My Big Fat Greek Golf Movie

Locally-born Manos Gavras is slated to play the male lead in Swing Away when it shoots in Crete in the autumn

There is a moment in the movie Big Fat Greek Wedding when Gus Portokalos, the father, explains how every single word in every single language has its roots in Greek, stretching the point to the limit when confronted by the Japanese word kimono.

“Kimono, kimono, kimono,” he says. “Ha! Of course! Kimono is come from the Greek word himona, is mean winter. So, what do you wear in the wintertime to stay warm? A robe. You see: robe, kimono. There you go!”

There is a similar moment in the original screenplay of Swing Away, which is due to shoot in Crete in the autumn, when Nikki, the central character, explains how golf is essentially a Greek game, by virtue of the fact that Scotland is really a sub-section of Greece.

“Their [Scotland] whole country is a Greek idea. It’s called Scotia, land of darkness. Agios Andreas is their patron saint, the flag bears his cross, not to mention the same colors of our flag. Plus one of the most famous places for golf is St Andrews.”

Not sure the swells at the Royal & Ancient will take too kindly to the rewriting of their sport’s glorious history but cinema goers are sure to enjoy the joke.

Swing Away is the offspring of fertile collaboration between producer George Stephanopoulos and screenwriter Paul Lingas – two Greek-Americans who wanted not just to make a great movie but to showcase Greece and highlight the potential of golf in the country.

They have since been joined by experienced director Steven Kampmann – who also co-wrote Swing Away and collaborated with Stephanopoulos on the offbeat comedy Second City’s BuzzKill – a couple of leading Greek actors and a distribution company, Picturehouse, that is biting their cohones off to get their hands on what could be the next Big Fat Greek Smash.

I first came across George and Paul back in 2007 when they came to play in the Greek Diaspora Tournament at Glyfada Golf Club in Athens and to drum up some initial interest in the movie.

Steven Kampmann battling with the rough at Crete Golf Club on a fact-finding mission for Swing Away
Steven Kampmann battling with the rough at Crete Golf Club on a fact-finding mission for Swing Away

The outline of the film was fairly simple. A shamed Greek-American golf pro is kicked off the tour, heads to his grandparents in Crete for a little quiet anonymity. There he discovers Spiros, a ten year-old Greek golf prodigy who swings like Tiger. The pro coaches him, takes a shine to the kid’s mother and … well it would be remiss to give away any more than that except to say it is a feel good comedy with a wonderful golfing climax.

Perhaps you could say it is My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets Cool Runnings. Greece, after all is hardly renowned as a golfing haven although it has had a small share of glory; Jack Nicklaus’ caddy was none other than the very Greek Angelo Argea.

Steven came on the next trip to Greece. There was at least one uproarious lunch in Plaka when he told some splendid tales of working with Jodie Foster and Mark Harmon on Stealing Home although given these were strictly on the ouzo and off the record, you won’t find them here.

Various trips to Crete, Corfu and Rhodes, even to Cyprus, followed to sound out the golf courses but each time logistical problems arose.

The script also underwent a facelift, the most dramatic aspect being that the leading man turned into a leading lady. That’s right. It is not just a movie to promote golf but a movie to promote women’s golf.

“There have been plenty of films about guys and golf like Tin Cup and Caddyshack but nothing about women,” says Stephanopoulos whose golf movie pedigree is enhanced by his role as executive producer on Golf in the Kingdom, an adaptation of Michael Murphy’s classic book.

Athens-based Renos Haralambidis plays Panyiotis who has the awkward task of making the golf club run smoothly in the face of ever increasing problems
Athens-based Renos Haralambidis plays Panyiotis who has the awkward task of making the golf club run smoothly in the face of ever increasing problems

“In fact there aren’t too many movies of a sporting nature where the women play the lead. So this is a great opportunity to do something different. And I am glad to say the LPGA in particular has been extremely supportive since more than 50 per cent of their players are non-American.”

Stephanopoulos – not to be confused with the former Clinton aide and co-host of Good Morning America of the same name who is in fact his first cousin – and Kampmann have already cast two of the main characters, both of them Greek actors.

Nikki’s romantic interest, the father of young Spiros, is to be played by Iraklio-born Manos Gavras while Panyiotis, who does his best to run the golf club under increasingly difficult circumstances, is the highly respected Athens-based actor Renos Haralambidis.

“We could easily have found a couple of American actors to do the job but, you know, part of the project is to promote Greece so we want to use as much ‘Greek Greek’ talent as we can. That goes for the locations, it goes for the production team and it goes for the cast.”

The identity of the actress who plays Nikki has yet to be revealed with Stephanopoulos playing his cards close to his chest.

“We cannot afford Cameron Diaz or Jennifer Aniston, who is Greek of course, but we have a short list of actresses in mind one of which is already a cultural icon.”

Intriguing stuff.

Swing Away will be shot at Crete Golf Club in the autumn
Swing Away will be shot at Crete Golf Club in the autumn

The location is Crete and fittingly the golf sequences will be shot at Crete Golf Club, a decent championship standard course.

Much of the comedy will come from the witless attempts of the locals, who should benefit from the course in terms of its increased tourism, both to play the game and deal with Hans Henrich, the peculiar German entrepreneur. Malcolm McDowell, who featured in Golf in the Kingdom and plays a decent round, would be ideal.

The production is rolling towards its autumn shoot but the producers are still looking for private support. If you want to know more about how to back the project  – perhaps even play a small role in the movie – then click here and remember that, along with rugby, cricket, kabadi, tiddlywinks and every other sport and game known to humanity, golf belongs to the Greeks.

©Barney Spender 2013

Related stories on
Hats off to Greece’s golfing legend – the story of Angelo Argea