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Sir Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood and the Fife golf movie that never was

Clint Eastwood and the late Sir Sean Connery.
Clint Eastwood and the late Sir Sean Connery.

James Bond and Dirty Harry are two of the greatest movie characters of all time.

The late Sir Sean Connery rose to fame in a career-defining role as secret agent 007 with a taste for danger, women, shaken vodka martinis, and protecting Queen and country.

Clint Eastwood found his most iconic role in the 1970s as no-nonsense San Francisco cop Harry Callahan who dished out justice via his .44 Magnum.

However, Sir Sean and Eastwood never worked together on a movie.

Shared love

But it was a shared love of a mystical tale of golf and self-discovery in 1950s Fife which almost changed all that.

Difficulties getting the right screenplay and a helicopter arrival at the Old Course that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Dirty Harry movie turned the dream to dust.

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.

Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom is one of the best selling golf books of all time and has been hailed as “a golf classic if any exists in our day” and “a masterpiece on the mysticism of golf”.

Golf in the Kingdom tells the story of Michael Murphy, a young traveller, who decides to play a round of golf at the ficticious Burningbush Golf Course in the kingdom of Fife.

There the young man links up with a mystical golfing expert called Shivas Irons whose name comes from Aberdeenshire.

What he learns from Irons on and off the course in just 24 hours changes his life forever.

Eastwood fell in love with the book and clung to the film rights for a decade.

He was determined to make the film, but he wanted to mount an adaptation close to the book, which was something he never cracked.

Eastwood wanted Sir Sean to play Shivas Irons in the movie.

The late Sir Sean Connery in his role as James Bond 007.

Eastwood then arrived in a helicopter at the Old Course Hotel in September 1993 with Wayne Duband from Warner Bros and the company’s production executive Billy Gerber.

Eastwood signed autographs when he arrived and he also smoked a small cigar which was the trademark in many of his spaghetti westerns.

They played the Old Course in a steady drizzle while seeking a suitable location for the film before he drove down the Fife coast to look at other courses.

Eastwood later abandoned the project after writing several unfinished scripts which never got the green light.

Helicopter arrival

Sir Sean at the time said he was sad it didn’t get off the ground although he also suggested Eastwood’s arrival at the course in 1993 in a helicopter didn’t help matters.

“As soon as I read Golf in the Kingdom, I thought of its visual possibilities on the screen,” he said in his book Being a Scot.

“For years Clint Eastwood held the movie rights and serendipitously, in the spirit of the book, he had me down to play the enigmatic Shivas.

“For permission to film at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews, I put him in touch with the secretary, who Clint, given his title, may have thought held a more lowly position in this venerable club than he did.

“When he dropped in on the course by helicopter, the secretary was less than impressed.

“This left little to discuss, and nothing much more was heard of Clint’s plans.

“Sad, because a screen version of Golf in the Kingdom would have been a great double for me, combining my passions for golf and the movies, especially if we had been able to film at St Andrews.”

Sir Sean loved playing golf.

Michael Murphy and producer Mindy Affrime eventually re-acquired the film rights from Warner Bros and the screenplay was written by Susan Streitfield.

The film was 100% financed by private investors on a shoe-string budget and self-distributed.

David O’Hara who appeared in Braveheart played Shivas Irons.

Mason Gamble from Rushmore was the young Michael Murphy while other supporting actors included Malcolm McDowell from Clockwork Orange.

Filming took place at Bandon Dunes in Oregon instead of St Andrews and the movie opened in New York City in 2011.

Golf in the Kingdom was roundly panned by the critics including the San Francisco Chronicle which described it as “a ponderous cinematic experience”.

Sir Sean’s son Jason did go on to make a golf movie at St Andrews in 2015 about the relationship between Old Tom Morris and his son, Tommy, who went on to enjoy huge success himself as a golfer.

He directed Tommy’s Honour which went on to win the Scottish BAFTA for best feature film in 2016 and received a largely positive reception from critics after being launched at US cinemas.


A man’s got to know his limitations

The legendary Clint Eastwood loves golf as much as acting and directing.

Dirty Harry star Clint Eastwood has been a lover of golf all his life.

He got a job as a caddie and started playing the game aged 12 while living in Oakland in California.

He built Tehama Golf Club in Carmel, California, and is a mainstay of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, of which he is a co-owner.

He still plays a few holes at his home golf course when he is not working on a movie set.

“Once you fall in love with golf, you’re hooked,” he said.

“Sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it.

“But that passion never leaves you.

“Crazy, isn’t it?”

Goldfinger

The James Bond movie Goldfinger inspired the late Sir Sean Connery’s lifelong love affair with golf.

The producers told him that he would be involved in a golf scene and he needed to ensure he could play the game.

He began to take lessons close to the famous Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire and the rest is history.

In the film, Bond and Goldfinger face off at Stoke Poges Golf Club in Stoke Poges, a village in Buckinghamshire.

Bond and Goldfinger battle it out on the golf course.

After catching Goldfinger cheating, Bond switches balls on his opponent during the match.

Realising that Bond is attempting to interfere in his affairs, Goldfinger motions to Oddjob, his deadly Korean manservant and caddie, to sever the head of a nearby statue with his steel-rimmed bowler.

Bond is suitably impressed, but wonders what the club secretary will have to say.


Memories of the greatest day in Ladybank Golf Club’s history

Nicklaus and Ballesteros arrive by helicopter.

Eastwood’s helicopter landing at St Andrews brought back memories of a special day in Ladybank Golf Club’s history.

Two of the greatest golfers of all time, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros, might have expected to get a tee time at the Old Course in St Andrews.

Instead the pair were forced to play an exhibition game at Ladybank as fans climbed trees to get the best view of a 1983 battle which remains the greatest moment in the club’s history.

Ladybank was already enjoying an enhanced reputation, having been accorded Open qualifying status in 1978, but hosting such an occasion really put Ladybank on the national and international map.

Famous duo

The famous duo were scheduled to play a head-to-head exhibition game on the Old Course to celebrate the re-opening of the most famous golf hotel in the world.

But the St Andrews Links Trust which controls play on all six of the town’s courses withdrew permission at the last minute, fearing it would cause too much disruption to regular play.

Ladybank stepped in as the substitute venue.

Around 5,000 fans waited patiently in the sweltering heat as the helicopter carrying the stars arrived half-an-hour late to a thunderous roar of welcome.

Ballesteros took an early lead in the match and would eventually win by a resounding six shots with a record-equalling two under par 69.

“Only at St Andrews have I played before more enthusiastic crowds,” Nicklaus said afterwards.

The match took place just a week before the Open at Royal Birkdale.

Former Ladybank golf professional Martin Gray played a pivotal role in bringing the match to the course.

He received a call from John Philp at the Old Course asking if Ladybank could accommodate the exhibition match.

However, the Ladybank Boys Open was scheduled to take place that Friday.

Mr Gray made a few calls and the tournament was moved to the morning with Nicklaus and Ballesteros playing in the afternoon.

The two greats ended up handing out the trophies to the junior winner and runner-up.

One trophy was called the Jack Trophy and one was called the Seve Trophy.

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