Yes, this is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. It's about five o'clock in the morning.... A murder has been reported from one of those great big houses in the ten thousand block...cut! Sorry, wrong script. Take 2:
This is Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. That's the Beverly Hills Hotel to your right, UCLA on the left and, as we move farther west, the Riviera Country Club, site of Sunday's victory by Craig Stadler. That's it, that huge fortress of a building. It overlooks one of the great golf courses in the country, home to many Hollywood stars over the years. The golf scenes in Follow the Sun, the movie about Ben Hogan, were shot there. So was much of Pat and Mike, one of Tracy and Hepburn's best.
Golf has played a part in many movies in the past, going back to the Three Stooges, W.C. Fields and even beyond. Now there's a flurry of new golf movies coming out, the most publicized of which stars that well-known high-handicapper Kevin Costner. As anyone who has watched golf on television this winter can tell you, Costner has looked like a man bent on joining the Tour. He has become a fixture on the pro-am circuit, often accompanied by his guru, Gary McCord of CBS, microphone in hand. The two of them have been shamelessly promoting the Costner film about a driving range pro who somehow winds up in the U.S. Open.
We have seen Costner playing golf in Arizona, Costner in Palm Springs—NBC's Saturday telecast of the Hope showed little else—Costner at the rain-aborted AT&T When he won a celebrity shoot-out at Pebble, it gave him the opportunity to tell the gallery, "If you love movies and love golf, go see Tin Cup." Yes, that's the name of the movie, and you won't read it here again.
But give the devil his due. The man swinging a club in the movie is Costner himself, not a look-alike from the Nike tour. How often he had teed it up before filming began is murky, but members say they have seen him at Riviera frequently during the past year, and the longtime pro at Bel Air Country Club, Eddie Merrins, has spotted him there, too. In any case, McCord, a fringe Tour player, was brought in to give Costner a crash course on the game. The results have been impressive: an infinitely smoother swing than those of such pro-am stalwarts as Clint Eastwood and Jack Lemmon, and drives that carry a long way, sometimes landing in the fairway.
Just as important, McCord taught Costner to look like a pro, how to stand leaning on a club when others are hitting, how to pull off his golf glove or hitch up his pants the way Arnie does. Because he is an actor, Costner has adopted these mannerisms perfectly, so that watching him in action, one would not guess that his experience on a golf course is limited. Preparing to tee off as a gallery crowded around him at Pebble Beach, he said, "It's scary to think these people assume I know what I'm doing." But obviously he has been enjoying himself. Either that or he's the greatest actor in the world.
Costner is just the latest in a long line of Hollywood biggies who have been bitten by the golf bug. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were original members of Riviera when it opened in 1927. The course was more difficult then, and Fairbanks was said to have offered cash rewards to pros who shot good scores—$100 for a 70, $200 for a 69 and so on. There were few winners. Harold Lloyd often played there, even though he had his own backyard nine-hole course designed by Alister McKenzie of Augusta National fame.
Fields, Clark Gable and Katharine Hepburn all played frequently both at Riviera and at the nearby Bel Air. In her book Me, Hepburn relates this story. "I was playing golf with the pro at Bel Air and we were about to finish a nine-hole lesson when there was the noise of an airplane. Howard [Hughes] landed practically on top of us. He took his clubs out of the plane and finished the nine with us. Naturally the club was furious. He had to have a truck come over and virtually dismantle the plane to get rid of it."
Hughes was a pretty fair golfer, often taking lessons from Riviera's Willie Hunter, a blunt little Scotsman. But during a lesson one day he asked Hunter if he could ever become a good player. Hunter said no, whereupon Hughes dropped his club and is said to have never played again.
However, a number of movie stars were impressive players. Randolph Scott, a silver screen cowboy, was a Bel Air member. He entered the U.S. Amateur once in the '40s, although he failed to qualify for the match-play portion of the tournament. Long after she stopped making movies, Ruby Keeler played in the Women's Senior Amateur. And Bing Crosby played in the British Amateur.