Golfers are a peculiar breed. They live and breathe the game, curse it, hail it, read every book about it, invent theories of life based around the magic of the dimpled gobstopper. Just read Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom, Steven Pressfield’s The Legend of Bagger Vance or John Updike’s Golf Dreams and you will know where I am coming from.
George Stephanopoulos is one of those.
A lawyer by trade but a golfer by vocation, he has made the move into film production as a creative producer and is the driving force behind Swing Away, the Steven Kampmann-directed movie that will expose the slightly bizarre world of golf in Greece.
“Its main theme is the importance of faith, faith in oneself,” explains the 48 year-old who currently resides in New York city.
“Yet, faith is a concept that requires a total surrender to a higher power or belief system. And this concept is also true in golf.
“Golf demands an acceptance of the spiritual world. But it is also important to suggest that the mystical aspects of the game may be as much a function of human potential or ability as it is the supernatural.”
You see, golf tinged as religion. They just cannot help themselves.
Most golfers blame their fathers for their addiction and Stephanopoulos is no different.
“My dad taught me to play golf at the age of nine so golf was always seen as a father-son activity,” he explains.
“Although he passed away in 1994, I still associate golf with my dad. We probably only golfed two or three times a year, if that, but our time together on the course was always memorable, especially when I’d watch him make the same bad golf shot after trying to correct my game.”
Like any good Greek boy he also names and shames Homer and Plato for his conversion.
“Yes, I must also credit my enjoyment of golf to two wise Greek philosophers Plato and Homer – only Homer is my Uncle Homer in Phoenix, Arizona and Plato is my Uncle Plato in St Petersburg, Florida.
“And, not surprisingly, when you golf with guys whose names are Homer and Plato, there is no denying the connection between golf and Greece!”
These days Stephanopoulos has less time to study his inner self as he hauls a bag around his local course, Van Cortland Park in the Bronx, New York, the oldest public golf course in the US.
“I golf maybe five to ten times a year now. This certainly does not qualify me as a serious golfer. That said, I always have fun when I play even though I struggle with my game.
“Usually I’ll hit in the high 90s, low 100s but in high school I’d shoot in the low 80s so I know I have potential. If I can hit one or two or even three great shots a round I am happy.”
“The idea came to me after the 2004 Athens Olympics,” he says.
“At that time I had been looking into opportunities in real estate development and in the process learned that the Greek government was rewriting its laws to attract direct foreign investment for the construction of new golf courses.
“That made me want to research the golf market in Greece, which, as I learned, was virtually non-existent especially when compared to Spain and Portugal.
“Of course I was on the outside looking in and after a few starts and stops the opportunity I wanted to create for myself in Greece centred on golf and then, thankfully, morphed into a film project.
“I say thankfully because I get to do something creative and what better than a movie that offers not just entertainment value but the potential to impact and create social change.
“I was also interested in the association with sport and ancient Greece and I just got kind of curious about golf. Could this game tap into Greece and could Greece – and the Greeks – tap into golf?”
That, of course, remains to be seen but with golf to figure in the 2016 Olympics, there is the opportunity for golf and Greece to become inextraciably intertwined.”
George says his main interest is not necessarily to build more courses in Greece in order for the country to promote itself as a golf destination, but rather to ensure that golf has a positive effect on the lives of Greeks even if the sport is going to be developed to cater mainly for foreigners and tourists.
The film world is full of starry-eyed dilettantes who dream of red carpets and Oscars night but George is not one of those – a dilettante that is.
His connection with the cinema started via his briefcase. He worked as legal counsel for several independent production and distribution companies, handling the licensing of motion picture rights, legal due diligence, negotiation of talent deals, and other contract matters on such films as Wayne’s World/Wayne’s World II, Lassie: Best Friends are Forever, Lassie, Underdog, VeggieTales: The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything and the upcoming Lone Ranger feature from Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer.
He then stepped up a few rungs of the production ladder, working in a producer capacity on three recent independent films – BuzzKill where he worked alongside Kampmann, Falling Star, aka Goyband and Golf in the Kingdom which saw him not just dealing with the business aspects of the movie but catering as well for Malcolm McDowell.
“I tried once to make tea for Malcolm but apparently it wasn’t hot enough or I added too much or too little milk before steeping the tea just right.
“Apparently, to make a proper cup of tea is an art form that only the Brits have perfected. Next time I’ll have to make him a Greek cup of coffee.”
Time to get out the briki, George, or something stronger for the 19th hole.
©Barney Spender 2013
Next week I will be talking to the director of Swing Away – Steven Kampmann