In our last print edition, we sports editors detailed our favorite sports movies of all time. I raised some eyebrows when I revealed that my favorite is “Caddyshack,” the 1980 farce about sex, drugs and golf directed by Harold Ramis.
I doubled down by calling it “the truest depiction of golf ever put on film.”
In light of this controversial opinion, and of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s inclusion of golf courses as essential businesses in an executive order, I will explain why I love this movie so much.
The movie follows Danny Noonan, a caddie at Bushwood Country Club, as he tries to navigate his love life, uncertainty about his future and the crazy personalities he encounters on the course. It also features Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield (his film debut) in the greatest comedic pissing contest since “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
If the first sentence of that sounds like a coming-of-age story, it’s because that’s how the film began. Ramis said in the film’s hilarious making-of documentary that Doug Kenny, former editor of the National Lampoon, wanted to write a “bildungsroman,” which is just the German word for “coming-of-age story.”
Eventually, the presence of Chase, Murray and Dangerfield upended the movie, and it became the farce we know and love. That shift, and the movie’s initially poor performance, reportedly disappointed Kenny.
I’m going to briefly appease Doug Kenny’s ghost and talk about this movie as a theme first and foremost. This is a movie partially about fathers and sons. Danny’s dad is only seen once, in the opening scene of the movie where he harangues Danny about saving up for college.
Throughout the rest of the movie, Danny is torn between a pair of father figures. On one hand Chase’s zen-like, accidentally rich character Ty Webb teaches him to let go and “be the ball.” On the other, Ted Knight’s aging, uptight Judge Smails asks him if he stands for “goodness or badness” without really defining either concept. In the grand tradition of “slobs vs. snobs” storytelling, Danny chooses the former.
The movie survives, I think, through that father-son subtext. It’s in the vein of “Pulp Fiction” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” a movie that your dad shows you because you need to see it, because it’s a classic and because your mom sure won’t. Side note: If your mom did show you any of these movies, the dynamic still applies, and your mom is really cool.
In order to defend why this movie is the truest depiction of golf, I have to lay out my bona fides. I’ve been golfing since I was 6 years old. I remember hacking away at a ball with a little two-sided wedge on a family vacation in South Carolina, all the way up to golfing in gale-force winds last fall.
I’ve never played for a team. I’ve never wanted to do it professionally. I wouldn’t even call myself a fantastic golfer. My personal best is a 93, or 21 over par for those of you doing the math.
But it’s fun. It’s an opportunity to listen to music, hang out with my dad and hit things really far away. It’s escapism.
That’s the context in which I know this movie. My dad and I quote this movie to each other every chance we get. My uncle does a killer impression of Murray’s shabby greens keeper, Carl Spackler. My dad took the idea of bringing a Bluetooth speaker onto the course to play music from a scene in “Caddyshack,” where Dangerfield does the same thing with a radio.
Even writing this, I keep laughing at my favorite lines and scenes. It’s my favorite sports movie because it perfectly captures my experience with a sport I’ve played nearly all my life.