Great golf games to play when you suck at real golf

By Alex Alusheff

My friend took me golfing over the weekend in the Cleveland area. I thought it was just going to be the two of us playing and it would be a good time to relax, drink, and maybe even learn a little from him. I bought a mismatched set for $40 on Facebook marketplace and was ready to go.

As soon as we signed in and walked up to the tee box, we were paired up with two older gentlemen, Carmen and Chris, who later told me they had been playing since 1979. To put 1979 in perspective, that’s when McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal, the Voyager discovered rings on Jupiter, and Michael Jackson released Off The Wall. 

I was born 12 years later when MJ released Dangerous, and his skin was completely bleached.

Whatever expectations I had of the day quickly faded and were replaced by anxiety as I felt like I had to perform well to keep up with everyone or I was going to ruin everyone’s day.

I stepped up to the tee, placed my ball, and practiced some swings before getting set.

Smack! I topped the ball. It lined right and bounced down the cart path, burying itself in the rough between three large oak trees.

“Where did you find him?” Carmen asked my buddy.

It felt like we rushed through the next five holes because I was constantly trying to find my ball and catch up to everyone. I would usually have to hit it three times just to reach the length of one of their shots.

I didn’t hit a groove until the sixth hole, where I also opened my first beer. Coincidence? I think not. There’s a direct correlation between me drinking and me getting better at golf. I stopped caring and started making good contact. The rest of the day was much more enjoyable, even though I sliced so much I could open my own deli.

Golf is very technical. But it’s super enjoyable to play even if you suck. Even if you don’t have the means to play real golf, but still want to get the satisfaction out of it, there are a handful of great video games you could play.

Here is a list of golf games I recommend you play if you’re terrible at golf like me.

Golf Story

Nintendo Switch

I’ve been trying to find a reason to write about this game for a while now. It’s one of the funniest games I’ve ever played.

What’s so unique about this game is it’s weird combination of sports game and RPG presented in 2D. You follow the main character as he works to rekindle his passion for golf, playing your way through various quests, challenges, courses and mini games.

The mechanics are surprisingly deep. You can control every aspect of the ball as you can in a Tiger Woods game. And each time you complete a challenge, you get closer to leveling up and buying skill points. 

The courses add a twist to each round of golf. The beach course has sea turtles where you can strategically shoot for the water and bounce the ball off their shells for a further distance. At another course, depending on where you hit the ball, a bird may pick it up and place it in the rough, bunker, fairway, or green. At the old man’s country club, they make you play with antique wooden clubs that are wildly inaccurate and the course is covered in puddles.

The writing is some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s hard to nail proper tone in writing, but the way developer Sidebar Games animated the text ensures the punchlines never fall flat and into the water hazard. This game pokes fun at every aspect of golf and golf culture and will be enjoyable regardless of your familiarity with the sport.

Wii Sports/Resort Golf

Nintendo Wii

Come on. I had to. What other game allows you to literally grip it and rip it … and let your Wiimote sail into your TV?

There’s not much to be said about the golf mini game. The speaker on the remote gives a satisfying clink every time you hit the ball and a funny noise everytime you slice it. Putting is a pain in the ass because everything more than a slight twitch will send the ball skidding over the green.

But damn, is it still a fun gimmick. If you didn’t own a Wii or didn’t have a friend who did, you can pick one up for cheap and there are always copies of these games at your local retro store.

Golden Tee

Arcade

The thought of touching the trackball on this arcade game nowadays disgusts me thanks to COVID-19. And I don’t think I have ever seen anyone drop $5 on this game at a bar, but if you ever have the chance when it’s safe you should.

A little background. I worked at a big mortgage company in Cleveland. They had this game in the lounge to play for free. I worked 60-hour weeks and wasn’t very good at sales, so I spent my lunch hours playing Golden Tee every day for months to give me some escape from the stress of living on commission. Backwards thinking, I know.

I would typically mulligan until I held the record on most of the courses, but eventually I got good enough to not have to do that anymore. I’m willing to bet “ALU” is still the leader in some of the more obscure courses in the game. My buddy and I would waste precious minutes of our lunch hour picking the goofiest outfits for our characters and the wackiest courses.

There was something therapeutic about spinning the hell out of that trackball and mastering the different shots. Almost as therapeutic as the day I resigned.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004

PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube

Whenever I think of this game, I think of one thing. That damn heartbeat sequence.

Bump-bump. Bump-bump. Bump-bump. Hole in one!

Just popped this game in my PS2 for funsies and man, this game is full of unskippable heartbeat sequences. Half the time I hit it in the bunker and I would still get this sequence.

And let’s not leave out the power boost sequence too. You tap L1 as many times as possible before you wind up your shot and then you’re treated to an array of different sequences depending on how many times you tapped the button.

I did appreciate the Happy Gilmore swing, but when you’re just starting out and only hit the ball 200 yards, it doesn’t feel as special.

The caddy advice mechanic during putting is a life saver, unless the advice is 17 feet long and 4 feet 3 inches to the left. Good luck. This game is pure golf. I dropped out of the first tournament after posting a 10 over par on the second day, only to come in 3rd in Scottsdale, AZ, the next week and win $108,000 to dump on my stats. I thought I would be somewhat better for the Hollywood tournament, but I raged quit after the 7th hole. 

Such is golf.

Sure there are a bunch of newer entries in this series that are way better. But this is the one that gives me the warm fuzzies.

Honorable mentions

I’ve only left games out because I haven’t played them or haven’t played enough of them to really talk about them.

Mario Golf series –  Obviously anything with Mario and sports is going to be decent to spectacular. This series falls somewhere in between. If you want a more arcadey, cutesy experience, then this series is for you.

Hot Shots Golf series –  This is basically Mario Golf, but for people who don’t have a Nintendo.

Golf Resort Tycoon/Sim Golf – Maybe you don’t want to play golf, but instead want to design a course and resort. These games are for you. GolfTopia is the spiritual successor to Sim Golf and just released in early access in July. It’s a futuristic golf course management sim and adds wacky pinball elements like bumpers, rings of fire and wind turbines. I will be giving that game a separate review because it deserves it.

Real Golf – I’m talking about the actual sport, not a video game. I learned it’s not a rich man’s sport after all. You can find clubs at a thrift store or second-hand sporting goods store for cheap. You can also spend $10-$15 for 100 balls at a driving range and play with a friend before you go find the cheap 9-hole course in your area. All together you can play golf for the cost of a new video game. And what’s better than spending four to six hours drinking with some buddies outside?

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