The Pros From Dover

The lasting impact of a mashed-up golf phrase
the pros from dover - Donald Sutherland and Eliot Gould

Maureen Dowd was in a rage. It was 2002, and the New York Times opinion columnist could barely contain her white-hot anger at the Bush administration. “They cast themselves as the pros from Dover,” she thundered at one point, using the commonly known phrase for “experts in a field” before explaining why she believed they were, in fact, the opposite.

The small bit of irony there—and the myriad times it’s been used over the years, in publications from the Times to Tom Clancy novels—is that the original term was coined to describe a couple of guys who couldn’t be further from experts in their purported field. But they did love golf.

In the 1968 book M*A*S*H by Richard Hooker, the titular gonzo surgeon Hawkeye Pierce explains how he gets free golf all over the country by showing up to clubhouses claiming he is “Joe, Dave or Jack Somebody, the pro from Dover. This resulted, about eight times out of ten, in an invitation to play for free.”

In the 1970 film adaptation, Hawkeye, played by Donald Sutherland (above, left), and Trapper John McIntyre, played by Elliott Gould (above, right) , remain avid golf lovers and repeat the phrase. The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and “the pros from Dover” took off.

Just goes to show how a well-turned golf phrase will always survive. And, for those brave enough, how a well-placed white lie might result in a free round. 

the pros from dover - Donald Sutherland and Eliot Gould
Photos by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images