Full disclosure: I think golf is one of humanity’s most boring inventions, and that’s aside from complaints about the courses’ water-wastefulness and the sport’s traditional appeal to the kind of people who’d visit Mar-a-Lago. But a movie critic’s job is to give a fair shake to everything from torture porn to cartoons about emoji, so it must be said that Jason Baffa’s Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk is a glossy, good-natured documentary celebrating men (and one woman) who are vastly less famous than Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. It’s hard to understand why commercial-maker and documentarian Jason Baffa would choose to set aside the surf films he’s been making — now there’s a sport that can be watched with pleasure even by non-enthusiasts. But the pic’s mission to shine a light on the expertise of bag-toting sidekicks is admirable, and the story’s told in breezy fashion. Just leave your non-golfing loved ones at home for this one.
Bill Murray, whose affinity for the game goes well beyond Caddyshack, is an engaged narrator here, speaking with warmth as he takes us to golf havens like Ballybunion, Ireland. With the help of golf historian David Hamilton, we learn a bit of lore — funnily enough, Hamilton says the first recorded mention of the game comes from 1474, when golf was banned by a king who must have been very wise. Comic animation in the vein of Mad magazine illustrates this and some other legends of the game, and debunks the myth that Mary, Queen of Scots was the first to use a caddie.
Polished, good-humored and for golf maniacs only.
We learn that early caddies were a disreputable lot until caddie-turned-player Tom Morris cleaned things up, introducing a bit of professionalism. Still, as far as many golfers were concerned, the rules for the boys carrying bags of clubs were “show up, keep up and shut up.”
Soaring through scenic Scotland, the movie explains the unique nature of traditional links, which are built on dunes and whose unpredictable texture makes it hard to know how a ball will roll. An outsider playing here, Baffa suggests, has little hope without the advice of a local caddie, who can show him the adjustments necessary for the terrain.
The doc sketches out the social dynamic between caddies and players, who walk together for hours and talk about much more than backswings. A caddy is a “best friend for the moment,” we hear, and the veterans we meet sound like they would be good-humored company.
Loopers charts golf’s spreading popularity — to the U.S., to the TV mainstream via Arnold Palmer, to the big time with Woods — alongside a series of mini-portraits of famous caddies. Once the big tournaments allowed pro players to bring their own caddies instead of hiring locals — wait, didn’t we just hear local expertise was a caddie’s biggest asset? — famous partnerships developed. Tom Watson had Bruce Edwards; Ben Crenshaw had Carl Jackson. Nick Faldo shook things up by enlisting a Swedish woman named Fanny Sunesson. As the size of tournament prizes rose, it became possible for a high-profile caddie to make a million dollars in a year. (In his brief moment on camera, Murray notes that he made three bucks a bag when he started as a caddie.)
As it goes, the film develops a portrait of the modern caddie as an even-keeled emotional support, a sharp-eyed consultant and maybe even — as with Los Angeles’ Greg Puga — a Masters-worthy player in his own right. If golf is an expensive way to spoil a good walk, you might as well have one of these guys sharing the journey.
Production company: Brookwell-McNamara Entertainment
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Jason Baffa
Screenwriter: Carl Cramer
Producer: David Brookwell
Executive producers: Chris Brown, Jim Packer
Director of photography: Jason Baffa
Editors: Carl Cramer, Bryan Storkel
Composer: John Coda
Rated PG, 80 minutes