My first experiences with Golden Tee Golf were either at bowling allies or at bars during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Golden Tee Golf is an addictive– and money-hungry– arcade golf game that uses a trackball controller instead of the customary joystick-and-button combination to execute shots. Roll the trackball back for the backswing, than hammer it forward and watch the ball fly. It’s a fairly easy game, with red numbers (scores under par) often in the double digits.
The one gripe that I always had with Golden Tee was the cost. $2 for 18 holes quickly adds up, much like full games of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz did. NBA Jam and NFL Blitz got home ports, though… and these were very good. It turns out that, in September of 2000, Golden Tee Golf got a home port for the PlayStation, as well– and that’s what I’m going to look at today. Golden Tee Golf was an under-the-radar release; the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 were competing for everyone’s attention, while games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and Chrono Cross were keeping PlayStation owners busy. For some review background, GameSpot gave Golden Tee Golf a review score of 2.3 back in September of 2000. IGN didn’t review it, and Metacritic doesn’t have a page for it.
The first question that experienced Golden Tee Golf players will probably ask about the PlayStation version is, “How can you play without a trackball?” It’s a fair question; the coin-op centers around the trackball for control. There are nuances in terms swing power and ball trajectory that the trackball allows players to accomplish. Using a controller is different– but not awful. In fact, the using the digital controller option allows for even more precision in terms of shot power. Shots are executed by pressing the X button to begin the backswing, and then the triangle button to complete the swing and hit the ball. For the first four courses, the course map during the backswing will show the expected distance that the ball will travel; this makes it easy to know when to follow through with the triangle button. The last two courses in the game– Pearl Bay and Echo Canyon– disable the distance display, making for much more challenging rounds of play.
Applying draw or fade to shots is a bit less precise, as players use the shoulder buttons to shape shots pre-swing. Adding draw or fade lends to more unpredictable shot results, and feels less controlled because the shoulder buttons offer fewer degrees of shaping than the trackball allows. Some players will lament this lack of shot-shaping control. That said, the loss of the trackball does not ruin the PlayStation version of Golden Tee Golf. It does require a bit of practice and adjustment, but once players master the controller-based swing mechanic, it’s an acceptably similar experience. For those players with Dual Shock controllers, an analog swing option is also available. I’m not a fan of this option, as it utilizes both sticks and feels unnecessarily imprecise and complex.
Putting controls are the same as swing controls. Press X to begin the backswing and build power, then press the Triangle button to follow through. While this works well for relatively straight putts, considerable breaks to the left or right are almost too difficult. Without the trackball to guide putts to the left or right, players are instead left to use the shoulder buttons to guide the trajectory arrow incrementally left or right. It’s not as accurate as it should be, leading to missed putts at times– and painful added strokes.
Once players come to grips with the controls, though, Golden Tee Golf for the PlayStation is a pretty good representation of the arcade game. All three courses from Golden Tee ’97 are here, as well as three original courses. The courses range from forested challenges (Pine Creek) to golf in the high desert (Red Sands). Part of the allure of Golden Tee Golf is the selection of risk-reward holes that the game offers; the hole layout on these often shows a narrow window that players can navigate shots through in order to shoot low numbers. The catch is that bad shots can leave players in the water, stuck in trees, or left with poor approaches to the hole that can inflate scores significantly. While it’s certainly possible to shoot low scores without being too aggressive on these risk-reward holes, the temptation is sometimes too strong to resist. Skilled Golden Tee players can often shoot -18 or better, thanks to being aggressive on these holes.
The main gameplay modes in Golden Tee Golf are Tournament and Stroke play. Tournament play is where most players will spend their time. Unlike most tournaments in other golf games, the goal here is to beat a certain score on each course. As these scores are matched or beaten, it unlocks a mirror version of the course. This doubles the potential number of courses from six to twelve. There are no tournament leaderboards or trophies to win here, although the best scores and other top performances are logged and saved to memory card. Stroke play is more casual, as it’s just the players and courses. When playing with multiple players, Skins and Bingo-Bango-Bongo (points for first on the green, closest to the hole, and first to get the ball into the hole) are other fun options for play. Two other modes– Speed Golf and Golf Roulette– round out the package. Speed Golf is the more fun of the two events, but neither will hold a player’s attention for long.
Visually, Golden Tee Golf on the PlayStation is unimpressive. Granted, the game is using courses and visuals from a 20 year-old arcade title… but the frame rate often suffers during shots and there’s a bunch of pixelization that can be seen. The ground occasionally looks like it came from a Super NES game. The graphics do get the job done, and don’t necessarily interfere with the game’s playability, but there are better-looking golf games for the PlayStation available. There are, occasionally, some funny player animations… such as after a missed short putt, when the player drops to the ground in agony.
In the sound department, Golden Tee Golf performs adequately. Peter Jacobsen supplies some lines of encouragement or advice on occasion, and what are presumed to be on-course commentators add a few (repetitive) lines about a player’s performance here and there. The swing of the club, the impact of the ball on surfaces, and the reactions of the crowd are all here and are fairly standard for golf video games. There isn’t much music, and what there is comes from the Golden Tee ’97 coin-op.
It’s worth remembering that Golden Tee Golf is an arcade game… and there aren’t a ton of extras here to add replay value. Once players unlock all of the mirrored courses, the only thing left to play for is leaderboard status for each course. There isn’t any kind of cumulative tournament or career structure, and this is on a console that doesn’t have any kind of online functionality to download global leaderboards or stats to compete against. It’s best to play Golden Tee Golf in short bursts– a couple of rounds at a time at most– and then move on to something else.
So… what do I think of Golden Tee Golf overall? It’s got flaws, for sure, but it’s also a decent representation of the arcade game that ate so many of my quarters back in the late 1990s. The scores are low, the controls are fine (after adjusting to them) for the most part, and it maintains the feel of the arcade experience. The course designs– especially the risk-reward holes– are the big draw, and players will be hard-pressed to not try and go for it on holes that are inviting for eagles. As a Golden Tee game, I enjoyed playing it.
After further review, I don’t believe that Golden Tee Golf for the PlayStation is nearly as bad as the 2.3 review score that it got 16 years ago, and I give it a 6.0 score. It’s an average golf game, but I give it an extra point for doing a decent job of bringing the arcade game home… and saving me $2 per play.