Having done a previous post about 50 Funny Football Films, and a similarly epic one about baseball, here is a survey of Hollywood golf comedies through history. Click on the links (get it?) to learn more about the comedians and the films.
The king of comedy golf is of course W.C. Fields — you may even say he invented it. Fields developed his funny golf sketch in the Ziegfeld Follies during the 1920s and later adapted it for the screen so many times that you could say he STILL stars in a large percentage of all the golf comedies ever made. These include His Lordship’s Dilemma (1915), So’s Your Old Man (1926), The Golf Specialist (1930), The Dentist (1932), You’re Telling Me (1934) , It’s a Gift (1934), and The Big Broadcast of 1938 .
In Convict 13, Buster Keaton is minding his own business playing golf when he is mistaken for an escaped prisoner, caught and hauled “back” to a prison from which he’d never escaped. In the penitentiary, as he awaits his impending execution (he still hasn’t done anything wrong) he manages to steal a guard’s uniform. Unfortunately, he does so just when there is a prison riot and a rogue convict is knocking out all the guards. Buster then quells the riot and is made assistant warden of the prison. But all he was doing originally was playing golf.
One of Charlie Chaplin’s last comedy shorts , in which he blues dual roles: a drunken millionaire and a wandering tramp. One of the comedy’s key set pieces is set on a golf course and Chaplin brings all his skill and deftness to the business, as he did on other occasions with things like roller skating. Mack Swain adds to the hilarity. Since Fields’ his Majesty’s Dilemma had been a very obscure film, The Idle Class can be said to the first major slapstick comedy to showcase golf.
Larry Semon comedy set on a golf course with a loose, crazy succession of gags, including battles with a squirrel, a duck, a skunk and a bear (all presaging Bill Murray’s gopher in Caddyshack by 60 years), culminating in Semon’s patented destruction of a barn. Oliver Hardy, Vernon Dent and Spencer Bell round out the cast.
On the Links (1925)
Golf hijinks with Tons of Fun, the comedy team starring three overweight comedians, Fatty Alexander, “Fat” Carr and Kewpie Ross.
Are Golfers Cuckoo? (1926)
Obscure, mostly terrible short, with Gene “Fatty” Layman and Charles Dorety as a a couple of ne’er-do-wells who show up at country club and try to become caddies. The gags are lame, and there’s no energy toward creating a story so the mind wanders. The pair try to impress some girls, that’s the extent of the plot.
The Perfect Lie (1926)
The Golf Nut (1927)
Billy Bevan drives golf club President Vernon Dent crazy on the links, culminating in the placement of a hornet’s nest down his trousers.
Like so many great comedy shorts it’s in three parts. In the first, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy are having a quiet Sunday at home. A glance out the window reveals Stanley blissfully approaching up the sidewalk with his golf bag. The couple try to hide out but accidentally reveal their presence when they retrieve a note he leaves. They invite him in and he causes all manner of havoc, destroying a window shade, a chair, etc. When Oliver destroys the record player (which he is playing at Stanley’s request) it is too much for the wife and she throws them out. Luckily, Ollie is wearing his golf clothes under his robe. He complies most cheerfully
The second part of the film will be well known to those who have seen the team’s talking short Men o’ War, which re-creates it. The boys meet two fetching you girls at the golf links; the couples need to pair up as the club is only allowing people onto the course in groups of four. They stop off at the clubhouse for a refreshement, but they only have fifteen cents. Ollie instructs Stan to say that he doesn’t want a drink, but he repeatedly bungles it. In the end, the strategy was futile. Drinks are a dime so they owe 30 cents (they leave a wristwatch to cover the bill).
The third part is simply hijinx on the links, a series of standard golf gags. The funniest is seeing Edgar Kennedy accidentally replace his toupee with a swatch of artificial turf. It all culminates with one of the team’s patented tit for tat battles in a mud hole, especially rewarding since everyone is wearing fancy golf clothes.
All Teed Up (1930)
Charley Chase comedy, directed by Edgar Kennedy. Hotsy totsy Thelma Todd invites boyfriend Chase to her dad’s golf club. He ends up winning the game somehow, but also tears up the course by driving a vegetable truck across it.
