By Jeffrey A. Rendall
We don't need to go outside anymore to play golf.
Funny how it is in today's world, where machines supplanted so many of the daily activities human beings used to need to toil at. No one's really sorry -- I doubt very many folks lose sleep over not having to hang their clothes on lines, churn butter to feed the family or scrub for hours to get the dishes clean.
But the age of computers brought about some other unanticipated changes. Just go to a consumer electronic store these days and take a look -- the possibilities are endless. You can fly jet fighters, slay dragons, challenge NFL players on the goal line or attack an enemy Civil War encampment, all from the comforts of your home office chair. Computers take us to worlds we've never known.
And sometimes they even take us to worlds we do know, like the golf course. Such is the case with Microsoft's Links 2001 game. Now you can play a round with Arnold Palmer, Sergio Garcia or Annika Sorenstam -- or all three at once; you can play the Old Course at Saint Andrews without boarding a 747; and you can even design your own golf course without acquiring a couple hundred precious acres and dumping in millions of dollars to the project. Phenomenal.
I first became familiar with the Links computer golf game in the early nineties when I received the Links 386 version for Christmas. It had one course -- Harbour Town Golf Links, and you could play a round solo or with some 'pre-saved' stiffs who usually shot 10 under. The most exciting part about it was you could choose the color of your golf shirt. Woo hoo.
Actually, the game was lots of fun. You could choose your own clubs for shots, hit a fade or a draw if you chose, and once you got the putting down, breaking par wasn't hard. It was almost more fun than the real thing, seeing as a score around 90 in 'real golf' was a good day in most cases.
But it wasn't very authentic. I enjoyed getting to know every inch of the Harbour Town (and a few others) layout, but it wasn't the same as having the wind blow through your hair or the sun baking down on you as you tried to sink that final 3-foot putt. The nicest thing about it was you could play an entire round in fifteen minutes.
I'm not going to claim the new Links 2001 version will put the smell of salt in the breeze while sitting in your living room, but it's astonishing how things have changed in such a short time. First and foremost are the graphics. It'll surprise no one to claim that computer graphics have improved leaps and bounds in ten years. The pictures on the Links 2001 game are so lifelike, it's as if you're seeing real trees, cart paths, buildings and bushes. The next thing you'd look for are squirrels in search of nuts -- but then you see birds flying out on the course. Unbelievable.
You also have new options on who to play against. No longer are you forced to tee it up with the low-shooting pre-programmed stiffs in bright colored shirts. As mentioned before, you can play against the pros, or even online against real competitors! For those wondering, you can play against the stiffs, too, if you choose. But at least now they're a lot more lifelike. The game's sound is also much improved.
I'll admit, I haven't had time to use the Arnold Palmer Course Designer to fully construct my own course yet, but I look forward to getting the opportunity to do so. There are any number of great courses out in the real world, and some I'd even call my favorites. But I can't name one that's absolutely perfect. Now I can design my own. Or, lay one out that has a combination of all my favorite holes. Or, design a course to play like the track down the block. No boundaries to possibilities.
I'm fortunate that one of the pre-programmed courses for Links 2001 happens to be in my neighborhood, Westfields Golf Club in Clifton, Virginia. I recently spoke with Westfields' course designer, Gene Bates, and he described how his work was selected for the Links game: "I got a call from Lanny Nielsen, a retired golf professional who apparently works with Links, and he said 'Gene, I just played, and video taped your new golf course in Northern Virginia. I'd like to use it for our computer golf game, because unlike most places, there's not a gimmick out there. It will work well in our format.'"
Being fairly familiar with Westfields, I put the game to the test -- and sure enough, it was incredibly accurate in detail. Now I can play the game and find out the best spots to hit the ball when playing the course!
It's even conceivable the game could help you out in other aspects of the real world. You can adjust the game to match your club distances, or create computer opponents with your partners' characteristics. Beat 'em on the course, beat 'em on your computer.
More than anything, the computer simulator will enhance your game management skills. It won't help you hit a driver 40 yards farther or sink a putt for you, but when it comes to making decisions that you might face in the real game on grass, it's a benefit. The computer game usually gives you several options -- ditto for real life.
To sum up, the Links 2001 game is great fun. It doesn't replace the real game, nor should it. The game of golf is much more than hitting shots, chasing your ball and marking down scores. It's being outside. It's getting some exercise. It's spending time with friends. But if you don't have five hours on a Saturday afternoon (and you've got an urge for golf), then the Links 2001 game is the next best thing!
Links 2001 By Microsoft
Available at Your Nearest Computer Software Retailer, or
check out the website: www.microsoft.com/games/links2001
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