ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Even Jim Furyk, the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, conceded that he got a little misty-eyed during a preview screening of the golf film "Tommy's Honour" at the World Golf Village IMAX Theater. Furyk rhapsodized about what St. Andrews means to golfers, encouraging the audience to make a pilgrimage if they haven't, and said, "It's a magical place."
The “Home of Golf” should be credited as a co-star in this film that tells the story of Scotland's Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, the dynamic father-son team who ushered in the modern era of golf. How the great linksland is depicted captures the love, care and attention to detail given to the making of the film, which opens today in 45 cities.
The Old Course in its present state was too manicured to represent the 1860s and ’70s. Striving for authenticity, the filmmakers found Balcarres estate, about 30 minutes south of St. Andrews. Funny enough, golf's most cherished temple was reproduced in a cow pasture. Once the filmmakers relocated the cows and cut down the weeds, they built two holes, including the famed 18th. That meant digging a Swilcan Burn and the bridge that golfers know and love.
"There's a little movie magic involved," said Keith Bank, one of the producers, noting that the snow in a winter scene was shot with paper on a 60-degree day.
Nothing felt contrived. A golf movie, by nature, is going to attract a niche audience. But “Tommy's Honour” is at its best when it strays farther afield. It is a story about fathers and sons, love and tragedy, class distinction and universal themes that pull at the heart strings.
"It could've been about tiddlywinks," producer Jim Kreutzer said.
In other words, there's more to it than golf, and that's why the chances for this movie succeeding are – to borrow a phrase from Gary Koch – "better than most . . . better than most."
The journey to make the film began in 2010 when Kreutzer took a friend diagnosed with ALS to St. Andrews. It was their bucket-list trip, and he made a CD of Scottish music and bought copies of the book “Tommy's Honor” for them to read as a way of immersing themselves in the Scottish golf experience.
Kreutzer had been involved in 15 movie projects, and after reading the book he couldn't understand how this story had slipped through the cracks. He cold-called author Kevin Cook and said he wanted to make the Morris family story into a movie. "He believed me," Kreutzer said.
It became a passion project for all involved. Kreutzer interviewed several directors before settling on Jason Connery. On their first conversation, Connery said, "You do know that this isn't Sean Connery you're talking to?" The son of the famed actor previously had directed four films, and his background as a golfer made him a natural. But there was one awkward moment at the outset. Connery told Kreutzer that he knew the story of the late American singer Jim Morrison’s family, and how the rocker of Doors fame was buried in Paris.
"We soon got it together," Kreutzer said, chuckling.
Bank, a venture capitalist, had produced a film 28 years ago and swore he'd never do it again, but he's a golfer at heart. So, too, is executive producer Kenneth Whitney. Kreutzer recalled a conference call with Bill Paxton, the actor and director of "The Greatest Game Ever Played," who died recently, and he advised, "When you have the choice about showing golf shots, don't do it. People don't want to see golf balls floating through the air. They want to see the back story."
“Tommy's Honour” is a moving story. It won the Scottish Oscars for best feature film and also won over Furyk.
"Will folks cry? Will they laugh?" he said. "It's a film wrapped in a lot of emotion, and it's much more than just a golf movie."
The best ones always are.
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak