Happy Gilmore is an aspiring ice hockey player who possesses a powerful and dangerous slapshot that his father taught him as a child before he was apparently struck and killed by a wayward hockey puck, though his over aggressive streak (which once resulted in him trying to stab a guy to death with an ice skate) and lack of skating talent consistently preclude him from joining a hockey team. His girlfriend Terry, a schoolteacher, leaves him because of his hockey obsession.
His grandmother has not paid her taxes for many years. As such, she owes the IRS $270,000 in back taxes, and her house is about to be repossessed. Happy has only ninety days to come up with the money or else the house will be auctioned off. Grandma Gilmore is forced to temporarily move into a retirement home, run by a sadistic manager named Hal. While repossessing his Grandma's furniture, a pair of removals men challenge Happy to hit golf balls. With his unorthodox, hockey slapshot-style swing, Happy hits the ball 400 yards three times, winning $40 in betting money as a result and starts hustling golfers with his swing at the driving range, leading one-handed former golf star and current club pro Chubbs Peterson to convince Happy to enter a local tournament for a chance to win "big bucks". Happy wins the tournament and earns a spot on the Pro Golf Tour, though Chubbs advises him to wait six months so he can improve Happy's performance.
On the tour, Happy encounters Shooter McGavin, who sees Happy as both a detriment to golf and a threat to his career. Although Happy has a powerful drive, his putting is terrible, and his violent outbursts and lack of golf etiquette quickly draw the attention of Commissioner Doug Thompson who wants to expel him from the tour. PR head Virginia Venit convinces him to reconsider, citing higher television ratings, increasing attendance, drawing more youthful sponsors, and that she's willing to work with Gilmore on his anger issues. Thompson threatens to fire her as well if there are any further incidents; Happy begins to improve his performance and behavior, but he is fined $25,000 along with a one-month suspension after a full-scale brawl with Bob Barker during a Pro-Am tournament.
Despite bidding $275,000 from his endorsement deal with Subway at the auction, Happy is outbid by McGavin who has purchased the house for $350,000, and Happy makes a bet with his rival based on the upcoming Tour Championship. He seeks the help of Chubbs, admitting his past mistakes and the two head to a mini-golf course. Though Happy makes progress, Chubbs falls out of a window to his death after Happy presents him with the head of the alligator that bit his hand off.
Determined to win the tournament for Chubbs, Happy is evenly matched with Shooter after the first two rounds and leads Shooter by the end of the third day. On the fourth and final day, multiple unusual scenarios occur between both Happy and Shooter, with the latter losing after the former succeeds in the trick shot learned from Chubbs. Afterwards, an angry and hysterical Shooter attempts to steal Happy's gold jacket, but is chased down by Happy's former boss Mr. Larson and an angry mob of spectators and is brutally beaten to death. Back at Grandma's house, the film closes with Happy being congratulated by the two-handed ghost of Chubbs, Abraham Lincoln, and the alligator as Grandma, Virginia, and his homeless caddy look on in confusion.Adam Sandler as Happy Gilmore, a high-strung former hockey player who discovers a unique talent for golf.
Christopher McDonald as Shooter McGavin, an arrogant golfer who is one of the top stars of the Pro Golf Tour.
Julie Bowen as Virginia Venit, a public relations director for the Pro Golf Tour.
Frances Bay as Grandma Gilmore.
Carl Weathers as Chubbs Peterson, a pro golfer who was forced to retire early when his hand was bitten off by an alligator. Weathers reprises the role in Sandler's 2000 film Little Nicky, despite Little Nicky being produced by New Line Cinema.
Allen Covert as Otto, a homeless man who becomes Happy's caddy. The character is unnamed in the film (although his name is revealed in a deleted scene but is listed in the end credits). Covert reprises the role in Sandler's 2011 film Jack and Jill.
Kevin Nealon as Gary Potter, an eccentric pro who Happy plays with in his first tournament.
Peter Kelamis as Gary Potter's caddy.
Richard Kiel as Mr. Larson, Happy's towering former boss.
Dennis Dugan as Doug Thompson, the commissioner of the Pro Golf Tour.
Joe Flaherty as Donald, an unruly fan hired by Shooter to distract Happy.
Jared Van Snellenberg as Happy Gilmore's caddy at the Waterbury Open.
Will Sasso as mover
Lee Trevino as himself
Bob Barker as himself
Verne Lundquist as himself
Mark Lye as himself
Ben Stiller as Hal L. (uncredited), the sadistic orderly running the nursing home
On the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, they received a 60% rating based on 52 reviews with a consensus review of "Those who enjoy Adam Sandler's schtick will find plenty to love in this gleefully juvenile take on professional golf; those who don't, however, will find it unfunny and forgettable." On Metacritic, It holds a 31% rating based on 14 reviews, indicating "Generally unfavorable reviews." Brian Lowry of Variety stated that "The general tone nevertheless makes it difficult to elevate the gags beyond an occasional chuckle". Lowry only noted a few scenes he found inspired, including the fight scene with Bob Barker and when Happy attempts to find his "Happy Place" which was described as "Felliniesque". Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars out of four, stating that Adam Sandler's character "doesn't have a pleasing personality: He seems angry even when he's not supposed to be, and his habit of pounding everyone he dislikes is tiring in a PG-13 movie". Ebert also noted the film's product placement stating that he "probably missed a few, but I counted Diet Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Subway, Budweiser (in bottles, cans, and Bud-dispensing helmets), Michelob, Visa cards, Bell Atlantic, AT&T, Sizzler, Red Lobster, Wilson, Golf Digest, the ESPN sports network, and Top-Flite golf balls".
The scene with Barker beating up Gilmore increased ratings for The Price Is Right amongst younger demographics. Barker claimed that someone in the audience asked him about Happy Gilmore almost every day. The show's producers had previously tried, but failed, to appeal to a younger demographic with a syndicated variation of the game hosted by Doug Davidson.
The film was a commercial success, ranking #2 at the US box office on its debut weekend with $8.5 million in revenue. The film was made for $12 million and grossed a total of $41.2 million worldwide, with $38.8 million of that at the North American domestic box office.
Golf.com, Consequence of Sound, and Golf Digest discussed the film, predominantly praising the villain Shooter McGavin. Other articles have covered relatively unknown trivial facts, such as Carl Weathers's missing arm, which was the same arm from the movie Predator, and the number of times nurse orderly Hal committed nursing home abuse.
The "Happy Gilmore swing," featuring a walking or running approach, is often imitated or attempted for fun, including by touring golf professionals. Three-time major champion Pádraig Harrington is particularly well-known for his impression and even uses the technique in training. The TV series Sport Science has featured Harrington's "Happy Gilmore swing," demonstrating how it can indeed generate additional distance, though at the cost of accuracy.The film was nominated for a Sound Effects award; foley artists spent over 40 hours designing, improving, and perfecting the sound of Adam Sandler’s golf swing.