"Bobby Jones - Stroke of Genius" is a dream come true for producer Kim Dawson. It took him 13 years to bring the project to the screen. "I first heard about Bobby Jones when I was a kid," he says, "but always from a golfing point of view.
"Years later, when I heard that the story was available to be made into a film, I started to learn more about the man and became so impressed with the complexity of the story and the struggles that Bobby Jones went through to achieve what he did - not just in golf, but in life. It struck me that if this story was told with a great script on a big screen, it would really capture the hearts of the film-going public."
It was a daunting task, and Dawson ran into roadblocks much of the way. "Someone in New York was trying to make an unauthorized biography of Bobby Jones as a movie-of-the-week for CBS," explains Dawson. "The network was lukewarm about it and the Jones family was unhappy. There was a lot at stake. Bobby Jones' stature in the game is very important to his family, so much so that they formed a family corporation, not to exploit Bobby Jones' name and likeness, but to protect it."
The family would not move forward to release the rights to Dawson until the New York filmmaker was out of the way. "I met the family lawyer, Marty Elgison of Alston & Bird, the law firm founded by Jones," explains Dawson. "He became my supporter from day one. I think we were aligned in spirit about how the project should be done and Marty, who represents all the Jones heirs, opened the door for me." Dawson helped the family negotiate a settlement with the filmmaker in New York.
With the rights back on the table, the surviving members of the family, including Clara, Jones' daughter, and five grandchildren, gathered for a family meeting. "I pitched my idea to them," says Dawson, "and they liked it enough to allow me to go forward. I promised them, and in my agreement with them, am contractually bound, to tell the story truthfully and honestly and not denigrate the name of Bobby Jones, with the understanding that in filmmaking certain dramatic licenses with historical facts have to be considered."
With the rights in hand, Dawson began developing the project. Luck was with him, for on his first trip to Augusta, Ga., he met legendary golfer Charlie Yates, a contemporary of Jones, who was his mentor. He told the producer that his dream "would be like playing a very, very long round of golf, to be extremely patient and take it one shot at a time." His prophesy turned out to be true.
"I needed a lot of perseverance to continue this journey," says Dawson. "When you have kids and a family of your own, and you've literally spent your life savings and a good deal of your time, it can become difficult to carry on. But I always had Charlie's blessing and spiritual support. I think even Jones himself was watching over me and gave me hope."
His perseverance paid off and in 2002, Dawson felt the time was right to approach Rick Eldridge, a colleague at Universal Studios. Eldridge came aboard as executive producer. "Bobby Jones' name was plastered everywhere for his 100th birthday," he says. "So it seemed like a great opportunity to make a movie at the height of all this exposure around the Masters and his birthday.
"The background is golf," he continues, "but ... as I learned more about Bobby Jones, I saw the story behind the story as one of an exceptional man. An individual, devoted to his wife and children, who never wanted to be famous. His life is full of twists and turns, all centered around golf, because that was what he's best known for, but I felt there was a more important story to tell. It was our job to find the perfect writer and director."
Dawson had a personal vision about how the writer and director should approach the project. "I always felt it was a director's film," he says, "that it really needed the writer and director to be of one mind. If they were the same person, that would be alright, too."
Several writers and directors were identified and invited to come in and meet Dawson and Eldridge. Each person was given the same material and then asked to come back with ideas on how they would tell the story. "Rowdy Herrington really had a passion for the story and definitely, beyond a doubt, convinced us that he was the guy. He sees this as his 'Chariots of Fire'."
"I'm an avid golfer and I knew who Bobby Jones was," explains Herrington, "so my initial reaction when I heard about the project was both elation and fear. Elation because it's an amazing opportunity to dramatize a man's life that is so rich in character and complexities. Fearful because it can only be told once and it must be done well. Bobby Jones was such an exemplary character - he lived his life so well - that I felt to be involved, I had to be able to make it come to life on the screen."