As a grizzled Irish caddie climbs a rugged mound at Ballybunion, guiding his player—or perhaps “dragging” is the proper appellation—through biblical gusts, a familiar voice purrs. “To acquire a caddie,” says Bill Murray at the beginning of “Loopers: The Caddie’s Long Walk,” “is to have an ally in the battle against the elements, the golf course and life itself.” Fitting for the scene, but also, as the film shows, an apt description for the profession. Which, distilled to its core, is really a passion.
It’s that synergy of duty and devotion that galvanized director Jason Baffa and writer Carl Cramer to create this documentary, an ode to the caddie and the people who make it their occupation. Baffa and Cramer aren’t lifelong golfers, so former Augusta Chronicle writer Ward Clayton and Jim Packer, an entertainment veteran with an affinity for the game, were brought on to make sure the nuances of the sport were not lost. “There’s a lot of fun and character to caddies,” says Packer, executive producer. “We wanted to give a showcase to that personality.”
Along for the ride is Murray, who personifies personality. The comedian/actor spent his childhood with his brothers looping at their neighborhood course, an experience that inspired the iconic film “Caddyshack.” However, like a good jock, Murray doesn’t so much entertain as he guides, taking a back seat to the story.
Or, should we say, stories. In 80 brisk minutes, we meet an array of faces across the game and globe. From a group of witty, weathered caddies in Ireland to the flourishing caddie program at Bandon Dunes to the colorful and complicated history of caddies at Augusta National, “Loopers” tries to shine a light on all that the craft touches.
That includes tales you know, like celebrity caddies Steve Williams and Fanny Sunesson, and ones you don’t, like Greg Puga, the Bel-Air Country Club looper who qualified for the Masters, or Mike Kiely, caddiemaster at Canterbury for half a century. “Because we want this to reach more than golf audiences, there might be moments where the viewers feel like we’re holding their hands,” Packer says. “But novices and diehards are going to walk away learning something.”
It’s not perfect—a brief Bobby Jones profile and an animated history of golf seem out of place—but if there’s one major complaint about the film, it’s that the viewer is left wanting more, wishing “Loopers” could be a series with each vignette an episode. Better yet, with striking panoramics of St. Andrews, Pebble Beach, Bandon, Carnoustie and other world-renowned courses, “Loopers” is reminiscent of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series, educating while aesthetically captivating.
At the film’s conclusion, Murray reminds us that it’s not the caddie’s advice nor the player’s performance that determine success, but the relationship between the two. “Loopers” is scheduled to debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February and will be available through the Apple iTunes Store and other streaming/broadcasting oulets this fall.