James Bond is back, and reminds us of golf
It’s Friday, which means the new James Bond movie, "Skyfall," is now showing at a theater near you. As far as I know, this one doesn’t have any golf scenes, but the release of every new Bond film automatically reminds me of "Goldfinger," the 1964 film in which our hero Bond plays the villainous Auric Goldfinger in one of the great golf matches ever filmed.
You can see the match in this clip on YouTube, though the quality isn’t much. The video’s grainy, and it sounds like the ocean is roaring in the background the entire time. But watching it again still made me smile.
Bond and Goldfinger meet up at what is supposed to be the famous Royal St. George’s, but the scene was actually filmed at Stoke Park Club, which is also where Goldfinger's manservant/caddie Oddjob decapitated a statue with his lethal hat.
Goldfinger shows up in a sweater, tie and pair of natty plus-fours, and wields a classic Bullseye putter. Bond is wearing a tall fedora-looking hat that I still can’t believe actually stayed on his head when he swung.
Goldfinger and Oddjob begin the shenanigans right away, as Goldfinger hits a drive way left into the rough. As everyone searches for the ball, Bond reminds Goldfinger that his five minutes are almost up – and at that moment, Oddjob drops a ball down his pants leg and announces triumphantly that he’s found the ball.
"If that's his original ball, I'm Arnold Palmer," Bond’s caddie says. Then Bond confirms that he knows Goldfinger is cheating – because, Bond says, he’s standing on Goldfinger's ball, and lifts up his shoe to show it to the caddie.
Interestingly, in the "Goldfinger" novel, author Ian Fleming had Bond’s caddie stand on the ball. For the film, producer Harry Saltzman had Bond stand on it because he thought it would give the Bond character a bit more of an edge.
Anyway, Bond pockets Goldfinger’s ball and acts like nothing’s wrong.
The match proceeds until the 17th green, where Goldfinger putts out and Bond picks his ball out of the cup – and switches the ball Goldfinger had been playing with the original one. He tosses the original ball to Goldfinger, who doesn’t notice the switch and again displays his evilness by teeing off first on the 18th tee despite not having the honor.
After they putt out and Goldfinger thinks he's won, Bond looks at Goldfinger’s ball.
Bond: "You play a Slazinger 1, don't you?"
Goldfinger replies: "Yes, why?"
Bond: "This is a Slazinger 7."
And then, pointing at his own ball, Bond adds: "Here's my Penfold Hearts. You must have played the wrong ball somewhere on the 18th fairway. We are playing strict rules, so I'm afraid you lose the hole and the match."
Goldfinger, of course, disgustedly slams his ball on the green and storms off.
Fleming played as a 9-handicap, and that is also the handicap to which Bond played. Interestingly, though, Sean Connery, who played Bond in "Goldfinger" and several other early Bond films, didn’t play much golf, despite growing up near a golf course in Scotland.
"It wasn’t until I was taught enough golf to look as though I could outwit the accomplished golfer Gert Frobe [who played Goldfinger] in 'Goldfinger' that I got the bug. I began to take lessons on a course near Pinewood film studios and was immediately hooked on the game," Connery wrote in his 2008 autobiography, which was excerpted by the Telegraph newspaper in England. "Soon it would nearly take over my life.
"I began to see golf as a metaphor for living, for in golf you are basically on your own, competing against yourself and always trying to do better. If you cheat, you will be the loser, because you are cheating yourself," he added. "When Ian Fleming portrayed Auric Goldfinger as a smooth cheater, James Bond had no regrets when he switched his golf balls, since to be cheated is the just reward of the cheater."
One final note: The movie’s release sparked a huge demand for Penfold golf balls, and not just in England. Penfold, which dates back to the 1920s, still exists primarily as a maker of high-end golf apparel, but it still offers its Hearts golf balls.