Story behind 'Tin Cup' hole
In the spirit of the Oscars on Sunday, we decided to take a closer look at “Tin Cup”, one of the greatest golf movies ever made, and specifically, the memorable final scene where Kevin Costner’s character makes a 12 on the final hole of the U.S. Open.
It’s served as a rallying cry for a stubborn, go-for-broke, never-lay-up attitude that a lot of golfers (and movie goers) found refreshing.
The course, at least in the movie, is set in North Carolina.
In reality, Kingwood Country Club (just northeast of Houston, Texas) was used for much of the movie. Kingwood Country Club is comprised of five courses (Island, Lake, Marsh, Forest and Deerwood). Scenes for "Tin Cup" were shot on the Forest Course and Deerwood, as well as at the Kingwood clubhouse for the bar scene, where Costner won a bet by knocking a pelican off its roost.
The famous final scene of the movie -- the par-5 18th hole in the U.S. Open -- is actually Deerwood’s par-4 fourth hole.
"It's just an incredibly demanding par 4," said Darrell Fuston, Director of Golf for Kingwood Country Club. "The prevailing wind is normally into you off the tee so hitting the fairway is very difficult. If you miss the fairway it's an automatic lay up. It's one of the best golf holes in Texas.”
“If you didn't know the fourth hole was the hole used in the movie, you wouldn't recognize it,” said Dave Altemus, President of the Southern Texas PGA Section and the General Manager of Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston. “The movie was so iconic. It’s one of best golf movies ever made. Everybody who’s a golfer has seen ‘Tin Cup.’ ”
The famous hole is the No. 1 handicap at the course and plays 453 yards and “takes two great shots to get there in two,” said Heath Martin, Manager and PGA Head Professional at Deerwood. “The second shot is the more difficult of the two. A player must hit it through a narrow area in between trees and over water. There’s no room for error with the water, bunker right, hazard left, and hazard long. It’s a great test of golf even for the pros.”
Deerwood is a private facility. So it’s not every day that people ask Martin about the movie. But, it does happen on occasion, mostly with out of town guests, he said.
“Everyone is shocked when you tell them it's a par 4,” he added.
Jim Phenicie, the PGA Director of Instruction at Royal Oaks, said he gets asked about the movie 4-5 times per year. And, when people talk about “Tin Cup” otherwise, Phenicie sometimes speaks up about his own special experience.
Phenicie had a role in the movie.
At the time the movie was being filmed, Phenicie -- the 2003 Southern Texas PGA Teacher of the Year -- was director of instruction at the Golf Advantage School at Kingwood, which was used as the driving range where Costner had the shanks before the start of the U.S. Open.
The crew for “Tin Cup” arrived in October of 1995 to shoot the scenes you see in the movie.
“I was side by side in several scenes with Costner,” said Phenicie, also a four-time Chapter Teacher of the Year. “Costner was very serious; he had his game face on. Don Johnson was very funny. He didn't have to remember who I was, but he did. I didn't have any scenes with Renee Russo, but I did get to see Cheech Marin a little bit.”
Phenicie and his former boss David Preisler (the PGA Director of Golf over Kingwood at the time) were Costner’s playing partners for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open in the movie.
“When Costner shoots the course record (a 62 in the second round after shooting 82 in the first round), my old boss and I were his playing partners in the movie and shook his hand on the green,” Phenicie said. “If you remember, Costner actually hit his approach into the water during the course-record round and then got up and down after taking a drop.
“That was the most memorable part of the whole deal for me, because from the drop area – with a wedge – it actually took Costner 30-to-35 takes to get the ball close enough to the hole to have a reasonable chance to make the putt. It took about an hour. Then, like a pro, he made the putt on the first take – and it was a good thing too, because they were running out of light.”
Phenicie said all the scenes shot on the fourth hole – including the climactic final scene where Costner takes a 12 after finding the water with shot after shot before holing out with the only ball he had left – took the better part of three days to shoot.
“It was right before Thanksgiving,” Phenicie said. “The first shot Kevin hit of the day was a toe shank 5-wood and he hit a lady. He felt so bad that he sent her flowers. I mean he felt really bad.”
Even in a state as big as Texas that’s so rich in great golf courses, the fourth hole at Deerwood is regarded by many as one of the most difficult in the Lone Star State.
“It’s a hole that has stood the test of time,” Phenicie said. “It’s a hard hole.
And a famous one, too.
“We have a marble plaque that marks the spot where Roy McAvoy hit the miraculous shot in the movie,” Martin said. “Guys like to take bets and drop a ball from the spot to take their shot at glory. There are a lot of war stories about hole No. 4, especially after golf tournaments. The round/score has been lost on No. 4 many times for players.”
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.