discovering his natural gifts on the course.

Gilmore’s newfound golfing skills present him with the opportunity to save his grandmother’s house from foreclosure. However, the rough-and-tumble Gilmore struggles to acclimatize to golf’s polished environment.


The film’s story hinges on Gilmore’s battle with his new rival, Shooter McGavin. The rivalry between the two and and the lengths McGavin will go to put Gilmore off helped the movie blossom into a comedy reference point in pop culture when it was released in 1996, with both sports and movie fans celebrating its legacy.

Subsequently, both Sandler and Christopher McDonald, who played McGavin, made sure to hold on to their ties to the movie in the years since, even reigniting their rivalry to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary in 2021.

For Ladies European Tour winner Amy Boulden, the film’s legacy is left with the non-golfing community who remember themes from it even though they aren’t big fans of the sport.

“With ‘Happy Gilmore,’ the funny thing is that there are so many non-golfers who would know what the ‘Happy Gilmore swing’ is or they’ve watched the film,” Boulden told CNN’s Living Golf in 2021.

“And I think that’s great that it’s got so many people from outside of golf interested and they’ve watched the movie and then they’ll go to the driving range and just try to replicate that iconic golf swing.”

Boulden, who says that ‘Happy Gilmore’ is her favorite golfing movie, also admits that the scenes where Gilmore is struggling with the short-game element of golf is extremely relatable to everyday players.

‘Tin Cup’

Golf and romance don’t seem like two components that might mix well in a movie. But through Kevin Costner and Rene Russo, ‘Tin Cup’ attempts to forge a niche of its own comprised of seemingly juxtaposed genres.

The movie tells the story of Costner’s Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy – a club pro who has lost his way at becoming a professional golfer and ended up working at a course in Texas.

When psychiatrist Dr. Molly Griswold – played by Russo – walks through the door and asks for lessons, McAvoy’s life is upended. Through their time together, ‘Tin Cup’ ends up falling for Griswold. However, as fate would have it, Griswold is married to McAvoy’s former college teammate, David Simms.

The film shows McAvoy’s journey of attempting to win over Griswold and, in doing so, reclaim some of his golfing credibility by qualifying for the US Open.


While the film didn’t receive rave reviews from critics, it has remained in the public consciousness for some of its more famous moments, notably the scene featuring McAvoy hitting a series of balls into a water hazard during the last round of the US Open.

In a real life twist, when British golfer Eddie Pepperell ran out of balls because he hit so many into a pond in 2019, it was compared to ‘Tin Cup.’

A key element of the film is McAvoy’s relationship with his friend and caddie, Romeo Posar, who is portrayed by Cheech Marin. Boulden gave the pair’s interaction the stamp of approval, saying elements of it exactly mirror what happens with the pros and caddies in real life.

Boulden highlighted the scene when McAvoy wants to use a driver, but Posar advises him to go for an iron. Posar snaps his driver over his knee, something Boulden thinks is quite a bit more dramatic than reality.

“You definitely have to have the right personality for you,” Boulden told CNN Sport in 2021, “but you also have to have someone who can bring you out of the shot if you’re going to make the wrong decision.

“Like maybe with that decision right there, the caddie was probably in the right of maybe to hit an iron down there rather than a driver. I think that’s where you really need to have that trust with each other as well.”

‘The Phantom of the Open’

This charming film details the journey of Maurice Flitcroft – played by Mark Rylance – who decides to enter the 1976 British Open despite having never played a round of golf before.

The movie shows Flitcroft’s quest to achieve his seemingly improbable goal as well as his fight against the established golfing hierarchy.

The 46-year-old crane operator from a northern English town did make it to the storied major – sporting plastic shoes, a fishing hat, false teeth and a set of cheap mail-order clubs – before carding a 49-over-par 121, the worst score ever carded in the Open’s history.

The entrance laws to the tournament were changed after Flitcroft’s appearance, but the movie is about more than just what happens on the course; as its tag line says: “Every dreamer deserves a shot.”


‘From the Rough’

This movie recounts Catana Starks’ trailblazing journey in 1986 to become the first woman ever to coach a college men’s golf team.

Starks, who is played by Taraji P. Henson, is a former swimming coach at Tennessee State University when she is tasked with creating a men’s golf team.

She recruits a ragtag group of golfers from across the globe to come to the university and be part of her team.


Things begin poorly for Starks, with division and arguments between the team. But through her determination and inspiration, her team gels and wins a movie-ending tournament.

Starks’ achievements were recognized in 2014 when she was inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame.