Superintendents and the cinema
Nick Wall

Superintendents and the cinema

Why watching the soon-to-be-released “The Phantom of the Open” can be good for your soul and your career.


We recently came across a job description that’s resolute in its definition of the best superintendents in the land: “They must love golf, love to work outdoors and love plants.”

If you’re lacking one of those elements, ascension among the professional ranks could easily be foiled.

For purposes of this sermon, let’s take the first requisite: How does a superintendent’s love for golf manifest itself into one’s mind and heart with a perspective beyond yet squarely connected to his or her daily activities? In short, superintendents also need to concern themselves with promoting activities which promote golf at large.

This is where we turn to Hollywood and a new movie, “The Phantom of the Open,” set for release in theaters coast to coast beginning June 3. Luckily, Sony Pictures Classics afforded Golf Course Industry a sneak preview because it’s 1 hour, 42 minutes that superintendents must add to their schedules. And it’s good for the soul and career.

“Phantom” clearly demonstrates that not everyone is of country club ilk, not everyone is a proficient golfer, and being the best version of oneself on and off the links is the meaning of enjoyment and self-acceptance. And it’s this attitude that affects pin placements and so much more about how turf and property managers look at their blending art and science with a business mindset.

After all, superintendents’ work exists to service golfers who spend money and up the odds they’ll frequently return with open wallets, no matter the economic strata they reside.

To wit:  The movie’s protagonist, Maurice Flitcroft, is a relatively low-paying shipyard worker in the port town of Burrows-in-Furness in wayward northwest England. At 46, he’s ready to try something no man dares try: play in the Open Championship. But the answer to how many times he’s picked up a club – well, it rhymes with hero!

The dream came about as he merely eyeballed Tom Watson sticking a close-in putt to win the 1975 Open Championship.

Despite no formal training, borrowed clubs and garb fit for lower-end courses, Flitcroft would go on to practice, practice and practice more. And, by golly, he gained entry into a 1976 Open Championship qualifier, thanks to an application stating he’s a professional because an amateur requires a handicap that Flitcroft didn’t carry. The elitist Royal & Ancient, sans due diligence, let him in.

This is where we interrupt this movie review to share that “Phantom” is based on a true story.  Who would’ve thunk?

The serious, yet not-so-serious, Flitcroft proceeds to shoot 49 over par for a record-bad 121 in the qualifier. But he did it to the best of his ability and tens of millions took notice. Grand Rapids did, too, as legendry local golf media member Terry Moore went through lengths to honor him at Blythefield Country Club and initiate an annual “world’s worst golfer” tournament after him.

Oscar winner Mark Rylance plays Flitcroft and Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins co-stars as wife Jean.  The balance of Maurice’s happy-go-lucky demeanor and his better half’s support of her husband’s initial, on-a-whim dream is, as they ubiquitously say in Britain, “brilliant.”

“Phantom” boasts many moments of hilarity, a couple Kleenex-worthy scene and, of course, locker-room banter between the reed-thin, plain-ol’ Flitcroft and dashing, 19-yer-old Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros.

The takeaways here: Run to theaters and get uplifted about the sport we relish. Design and care for our courses with members and guests in mind, no matter their demographic composition. And remember that not everyone has the skills to hoist the Claret Jug. As “Phantom” proves, that’s more than A-OK.