The Loop

Yes, there are golf board games (and some are kind of fun)

August 16, 2018
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If you’re here, you know that golf, while fun, generally requires the inconvenience of traveling outdoors. Outdoors is dangerous. That’s where you find wind, traffic, birds and the people who run Twitter. Happily, over the years, a great many board game companies have provided ways for you to enjoy the sport’s heartbreaks and frustrations without ever heaving yourself forth from the squishy comforts of your La-Z-Boy. Here, the first of an occasional series reviewing the history of golf board games:

Epyx VCR Golf (1988)

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Video nerds of a certain vintage will remember Epyx as the company behind such Commodore 64 bangers as Summer Games, Winter Games and Impossible Mission, which everyone enjoyed despite it being physically, legitimately impossible. (This is marketing at its finest; imagine making millions on a car you can’t start.)

Following its Olympic-themed domination of the C64, Epyx shifted into the nascent world of VCR games, which you will be shocked to learn lasted until like the mid-‘90s, at least. But let’s get one thing out of the way: Epyx VCR Golf is about a billion more times fun than it should be. A breezy mix of dice, cards and VCR pausing, the game simulates a round of golf using actual clips of Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Greg Norman (look, there’s a lot of Greg Norman). The video dictates your play: If Mark Calcavecchia nails a putt, you nail it too. There’s actually some digital gamesmanship involved: Drive lengths are determined by pressing pause while numbers flash across the screen, so it’s basically like playing Press Your Luck with the pause button.

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Here’s the best part: If you don’t have a VCR, which you don’t, unless you’re my dad, who has three, the glorious abyss of the Internet has you covered. A YouTuber named “VCR Board Games” has spent years expending the miraculous breath of life by uploading VHS tapes from ‘80s and ‘90s VCR games. No, really, look. (As of press time, it’s been up for nine months and enjoyed 148 views, or about as many as my video for the Ice Bucket Challenge.)

Pros: Nostalgic joy of 1988-era ABC typography, voice of Jim McKay

Cons: Turns out when you’re watching a YouTube rip of a 1988 VHS tape split into four quadrants, you can’t actually see the ball

Verdict: If you run across it in a thrift shop for under $6, pull the trigger

Thinking Man’s Golf (1966)

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Like your board games with a little twist of smarmy patronization? You’ll enjoy Thinking Man’s Golf, a vaguely insultingly titled golf game from 1966. (You Non-Thinking chowderheads just go play backgammon or something.)

And if you’re looking to settle in for a light, breezy game night with friends, GET BENT, because Thinking Man’s Golf is about to drop some serious mathemagic on you. Released before the advent of computers, solar-powered calculators and the ability to ask Siri math questions, Thinking Man’s Golf involves a startling amount of math: You use a plastic board to gauge distance to the hole, then another chart to adjust for wind, then another chart to adjust for hooking left/right, then another chart if you’re in a sand trap, then another chart if it’s drizzly on an even-numbered Tuesday. It also involves personal dexterity; aiming your shot requires angling the plastic board at the hole, and hoping your shot is true. The board simulates nine holes that the game swears were real in 1966 (and includes a 625-yard beast from the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. LeBron plays there.)

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Such complicated conditions do make the game seem much like real golf, and while that’s good news for purists, it might not be what you’re looking for on a weekend Game Night. But if you’re into geometry and angle-plotting, this is the board game for you! And you should probably get some other hobbies and relax a little, God.

Pros: Accurate simulation, easily replayable

Cons: I did not deliberately avoid high school Advanced Geometry to get back into that shit as an adult

Verdict: Pass. Most people don’t get into board games for the thinking