The True Story Behind Golf in the Kingdom

Paul Volcker (left) and Michael Murphy at the New York City premiere party for Golf in the Kingdom

Last week, President Barack Obama declared he was left at the altar by Speaker John Boehner.

This coming so soon after their engagement in a highly public golf summit!

President Obama (left) and John A. Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. AP image

"Men loving men, that is what golf is," proclaims actress Joanne Whalley in a Scottish brogue in Golf in the Kingdom, which premiered in New York City last Friday.

Shivas Irons (David O'Hara), the iconic shaman/philosopher/teacher of golf walks away from Michael Murphy (Mason Gamble); photo by Scott Green

When the book's author, Michael Murphy, was asked whom he would like to have Shivas teach next, he replied without hesitation: "The members of Congress."

Indeed. The movie is a stealth attack on male privilege even as it investigates the mystical origins of golf in Scotland, the home of the secret society, established to keep out women.


Paul Volcker with his niece (my sister), Susan Streitfeld, whose first feature was "Female Perversions" with Tilda Swindon; both films were produced by Mindy Affrime.

So, naturally it takes a team of women to storm that bastion and break its code!

Golf in the Kingdom has been the Holy Grail for filmmakers attempting to deliver its message to the silver screen. Murphy summed up some history. "Clint Eastwood tried for a year. He couldn't do it. Gus Van Sant couldn't do it."

And here is the irony, the originating Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews STILL does not admit woman! The film was made at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on the Pacific Coast in Oregon.

When my sister was making the film, I took my own tour of the arcane in Scotland. There I found visual evidence of the link between the Knights Templar and Scottish Masonry inscribed on the facade of Rosslyn Chapel, where The Da Vinci Code was filmed.

So naturally, I cornered Murphy at the premiere party to ask him about an off-course link: golf originating in Scotland where the Knights Templar supposedly stashed their ancient occult knowledge.

He smiled and laid a savory tidbit on the table that wasn't in his book: in order to enter the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the initiates have to kiss the balls of the captain!

This sporty male receptiveness to the feminine, the inner feminine -- Shakti/Serpent Power through its internal passage in the body to unite with Shiva in the sacred marriage at the crown of the head -- is at the essence of the film.


The cinematography of Arturo D. Smith captures the synchronicities between the natural world and the inner states of transformation and exaltation. This sunrise scene in the film ends the terrifying Dark Night of the Soul and precedes the ecstatic discovery that Shivas made a "hole in one" in the dark.

Streitfeld's highly collaborative process to penetrate the book's linear narrative and bring the viewer directly into the male experience of golf. In doing so, with a My Dinner with Andre scene intercut between the mystical experience of golf, she visually penetrated into the mystical source of knowledge where the inner marriage of masculine and feminine is achieved by a connection to the 'inner body."

Co-producer Catherine Kellner (left) who played the barmaid, with the film's editor, Kathryn Himoff, who highlighted the importance of play in the film through her process: rearranging the linear narrative by placing segments on the floor and using her female intuition to put it back together, resulting in a work of art inviting the audience into the new paradigm of Jean Gebser's ever-present origin, integrating past, present and future.

In both form and content, Golf in the Kingdom may be the most timely subversive film of this present time of uncertainty, penetrating the male bastion of golf to reveal the erotic origins of the "hole in one". It brings new insight into the connection between the opposing components of the game seeking unity in the alchemical conjunctio and the Tree of Life...

Streitfeld's highly archetypal/symbolic approach to filmmaking explores the mythology of the Tree of Life, Mayan symbol of the Winter Solstice; photo by Scott Green.

The film was a full circle for my entire family; our father created Aureon, as the East Coast counterpart to Michael Murphy's Esalen Institute in the 1960s.

For me, the capstone of the evening was Susan's dedicating her latest film to our mother, Virginia Volcker Streitfeld.

All event photos by Lisa Paul Streitfeld. Films stills by Scott Green.
Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a cultural critic based in metropolitan New York