Danny Noonan works as a caddy at the upscale Bushwood Country Club to earn enough money to go to college. Danny often caddies for Ty Webb, a suave and talented golfer and the son of one of Bushwood's co-founders. Danny decides to gain favor with Judge Elihu Smails, the country club's stodgy co-founder and director of the caddy scholarship program, by caddying for him. Meanwhile, Carl Spackler, one of the greenskeepers, is entrusted with combatting a potentially disastrous gopher infestation. He tries a variety of methods to kill the gopher (e.g. shooting, drowning) without success.
Al Czervik, a brash and obnoxious nouveau riche, begins appearing at the club. Smails is heckled by Czervik as he tees off, causing his shot to go badly wrong. Smails throws a putter away in frustration and accidentally injures a member of the club. Danny takes responsibility for the incident, as a ploy to gain Smails' trust. Smails encourages him to apply for the caddy scholarship.
At Bushwood's annual Fourth of July banquet, Danny and his girlfriend Maggie work as servers. Czervik continues to irritate Smails and the club members, while Danny becomes attracted to Lacey Underall, Smails' promiscuous niece. Danny wins the Caddy Day golf tournament and the scholarship, earning him praise from Smails and an invitation to attend the christening ceremony for his boat. The boat is sunk at the event after a collision with Czervik's larger boat. On returning, Smails discovers Lacey and Danny having a tryst at his house. Expecting to be fired or to have the scholarship revoked, Danny is surprised when Smails only demands that he keeps the incident secret.
Unable to bear the continued presence of the crude-mannered Czervik, Smails confronts him and announces that Czervik will never be granted membership. Czervik counters by announcing that he would never consider being a member: he insults the place and is merely there to evaluate buying Bushwood and developing the land into condominiums. After a brief scuffle and exchange of insults, Ty Webb suggests they discuss a resolution over drinks. After Smails demands satisfaction, Czervik proposes a team golf match with Smails and his regular golfing partner Dr. Beeper against Czervik and Webb. Against club rules, they also agree to a $20,000 wager, quickly doubled to $40,000, on the outcome of the match. That evening, Webb practices for the game against Smails and meets Carl, where the two share a bottle of wine and a joint.
The match is held the following day. Word spreads of the stakes involved and a crowd builds. During the game, Smails and Beeper take the lead, while Czervik, to his dismay, is "playing the worst game of his life". He reacts to Smails' taunts by impulsively redoubling the wager to $80,000 per team. When his own ricocheting ball strikes him, Czervik feigns injury in hopes of having the contest declared a draw. Lou, the course official who is acting as an umpire, tells Czervik his team will forfeit unless they find a substitute. When Webb chooses Danny, Smails threatens to revoke his scholarship, but Czervik promises Danny that he will make it "worth his while" if he wins. Danny eventually decides he would rather humiliate the selfish, conceited Smails than take the scholarship.
By the time they reach the final hole, the score is tied. At the climax of the game, with Danny about to attempt a difficult putt to win, Czervik again redoubles the wager to $160,000 per team. Danny's putt leaves the ball hanging over the edge of the hole. At that moment, Carl, in his latest attempt to kill the gopher, detonates a series of plastic explosives that he has rigged around the golf course. The explosion shakes the ground and causes the ball to drop into the hole, handing Danny, Webb, and Czervik the victory. Smails refuses to pay, so Czervik beckons two hulking men, named Moose and Rocco, to "help the judge find his checkbook." As Smails is chased around the course, Czervik leads another wild party attended by all of the onlookers at the match, shouting, "Hey everybody! We're all gonna get laid!" The gopher emerges, unharmed, and dances amid the smoldering ruins of the golf course.
The movie was inspired by writer and co-star Brian Doyle-Murray's memories working as a caddy at Indian Hill Club in Winnetka, Illinois. His brothers Bill and John Murray (production assistant and a caddy extra), and director Harold Ramis also had worked as caddies when they were teenagers. Many of the characters in the film were based on characters they had encountered through their various experiences at the club, including a young woman upon whom the character of Maggie is based and the Haverkamps, a doddery old couple, John and Ilma, longtime members of the club, who can barely hit the ball out of their shadows. The scene involving a Baby Ruth candy bar being thrown into the swimming pool was based on a real-life incident at Doyle-Murray's high school. The scene in which Al Czervik hits Judge Smails in the genitals with a struck golf ball happened to Ramis on what he said was the second of his two rounds of golf, on a nine-hole public course.
The dinner and dancing scene was filmed at the Boca Raton Hotel and Club in Boca Raton, Florida.
The film was shot over 11 weeks during the autumn of 1979. Golf scenes were filmed at the Rolling Hills Golf Club (now the Grande Oaks Golf Club) in Davie, Florida. According to Ramis, Rolling Hills was chosen because the course did not have any palm trees. He wanted the movie to feel that it was in the Midwest, not Florida. The explosions that take place during the climax of the film were reported at the nearby Fort Lauderdale airport by an incoming pilot, who suspected a plane had crashed.
