'The Founders' film premiers at LPGA finale


NAPLES, Fla. – Tears and laughter filled the Tiburon I Room of the Ritz Carlton during Wednesday night’s special first screening of "The Founders," a film about the 13 founding members of the LPGA.

More than two years in the making by Mighty Fine Films, the project continues to overcome funding challenges to tell the story of the birth of the LPGA. The film was shown to LPGA players, staff, tournament partners and golf industry officials on the eve of the CME Group Tour Championship.

“This was a sizable project, not one for them to make money on,” said Shirley Spork, one of the three living founders today. “I compliment them for believing in us and wanting to tell our story.”

Spork and fellow founder Marilynn Smith were in attendance. Marlene Hagge, the other living founder, was unable to attend. The film documents the founding of the LPGA in 1950, telling the stories of how the original 13 members overcame obstacles building the tour while barnstorming the country in a caravan of automobiles. It details the importance of Babe Zaharias to the tour’s early success but also the internal struggles in dealing with Zaharias’ larger-than-life persona, her demands and her intense rivalry with fellow founder Louise Suggs.

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“You can imagine just finding archives,” said Carrie Schrader, the film’s scriptwriter. “There weren’t a lot of photos or film taken of these women back then. It was hard to get press. So we have scoured the earth for home movies, stuff in basements and attics that people were going to throw away. We'd get a box, `What's in it?’ That process, it's just very expensive and time consuming. All in all, it's very much been worth it.”

Like the founders themselves, the filmmakers have persevered through roadblocks that still persist.

“We call those founders moments . . . Why is this not working? Why can't we get it to happen? Why don't people believe in us?” said Charlene Fisk, the executive producer and editor. “Then all of a sudden something would happen.”

While the film is nearly a finished project, the filmmakers are still seeking $75,000 to cover musical and other licensing costs, and also the cost of converting the film to theatrical quality print for large screen projection. Mighty Fine Films in conjunction with Kaleidoscope Films is seeking to get the film shown at the Sundance, London and Tribeca film festivals.

“Then from there it would hopefully get picked up for distribution and have a theatrical release and then go to online and cable, et cetera, et cetera,” Schrader said. “Our goal is to have this film seen by as many people as possible.”

Karrie Webb and Stacy Lewis are listed as executive producers. They both helped fund the project. Webb donated $25,000 to the film from her first-place check last year when she won the Founders Cup, and Lewis launched the “Birdies 4 Founders Film” fundraiser. Webb and Lewis spoke to the audience before the screening. The PGA of America and LPGA also have supported the film’s making.

Smith said after selling the tour for so many years as a founder, she was glad she was able to help tell the LPGA’s story once again in such a meaningful film.

“We really had to blow our own horns our whole life,” Smith said. “I'm glad that my horn hasn't worn out yet.”