GALLOWAY, N.J. - Nicole Castrale’s approach to the 18th tee box at the Bay Course, home of the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer, was like so many before it. The camera crews jockeying for position, inching as close to the outskirts of the tee box as possible, providing out of the corner of players’ eyes the tangible reminder that – whether good or bad - the performance set to come is for the world to see. Meanwhile, standing just off to the side out of ear shot was Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz, whispering commentary into the microphone and the viewers’ conscience about the final pairing heading into the last hole.
Only this time none of it was real. It was all an act. Castrale was certainly an LPGA player that day in the final group of an LPGA tournament, but she was doing so as an actress in a new movie “Swing Away” in which she plays herself as a member of the final pairing, alongside the main character of the film, Zoe, who is played by Shannon Elizabeth.
Castrale is certainly used to the cameras – both as an LPGA Tour player and through her past appearances as a guest analyst on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” – but this role came with a rewind button that isn’t available when it’s her turn on the tee or TV goes live.
“It was fun, very comfortable,” Castrale said. “I know Jerry Foltz from him being out there so we were kind of a duo in what we filmed, plus I think it made it very comfortable for Shannon with me playing the opposite playing partner because we’ve become friends. So she knew what to expect with me and vice versa. I absolutely loved being a part of the film and being able to feel like I contributed.”
For the first time on a golf course, Castrale found herself much more invested in her partner’s success on the 18th than her own. She knew how to tee it up, where to stand on the tee box, all the essentials of a golfer and the comfort of portraying something she is every day. Elizabeth didn’t. She had taken 10 lessons at Chelsea Piers in New York City, where she’s based, before departing for filming, but golf’s a game of a million intricacies and Castrale’s been there to provide counsel on each. More than the acting, that has been Castrale’s role, training Elizabeth on set of how to make golf purists believe that the actress, who hadn’t picked up a club since she was a child, was indeed a professional golfer.
“Different things people don’t think about - how to set up the scene, where people stand, the gallery, what’s realistic at a golf tournament,” Castrale said.
Taping of the film lasted more than four weeks, but they saved the bulk of the golf-related content for the last two weeks so Castrale could come consult. She arrived May 17 and spent nearly two weeks on set in Greece, helping to authenticate all the golf aspects of the film. Then, when they returned, she took Elizabeth around the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer during the final round of tournament play on Sunday to show her things that could help her performance when they actually filmed on the course the following day.
She likely saved the crew a camera at one point, too, Elizabeth joked, recalling a story of Castrale insisting that the camera men move during a shot that would have likely destroyed the camera – and likely injured the operator - had they remained in the same spot.
“What’s been really great is that for the first half of the movie I was kind of just over there winging it with a lot of the things that we were doing and it was the last week that we were there that we started doing all of the golf stuff and all of the sudden I had someone to tell me what was right and wrong. I was like ‘O, thank god! I’m so glad you’re here,’” Elizabeth said. “She gave me a real sense of comfort that what we were doing was correct, and she really helped advise the director with some of the scenes and make sure if we do this is this realistic? Would this happen to someone if we did that? I don’t know what we would have done without her.”
Luckily, they didn’t have to. Castrale is injured at the moment, clearing time for her to help on a film that’s become incredibly close to her heart the more she has gotten to know the plotline, the crew and the people of her native Greece. The fictional account of Zoe, who is also a Greek-American in the film, is that of an LPGA Tour player who gets the yips and decides to take a break from the game and head back to her native island of Rhodes in Greece after a final hole embarrassment. Over the course of the film, Zoe regains her love of the game through Stella, a 10-year-old prodigy.
Creative Producer George Stephanopoulos originally approached Elizabeth’s representatives about the film a little over a year ago. What she found was a script with so many parallels between her own life that the role was a no brainer. Like the character, she’d had a few meltdowns, she joked. She also liked the challenge of the sport aspect and the competition of it. That’s one thing that helped Castrale from the get go in making Elizabeth look like a golfer is that the actress was an athlete and a competitive spirit, which helped her to adapt in the role immediately. She played competitive tennis growing up and has competed in professional poker tournaments like the World Series of Main Event and National Heads-up Championship.
“It’s such a heartfelt story. It’s a feel good story. It’s a family story,” Elizabeth said. “It’s about me falling back in love with myself, with this town, with this little girl that I mentor. It’s just this beautiful story of transformation, and I think we all go through periods of time in our lives where we want to just start over or we want to reevaluate what’s happening in our lives and what matters. I think this story is going to really put things in perspective through my eyes of what’s important and what matters because I think we can all get lost in our everyday lives, our careers, our jobs, things that seem so life and death and you take a few steps back and you realize they are not, and you are much happier without that in your life.”
It’s more than just a story for the soul, though. It’s a film that could put golf on the map in Greece. That was part of Stephanopoulous’ goal from the start – not only to produce a beautiful film but also show a game he loves to the country he adores. It became the same for Castrale. She saw the light turn on with the 10-year-old actress portraying Stella when she told her that she was an LPGA player similar to Zoe, the main character, and in return, somewhere in the world, there was a little girl just like Stella.
“We can keep going to the same golf markets, but it’s about hitting those markets that don’t know about golf. That’s how the LPGA grows fans,” Castrale said. “It’s the same thing in Greece. There’s certain niches that know about golf but it’s about hitting those that know nothing about golf and exposing it to them.”
But until the film is released, Castrale is working to grow the game herself. She spent four days in Athens after filming, meeting with people on grow-the-game initiatives before returning for the final phase of filming, which was completed Monday. That scene, the one Castrale makes an on-camera appearance in as herself, was filmed with the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer’s infrastructure still in place to provide a realistic and authentic replication of an LPGA event.
With filming complete, the crew expects to have a finished product by September or October with a release date of early next spring.