Dr. Cook has overseen the journey of Seven Days in Utopia from book to screen in his roles as author, screenwriter and executive producer and loves the fact that audiences at advance screenings have said it really isn’t a “golf story,” but a film about life.

“I think there are a lot of young people in need of wisdom and a lot of people out there who have done a lot of living and have that wisdom to give,” he explains. “We just all need a time and a place where we can slow down enough to ask for or give that kind of help. And Utopia is the epitome of that place.”

I spoke with Dr. Cook recently about his story and what he hopes Seven Days in Utopia will mean for anyone who sees it—golf enthusiast or otherwise.

How did you get the story idea for Seven Days in Utopia?

We have a spot here in Utopia, Texas where our family has had a ranch here for around 100 years, and one day I walked into this little café in a little town of about 200 people. And in this café next to the cash register there was a bulletin board with a little sign on it that said: “Utopia Driving Range. Next to the cemetery. Come find your game.” And I’ve been coming out here for a long time, and there weren’t any golf courses within about 60 miles of this place. So I was intrigued by that and I went out to the driving range there, and there’s this beautiful cemetery, a great big oak tree and a rock wall around it. And right outside of that were these three pieces of AstroTurf in the middle of a bunch of weeds and rocks with the barbed wire fence, a 300-yard-long plowed cow pasture, a metal pole next to the AstroTurf and it had an index card that said: “$3 for a small bucket. $5 for a large bucket. Put your money in the slot.” And you look down, and they were the worse golf balls I’d ever seen in my life. And it really was a pathetic sight. And I was standing there just chuckling and then I just heard the Lord say, “This is the place . . . write the book.” And the symbol of that place became very profound at that moment, and I went back to the little white-frame farm house we have out on the ranch built in the 1870s and got my computer out on my front porch, put my hand on the computer and about eight hours later it stopped. So it was like a download. It was really interesting how it all came together. God just has a story that he wanted told that you know that continues one of his main principles that the simple things will confound the intelligent in the world. It is his wisdom. So that’s where it came from, and it was a real interesting experience.

And then how did the story go from book to film?

No one wanted to publish it because it was a sports psychology book, a golf book, a fiction book, a ministry book and they said, “We don’t have a category.” So I put it out for free. And when that happened . . . it was like a wildfire and took off. I ended up self-publishing. A guy sent me 1,000 books as a seed. And from that seed we began to sell books, and our director got it and said, “I want this to be my next movie.” So we spent two years together writing the screenplay trying to get it just right, and then our casting director gave it to Robert Duvall and he said, “I want to play this role” and everything changed. It went from a little million dollar movie to a multi-million dollar movie overnight. But it all changed. The key to the story is everything changed. Life changed when I was standing there paying for lunch at a café before and noticed a handwritten sign. That’s amazing how God works. Really interesting how life changes on a razor’s edge, but we know who the orchestrator is.

The film begins with a visual of Isaiah 30:21. Was that your idea to include this verse?

Well, you can’t be heavy-handed in the movie theater when you’re trying to [reach] the lives of lots of people and want to make a difference in their lives. So the movie is more of the opening of a funnel that drives people down further to our Web site and into the book and into God’s Word. So there are some steps there. But I know this as I read the Word: it says that his Word will not come back void, and the Word of God is powerful. And so in the movie itself no one quotes Scripture, so I wanted to make sure I started the movie with a powerful scripture that really defines what this movie is about and let God work through his Word and just cement this thing from the very beginning. What’s interesting is that the new True Grit which came out like nine months ago or whatever, also started with a scripture. So that was interesting that they did that as well.

In the book there’s more “golf speak” as opposed to what’s heard in the movie. Do you think that the movie might be more accessible to people who don’t know anything about golf or aren’t excited about the game?

Absolutely. And that’s why we named it Seven Days in Utopia and took golf out of it. We also feel like in our exit interviews, people go, “This isn’t a golf story. This is about life.” I think we capture that. We’ve got a love interest in the movie as well. We have lots of emphasis on flying, fly fishing and everything else, so we’ve really tried to tone down the golf, though golf is a great metaphor and there are 25 million avid golfers in America. So we wanted to make sure that for those people who were looking for a golf movie—‘cause there are golf movies in the past that have not been very authentic—we wanted to make sure that we captured that audience and that this was the most authentic golf movie ever made. In other words, the golf scenes are real, the guy that’s hitting, the actor’s a real golfer and all that. And I think we’ve accomplished that, so it’s really our evangelical tool moving into that whole 25 million golfers as well. It’s a great tool for that. So it’s going to open the doors in that area as well.

What are your thoughts on how the cast brought these characters from the book to life in the film?

They did a great job. The first day we thought this might be a movie, we sort of white-boarded and said who would play these parts. And we started with okay what’s your biggest dream and then let’s get real. Well, Robert Duvall was the first name that came up three years ago when we were white-boarding and then we put an X next to that like that was really going to happen and then started looking through the catalog of the starving artists and trying to figure out who might work. And Lucas Black we knew we wanted from the very beginning because he was a golfer. So to get these guys was God’s way. He did it. There’s no other way to say it. God did it. It’s his deal, and he gets the glory. It’s the perfect cast.

So you really had thought of the pairing of Robert Duvall and Lucas Black even before they appeared in the film Get Low together?

Oh yeah. We didn’t even know they were in a movie together. Absolutely. And isn’t that God’s way? It’s just his way.

What did your role as an executive producer look like? Were you on set every day during filming?