The scene that begins when Ty Webb's golf ball crashes into Carl Spackler's ramshackle house was not in the original script. It was added by director Harold Ramis after realizing that two of his biggest stars, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray (who previously did not get along due to a feud dating back to their days on Saturday Night Live, but were at least tolerant and professional towards each other while on set), until then, did not appear in a scene together. The three met for lunch and wrote the scene. This is the only film that Chase and Murray have appeared in together.
Bill Murray's famous "Cinderella story" scene was improvised based on two lines of stage direction. Ramis gave him direction to act as a child announcing his own imaginary golf moment, with Murray then improvising. The flowers were his idea. Murray was with the production only six days, and all of his lines were unscripted. Murray was working on Saturday Night Live at the time, and was not intended to have a large role in the movie. However, he was repeatedly recalled from New York to film additional scenes as production continued.
In interviews, Cindy Morgan stated that the scene she shared with Chevy Chase, in which he pours massage oil on her, was completely improvised, and her reaction to Chase dousing her back with the massage oil, where she exclaimed "You're crazy!", was genuine. The scene where her character had to dive into the pool was executed by a professional diver, but up to that point in the scene, she had to be led to the diving board by the crew and carefully directed up the ladder since she could not wear her contact lenses near the pool and was legally blind without them.
An overall deal was made with John Dykstra's effects company for all the necessary visual effects (including lightning, stormy sky effects, flying golf balls, disappearing greens' flags, etc.), so shooting the gopher puppet became part of the intensely negotiated effects package. Dykstra's technicians added extra hydraulic animation to the puppet, including ear movement, and built the tunnels through which he moved.
Caddyshack was released on July 25, 1980, in 656 theaters, and grossed $3.1 million during its opening weekend. It went on to make $39,846,344 in North America.
The film holds a 76% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 49 reviews, with the consensus: "Though unabashedly crude and juvenile, Caddyshack nevertheless scores with its classic slapstick, unforgettable characters, and endlessly quotable dialogue". Christopher Null gave the film four stars out of five, and wrote, "They don't make 'em like this anymore ... The plot wanders around the golf course and involves a half-dozen elements, but if you simply dig the gopher, the caddy, and the Dangerfield, you're not going to be doing half bad". The film was met with generally poor reviews upon its original 1980 release. Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "Caddyshack feels more like a movie that was written rather loosely, so that when shooting began there was freedom—too much freedom—for it to wander off in all directions in search of comic inspiration". Dave Kehr, in his review for the Chicago Reader, wrote, "The first-time director, Harold Ramis, can't hold it together: the picture lurches from style to style (including some ill-placed whimsy with a gopher puppet) and collapses somewhere between sitcom and sketch farce".
Nevertheless, the film has gained a cult following in the years after its release and has been positively reappraised by many film critics. It is a favorite in the golf world. Tiger Woods has said that it is his favorite film, so much so that he played Spackler in an American Express commercial based on the film. Many of the film's quotes have entered the lexicon of pop culture.
Ramis notes in the DVD documentary that TV Guide had originally given the film two stars (out of four) when it began showing on cable television in the early 1980s, but over time, the rating had gone up to three stars. He himself said he "can barely watch it. All I see are a bunch of compromises and things that could have been better", such as the poor swings of everyone save O'Keefe.
In 2007, Taylor Trade Publishing released The Book of Caddyshack, an illustrated paperback retrospective of the movie, with cast and crew Q&A interviews. The book was written by Scott Martin.
Denmark was the only place outside the US/Canada where Caddyshack was initially a hit. The distributor had cut 20 minutes from the movie to emphasize Bill Murray's role.
In 2000, Caddyshack was placed at number 71 on the American Film Institute's (AFI) list of the 100 funniest American films. In 2005, a line from the movie was chosen by AFI for their list of the top 100 movie quotes from U.S. films.
This film is also second on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".
In June 2008, the AFI revealed its "10 Top 10"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling more than 1,500 people from the creative community. Caddyshack was named the seventh-best film in the sports genre.
2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #712004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:"I'm Alright" – Nominated2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:Carl Spackler: "Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac... It's in the hole! It's in the hole! It's in the hole!" – #92Ty Webb: "Be the ball." – Nominated2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:#7 Sports Film
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
In 1980, CBS Records issued a soundtrack to Caddyshack. It includes 10 songs, four of which were performed by Kenny Loggins.
On June 7, 2001, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and their other four brothers opened a themed restaurant inspired by the movie at the World Golf Village, near St. Augustine, Florida. The restaurant is meant to resemble a stodgy country club, much like the fictional Bushwood Country Club, and serves primarily American cuisine. The brothers are all active partners and make occasional appearances at the restaurant. Three more Caddyshack restaurants were opened, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, and Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida; however, all three have been closed, leaving only the World Golf Village location.