Topics in History: History through Film

A Southport student review of the 2005 movie The Greatest Game Ever Played

Topics is a course at Southport High School, taught by Kevin Sanders, which analyzes major events from United States and world history through Hollywood films that attempt to portray those events. Students investigate historical documents and other sources to determine if a film is historically accurate.

The goal is for students to develop deeper understandings of the historical discipline while generating questions about the way the world is around them, along with watching classical films that have graced American and international screens. This week, Luke Goodwin reviews the film The Greatest Game Ever Played.

By Luke Goodwin

In the film, The Greatest Game Ever Played, there was a constant feeling of a human element throughout the film that makes people who don’t like golf even enjoy the film.

During the film they feature the late American Francis Ouimet, frequently referred to as the “father of amateur golf” as a young boy, and they follow him as he grows older. In the film Francis found a love for the sport of golf at a young age since he and his poor family lived across from a golf course. As he grew older, he became a caddy, and he would caddy and play golf as an amateur. The human element comes to life when you think about how Francis grew up poor and wanting to play golf, when golf in America was only for the wealthy. That hits home to many people these days who grow up poor or grow up without many opportunities. In the film Francis shows that it is possible to do what you want, no matter if you are poor or rich. According to a biography on Francis on the website for the Francis Ouimet scholarship fund, “There were very few players in America, no public courses, and the game was confined mostly to the wealthy. Ouimet’s victory changed all of that. His victory and unlikely background combined to create an inspirational moment. Within 10 years the number of players tripled.”

On the other side you have the supposed villain of the story, Harry Vardon. Surprisingly, Harry Vardon grew up much like Francis did. Harry grew up in a poor working-class family, who lived directly on top of a golf course. And in the beginning of the movie you can see his house while some men survey their land for the construction of a new golf course. This is the moment when Harry finds out what golf is when he asks one of the men, who are looking at the property. Harry also brings that human element to the movie because we find out pretty early on that Harry Vardon is one of the biggest names in the golf scene at that time and golf at that time was a gentleman’s game, and Harry was no gentleman. He was a class act. Also throughout the film you can see that Harry sees himself when he looks at Francis, because of how similar they are. And you can tell that Harry knows Francis is a great golfer, but he would never make it in the establishment.

In all, The Greatest Game Ever Played is more than just a golfing movie. It shows that with no matter what background you come from, you can achieve pretty much anything you want, as long as you work for it. Both Harry and Francis showed great sportsmanship and generosity toward the end of the movie when playing at the U.S. open match. All athletes could watch this film and see the sportsmanship and generosity portrayed the characters, and improve themselves in their sports, too.