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A Golfer’s (Well, Kinda, Mostly) Guide to the Best Golf Video Games

If you gotta stay in, you can at least pretend like you’re getting outside and knocking a ball around

Every day that passes in quarantine feels approximately 99.4 percent the same. Depending on your local laws, you may not even be able to get outside. The next best thing might be playing golf from your sofa, but, given that Nintendo Switches have been nigh impossible to find in the age of coronavirus, what’s a quarantined gamer to do? The good news is, you can buy old systems and games for super cheap online, so we found out which are the best golf video games of today and yesterday by asking a pro, a weekend warrior, a disc golf champion, a mini golf champion and a Golden Tee champion. Because we’re thorough like that.

Andy Haas, 2008 and 2016 Golden Tee World Champion

I always tell people I don’t play any video games other than Golden Tee. I haven’t had a console since my Nintendo 64 in high school.

What makes Golden Tee so great is the trackball, which allows for an infinite number of shots. So between the pullback, follow through and the speed, it’s not like a D-pad or buttons, so it makes it infinitely complex. It’s easy to learn but impossible to master — much like golf, there’s no such thing as the perfect round. You can never “beat the game.” Then you throw in the financial element of it: They were one of the first arcade games to incorporate online tournaments for money. I think that’s why the coin-op video game industry died 20 to 25 years ago, except for Golden Tee. 

But if you’re looking for realism, Golden Tee is not it. We’re talking about being able to hit a 400-yard drive with 80 yards of curve, and a lot of times if the ball just touches the hole, it doesn’t matter how fast it’s going — it’s gonna go in. Golden Tee is to golf as NFL Blitz is to football: It’s an arcade game. I used to play Links LS on my computer when I was in high school, and what I liked about that game was that I thought it was very realistic. Again, Golden Tee is not that.

Chris Brown, Professional Golfer

I played Xbox and PlayStation games quite a bit 10-plus years ago. Before I was married, my brother and I lived together, and we found a neighbor guy that lived in the same complex who was a golfer, so we started hanging out. We’d all play golf in the evening, then we’d go have dinner where my girlfriend (now wife) worked, then go home and play Tiger Woods PGA Tour for an hour or two. The great thing about the Tiger Woods games is that you’re playing the tour golf courses. I’ve heard tour players talk about preparing for tournaments by playing the video games to get a look at the golf course to see how it’s going to play.

What’s not so right about golf video games is being able to control the ball in the air. To have it spin sideways and things like that, that’s obviously not possible in real golf! I get that they want to make it enjoyable for people, but there’s a fine line where it’s too easy. When you’re holing out four shots a round, from 200 yards out, that kinda gets old. But it’s fun to play with your friends to get the same type of betting action. If I remember correctly, the Tiger Woods games have the same types of games you play with people on the golf course: Bingo Bango Bongo is a game we used to play a lot, so it was a good time. But I always enjoyed playing a little skins game with friends — I usually played against other people. That was before the online stuff was going on.

Nowadays, my brother’s got the Golden Tee arcade game in his house, so we’ll play that every once in a while. I believe Costco sells it: It’s a smaller version that’s about two-thirds the size of the arcade version. My kids are six and nine now and they’re starting to talk about video games, so I bought them an Xbox during quarantine. They’re talking about getting a golf game. I’m sure I’ll get one shortly.

Nate McGory, Dad/Weekend Golfer/Occasional Gamer

My favorite golf game is Hot Shots Golf 2. That was for the PlayStation. It’s cartoony and arcade style: A video game that was really easy to play, but you could get good at it, and get things like balls that backed up more. I never played Mario Golf, but I guess that one was pretty popular. 

I got a PlayStation 2 for free last month — someone was giving it away during coronavirus — and with it came with, like, 10 old Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf games: 2001, 2002, all the 2000s! Apparently 2006 is the best one hands down, according to the internet. The video cord is frayed so it kind of comes in and out. I think the draw is the analog controlling — the swing uses the little joystick and it’s more realistic, it goes on touch. In playing around with it, there’s an extensive single player mode, and for some reason, when you create your character, you can adjust things like eyebrows and cheekbones — these are honestly choices you can make. I don’t know if that’s a draw, but they spent their time making your own character very realistic!

I also have a Golden Tee home edition. Did you know that existed? I got it at Goodwill. It’s really old. It’s like a handheld thing that just has an audio/video cord you plug into your TV. But it’s pretty limited. It’s similar to if you were to play an old, beat-up Golden Tee; it looks pretty pixelated on your TV. I can shoot under par on it.

I bought a Nintendo Switch a few weeks ago and was excited to see there’s a PGA Tour 2K21 golf game coming out — the one with Justin Thomas on the cover. It’s the first real golf game in a few years. I got excited, then I saw that it’s not coming out till later in the summer. So I was like oh, that’s a long way off — back to Animal Crossing for me.

Simon Lizotte, Professional Disc Golfer

My history with golf video games is surprisingly deep. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003, 2004 and 2005 were my three favorite games still to this day, I would say. I think of myself as probably one of the best Tiger Woods 2005 for PlayStation 2 players in the world — I played that game for hundreds and hundreds of hours with my dad. That was our morning routine: Before breakfast we’d sit down and play at least one round. It was a part of our life. Last year I bought a PlayStation 2 with the Tiger Woods game from 2005 just because it’s one of my favorite things to do. 

Later versions bothered me because they tried to make it too realistic. Golf is obviously a super hard game to be good at, but in the games you could get double eagles on par 5s and holes-in-one whenever you wanted. But then they turned it into super complicated, hyper-realistic games where the gameplay fun was lost. Later they turned the franchise into the Rory McIlroy games, but I tried those once or twice and instantly gave up on them because it was just too different for me and I didn’t like it.

There was another golf game called Outlaw Golf. It was like you were playing with punk rock dudes and prison inmates, and on crazy courses though junkyards. It was like the funnest game because you could do anything, and the characters were so extreme and over-the-top.

As for disc golf games, Way back in the day there was an Innova Disc Golf game for PC, and now there are a couple apps for the iPhone that are okay. I’ve been playing a lot of Disc Golf Valley, which is the most popular one right now.

Marc “The Force” Chapman, Mini Golf Champion

I used to play a lot of different sports games on the PlayStation 2 when I was in my late teens. The one I seemed to spend the most time on was the EA Sports Tiger Woods PGA Tour series: very simple controls but highly addictive. Having the chance to play many famous courses around the world, albeit in a game, really appealed to me. I remember the obsession of shooting mega low rounds and working my way through the career mode, winning tournaments and climbing the money lists! Never seemed to tire from playing for hours on end, late into the night when I probably should have been doing homework or sleeping.

The way they re-created the historic courses structurally was impressive, as well as getting the official tour events and players sanctioned to be used. The mechanics of the golf swing is always tricky to reimagine when you can’t actually swing a club or controller, but I found using the PS2 controller’s mini joystick to do the backswing and follow-through really clever, and easy to do more complex shot shapes like draws and cuts. When on the virtual green, the setup is unrealistic, with guidance arrows and other stats displayed to show the playing surface undulations and breaks. This helped me make monster putts that would never be possible for real on the massive greens of St. Andrews, for example. 

I’d like to think that playing games like this back in my youth sowed the seed for playing some form of competitive golf, be it mini golf, ultimately becoming a two-time world champion!