Golfers get all the glory.
But, shadowing each of the professionals such as Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Jordan Spieth is an unsung hero of the links: the caddie.
That relationship is explored in the new documentary “Loopers: The Caddie's Long Walk,” which debuted at the 34th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Feb. 2. The film is narrated by Bill Murray, who played an assistant groundskeeper in the 1980 iconic comedy "Caddyshack."
“Our thought was what can we do that celebrates this role and teaches some people about it, but really focuses on some of these relationships through the years and how special the caddie, golfer relationship really is,” said director Jason Baffa, a longtime South Bay resident before moving to Santa Barbara.
The film grew from discussions in Manhattan Beach between Baffa and executive producer Jim Packer, a Manhattan Beach resident and avid golfer, who read “Men on the Bag: The Caddies of Augusta National,” an exploration and history of caddies at the iconic golf course. The book's author, Ward Clayton, is also a producer.
“Nobody really explored that in a feature length documentary, that profession, that relationship,” Packer said.
Producer David Brookwell, along with executive producer Chris Brown, were brought on to invest in Packer's “passion project.”
Brookwell, a television and film producer, co-founded Brookwell McNamara Entertainment with partner Sean McNamara in Manhattan Beach. "Loopers" was edited at their headquarters at Manhattan Beach Studios. They produced surfer Bethany Hamilton's story of surviving a shark attack in the film “Soul Surfer” in 2011.
Brookwell was a caddie as a teen for three summers growing up in suburban Chicago, where he could ride his bike to the golf course. He recalled one summer carrying two bags at $7.50 each. He would make $15 a day, plus hopefully tips from the golfers, as well as a hot dog and Coke during five hours of hard work.
Brookwell said it was a great experience.
“You've got to be there early in the morning, it's physically challenging and you've got to be there for the golfer,” Brookwell said. “Especially as a kid you learn how to behave and how to talk to people. Most of the time you're caddying for a business man who has some measure of success. You need to learn the etiquette of the game.”
The documentary, written and edited by Carl Cramer, focuses heavily on the relationship between the caddie and golfer, which can range from parental figure to psychologist. Golf stars like Nick Faldo, Tom Watson to caddies Steve Williams (Tiger Woods) and Michael Greller (Jordan Spieth) are interviewed about their unique relationships with each other.
Baffa said they “cast a wide net” when they began interviews for “Loopers.”
“We had an idea of the key people we knew we needed to try to get, but we also didn't know what story was there underneath the surface,” said Baffa, whose previous independent films such as “Bella Vita” explored the global world of surfing. “So we just started talking to everybody, kind of in a crazy broad stroke kind of way.”
“Loopers” time travels to over a century ago when caddies from Scotland and Ireland migrated to the United States where their occupation has evolved over the decades. The moniker Looper dates back to that time and refers to a round of golf, or 18 holes, as well as link golf courses in the 1800s that were designed in a certain fashion.
Chasing Bill Murray
The 1980 comedy “Caddyshack” took a comedic look at the country club world. The film was inspired by Bill Murray and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray's time as caddies where they grew up in Evanston, Ill.
Doyle-Murray co-wrote “Caddyshack” and Murray iconically played the assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler in the film.
The filmmakers felt early on they could attract Murray to the project because of his golfing ties, which still run deep. But it wasn't an easy road to get Murray in the recording studio to narrate.
“There were some moments in the life of the film that we could have made a decision to go quickly, but we chose... getting Bill Murray,” Packer said.
Murray famously has no agent or manager, so it took months to make a connection to the actor. Brookwell recalled he received a phone call on a Friday night that Murray could be available the next Sunday night in Charleston. But on such short notice, they had no studio and Baffa was in Santa Barbara.
Brookwell said he talked to Murray hoping to get an extra day or two and they finally agreed they could meet on the following Tuesday morning.
“I went online and found a studio in Charleston and connected with them. They were ready to go. Apparently Bill recorded there in the past. So we set it up for that Tuesday morning. Jason and I got on an airplane, we got there and five hours later we had the narration in the can,” Brookwell said.
Baffa recalled not knowing for sure if Murray was going to be available for that recording session, but took the leap of faith.
“If I don't go and he shows up, I'll never forgive myself... (but) he was ready to go,” Baffa said. “He gave us a lot of creativity, put a lot of input into it.”
After they were finished in the recording studio, Brookwell said Murray offered to take them golfing, but they had a 6 p.m. flight. So instead, Murray took them on a driving tour of downtown Charleston in his Mustang convertible.
“He's pointing out the sites, telling us how Charleston has turned into a really cool town,” Brookwell said. “He's talking about this bar and that bar, we thought we were going to go on a pub crawl with him and he just pulls up to this curb and goes, 'Okay, you guys can get out here. I'll see you later. I got to go.'”
The filmmakers said that Murray was generous with his time and recorded a few more lines for them later on when they requested his help.
On the road
While “Loopers” made its debut at heavily attended screenings in Santa Barbara, it will soon be hitting the film festival circuit. Next up is the Boulder International Film Festival from Feb. 28 to March 3. According to Packer, the film is currently booked at six festivals and will make its European premiere as well.
Brookwell said a screening will be hosted by the Western Golf Association in Illinois later this year. The WGA supports the Evans Scholarship Foundation, an organization that provides housing and scholarships for caddies nationwide. According to the WGA website, there are nearly 11,000 Evans alumni across the country.
Brookwell said this event is where he hopes to see Murray again since he is a supporter of the scholarship program.
Following film festivals, “Loopers” will probably receive a limited theatrical release, followed by streaming services.
Packer said you don't have to be a lover of golf, or even know the sport, to be intrigued by “Loopers,” because the film focuses on relationships.
“That's what I love about documentaries, you don't know anything about the topic and you walk away going, 'Wow, that was interesting,'” Packer said.