One of the most interesting things about golf to me is seeing how popular culture treats it. Though there are more than 20 million golfers in the U.S., that’s not quite enough to raise it above niche or curiosity status, especially when greater American culture is concerned. Tiger Woods has definitely helped golf become more mainstream, but to many, it sits behind sports like baseball, football and basketball. C'est la vie.
But golf does sometimes poke its way into our favorite literature, movies, television and music, no doubt because a lot of entertainment types are golfers themselves. It's EMMYs time, so I took a look at some shows and particular episodes where the game factors in. From prestige dramas to memorable comedies, a golf course can be an interesting place to advance a narrative.
Leaving aside programs (and, of course, an entire television network) dedicated exclusively to the game, here are some golf-in-television moments that stand out to me. I'd love to hear your own favorites in the comments below.
"Seinfeld" Season 5, Episode 14: "The Marine Biologist"
Golf figures prominently in one of the greatest episodes of one of the greatest television shows of all time (just ask my Golf Advisor colleagues, some of whom can quote it from memory). The episode revolves around television’s lout-in-chief George Costanza’s (Jason Alexander) attempts to woo a woman by lying about his profession, but the golfer in the group, Kramer (Michael Richards), provides the punchline to the episode in the wake of a Rockaway Beach practice session.
"The Sopranos" Season 3, Episode 7: "Second Opinion"
I’ve been re-watching the show I consider the best of all time recently, and find myself in the middle of the stunning third season. Of course, golf pops up, as Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) confronts his Uncle Junior’s (Dominic Chianese) doctor, who has been ducking Junior’s cancer concerns. In classic Tony fashion, menace and threats are wrapped in generosity - the gift of a Callaway Big Bertha driver. Gandolfini’s brilliant physicality is on full display as he and associate Furio leer over the doctor near a tee box, causing the doc to step backwards into a pond. That golf is the setting for the scene is secondary - it’s a terrific couple minutes in a spectacular show. (You can watch the scene in question here; NSFW language)
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" - several episodes
CYE star Larry David also co-created “Seinfeld,” so it’s no surprise that as an avid golfer, David takes multiple opportunities for his hilarious fictionalized self to insult people in a golf context. There are several great golf episodes of CYE - “The Black Swan” is on many lists of people’s favorites - but I adore “The Five Wood,” where show-Larry suspects that his favorite golf club has somehow made it into the coffin of the father of friend Marty Funkhouser (Bob Einstein), and switches it out. Uncomfortable hilarity, naturally, ensues. (Great scene here; NSFW language)
"Billions" Season 1, Episode 2: “Naming Rights”
This Brian Koppelman/David Levien-created show hasn’t had any on-course scenes (yet), but there are golf references peppered throughout the narrative that avid fans can pick up, especially at the very beginning of the show’s run. In the premiere episode, three small, hedge funds get mentioned that share names with each of a triad of celebrated Westchester County, New York private clubs: Century Country Club, Old Oaks Country Club and Quaker Ridge Golf Club. In a sublime scene in the second episode, golf comes up again. In one of the show’s many swaggering monologues, bad-boy billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) dredges up an old insult - his unjust firing as a caddie at “The Spoon” - in humiliating a family whose name he seeks to replace on a historic building with his own. (Check out that fantastic scene here; NSFW language)
"Entourage" - several episodes
It's only natural that a show about Hollywood actors and agents is going to have some golf scenes, and "Entourage" is no exception. And in a show full of cameos by real-life celebrities, even Phil Mickelson stopped by in one episode. (You can see that appearance here; NSFW language)
"Parade's End" Episode 1: "Episode One"
This HBO miniseries from 2012 was based on four novels that follow British aristocrat Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) through a few tumultuous years of his life before, during and after World War 1. A golf course serves as the setting for his meet-cute with Valentine Wannop, a young suffragette.
"LOST" Season 1, Episode 11: "Missing Pieces"
The cast of castaways on "LOST" made a makeshift golf course on their island home in order to serve as something of a distraction. It appears a few times throughout the series, but it's of little comfort to the character Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), who misses a putt and has an on-course meltdown to which many of us can relate.
"Mad Men" Season 3, Episode 6: "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency"
Golf only makes a one-line appearance here, but since it is one of my favorite episodes of any television show (I even wrote a paper about it in college), I'm including it. After a young hotshot ad exec gets his foot shredded by a lawnmower, the hand-wringing from his superiors peaks with the line, "The doctor said he'll never golf again," delivered with exquisitely excessive mournfulness by would-be agency buyer Saint John Powell (Charles Shaughnessy).
"Arthur" Season 17, Episode 3 (first half): "Molina’s Mulligan"
I haven't watched much children's TV lately, but it is good to see that Arthur is still around. I caught this episode a few weeks ago and found it surprisingly good, both for its swift introduction to golf (including caddying, as in the above clip). In the main narrative of the episode, wher Arthur's friend Alberto discovers a natural talent for golf, and Alberto's father becomes a little gung-ho in his support of his son (overbearing golf parents are a major feature of junior and college golf). One delightful feature of the episode is the character Chip, who is the one who encourages Alberto to play golf. Chip's behavior is a gentle satire of stereotypically stuffy country club kids. Yes, it's children's TV, but it's kind of fun.
"The Adult Swim Golf Classic"
Adult Swim has a particularly bizarro sense of humor, which makes its 22-minute golf "special" so unusual. In it, actors Adam Scott and Jon Daly "play" Adam Scott and John Daly, in a weird parody of a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf episode. The actors' complete ineptitude at the game, plus Gary Williams and Eddie Merrins' commentary and an excessive amount of handshakes are just some of the strange delights in this standalone piece. (Watch it here; some NSFW language)