Three Little Beers (1935)
The Three Stooges work at a brewery and wind up tearing up a golf course. Plenty of the gags seem swiped from Fields.
Divot Diggers (1936)
Our Gang causes no end of trouble on a golf course: first by sneaking onto the course and attempting to play with their makeshift clubs, then by being crazy caddies, and finally by tearing everything up with a lawn mower. To spice things up, they bring their pet chimp — not the last we will hear of a golf playing chimp.
Donald’s Golf Game (1938)
This is basically a Donald Duck version of Fields’ The Golf Specialist. Donald tries to tee off, but nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie keep playing pranks to prevent him. The beauty of cartoons is all the things you can’t do with live action (although Larry Semon sure tried). Thus, in the end, Donald winds up down the golf hole himself.
Canine Caddy (1941)
Another Disney short, this one starring Mickey Mouse. The titular caddy is of course Pluto, who chases gophers and digs the golf course full of holes.
The Loose Nut (1945)
Woody Woodpecker drives a workman crazy by continually playing golf right where he is attempting to lay wet cement.
Woodpecker in the Rough (1952)
Woody Woodpecker has been bitten by the golfing bug once again, this time on a proper golf course, and in competition with other players.
The Caddy (1953)
Dean Martin as a pro golfer, Jerry Lewis as the titular caddy, who is also secretly his trainer (he’s the son himself of a legendary golfer). Martin’s success goes to his head and he begins to abouse Lewis, much to his detriment. Cameos in the film by several pro golfers including Sam Snead and Ben Hogan.
After W.C. Fields, the comedian most associated with the sport of golf was of course Bob Hope. A good deal of that association was offscreen, with his playing in celebrity tournaments, including his own. But by the 1960s, it began to get blurred. It is said that he even worked his filming schedule around his daily golf game — and then he even began to put the golf in his movies. The publicity still above is from Call Me Bwana (1963). The weird thing is, the Bob Hope golf-playing chimp scene I remember is from How to Commit Marriage (1969). (I remember it because it is the best thing about the movie, a statement that speaks volumes).
Caddyshack (1980) and Caddyshack II (1988)
From an original idea and script by Brian Doyle-Murray, and whipped into shape by Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the final script and directed, Caddyshack has to be acknowledged to be the funniest golf comedy feature and certainly on par (forgive me) with the best golf comedy shorts. It’s able to sustain feature length by bringing Ramis’s patented anti-authoritarian class warfare to bear, much as in his earlier Animal House and Meatballs, and his later Stripes. There are good guys and bad guys and stakes. And of course many, many golf gags by the top-notch comedy cast including Doyle-Murray, his brother Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. I was 14 or 15 when it came out, so naturally I thought it was the best thing ever, and I still hold a lot of affection for it. The sequel however is terrible. It features Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jackie Mason, Randy Quaid, and Robert Stack, et al.
Dorf on Golf (1987)
I only included this because if I don’t, someone will say “You forgot to include this.” The less said on the subject, the better.
Tin Cup (1996)
Bleccccccch! A golf rom-com starring Kevin Costner and Rene Russo. It makes a better golf game than it does a movie, and if you don’t think so, just ask PGA pro Peter Jacobsen, who plays himself playing golf in the movie.
Happy Gilmore (1996)
Adam Sandler is a young man (thankfully without a speech impediment in this one) who adapts his hockey slap shot into a golf swing and improbably makes it all the way to the top of the field, along with his sideman, tv game show host Bob Barker. Sophomoric? Yes, but it’s not like I can point to Larry Semon or the Three Stooges or the Bob Hope chimp and say, “Your movies need to be more sophisticated — like THIS, Sandler!”
(one day later…)
Who’s Your Caddy? (2007)
A rapper (Big Boi) moves next door to a golf course and drives the members crazy so they will allow him to join. (Is that how it usually works?) Thanks, Kevin Maher, for reminding us abot this one!)
For more on comedy film history please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc