News From Terre Haute, Indiana

On & Off the Course

September 16, 2006

On and off the course: A film that’s more than golf

TERRE HAUTE — Every once in a while a movie comes out that not only is enjoyable to watch, but will really pique my interest, and get me to dig for more information. Happily for me and many other golfers, Walt Disney Pictures made a movie about a great story from the history of golf, the story of Francis Ouimet’s victory in the 1913 U.S. Open, over British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. The movie, called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” is based on a book of the same name by Mark Frost. It is a great story, and you don’t have to be a golfer to appreciate it.

“The Greatest Game Ever Played” is about the little guy versus the big guy, the new guy versus the veteran, and a little bit of the Americans versus the Britons. It is not a story of the poor versus the rich, because Vardon and Ouimet share similar working-class backgrounds in a time when there was a vast gulf between the wealthy and all others. Even golf professionals were looked down upon, and not allowed into some clubhouses, or as the movie portrays, not allowed to become members.

The movie starts with Harry Vardon’s beginnings, when his family was moved from their house in Grouville, Jersey, one of the British Channel islands, to make way for a golf course. He never forgot the image of being told that golf was “not for the likes of you” by the dark man wearing a stovepipe hat. Nevertheless, Harry Vardon did become a golfer, and a very famous representative of British golf. By the time he came to the United States for its Open Championship in 1913, he had already won five British Opens, and would win one more. He was young Francis’ idol, and indeed one of Francis’ greatest treasures was a “Vardon Flyer” golf ball that he had found when he was seven years old.

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