By Alexander Garvey Holbrook
The creakiest aphorism about golf is that it is a good walk spoiled. I cannot say that I am the biggest fan myself. From racist and antisemitic country clubs to awful fashion sense and the ecological fallout of terraforming golf courses in the middle east, golf’s image has never appealed to me. As such, I did not immediately see the appeal in a documentary about caddies through the ages. However, a good film, and especially a good documentary, is always welcome. Although this film is scattershot in its tone, and its style lacks cinematic panache, often looking more televisual, it is a noble and good-spirited effort to shine a light on the sport’s invisible men.
The taking heads, from amateur caddies in Lahinch to tourists on Scottish links courses to Tom Watson and Nick Faldo, offer glimpse into a world which is good-humoured, sporting and not at all tinged by toxic masculinity. Rather, it is a sport which is aware of how preposterous and quixotic it seems at times, hence why any success feels a major one. The Bandon course in Oregon is a case in point. It is a film in which the terminology of the world is everywhere, yet it does not become a burden. The result is a rich and grinning film, knee deep in its subject, which gives lip service to the sport’s hardcore faithful, yet is bright and likeable enough to make newcomers welcome.
Then again, it is not without its gripes. The narrative that caddies were lower-class rings truer in the United States, rather than the United Kingdom. Those of you who have read P.G. Wodehouse’s The Purity of the Turf will know what I am talking about.
Bill Murray’s effortless narration is a welcome guide through the subject matter. His tone glows through, dripping in the same pomade as a 1940s information film for the troops, and provides a welcome centre for when the filmmakers occasionally change tack, apparently on a whim. The twee animation on the history of golf is a bit too smirking and the needless re-enactments of the ‘Pro Jock’ days feel superfluous, as the film is generally quite good when it comes to historical footage and research. On a side note, it never fails to irk me when Americans subtitle northern accents. Alfie Fyles, from Southport (the town described as being near Birkdale rather than near Liverpool, which made me smile), is far from incomprehensible and is quite well spoken. Flat vowels do not justify subtitles.
If Loopers had some more points to make past the job of caddies themselves, and possessed more filmmaking finesse, then this could have been a longer film. It’s length is a bit wonky – the credits roll after an hour and sixteen minutes – and, therefore, it doesn’t comfortably place itself within the realm of either television or film. Nonetheless, it is a quirky and wholesome little document of a subject that I, and, I dare say, many others, would otherwise have passed by with indifference.
Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk will be shown in over 70 cinemas across the UK and Ireland, including Vue Manchester Printworks, ODEON Manchester Great Northern and Everyman Atrincham, for a limited time only. Tickets can be purchased here.