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Original Issue


In a world in which computers crunch our numbers and process our
words, the biggest beneficiary of the silicon age may not be the
accountant or the writer but the aspiring golfer. Consider: You
may not be able to hit the side of a barn in real life, but with
an electronic golf simulation you can launch pure two-irons.
What better use for a computer chip?

The best games on the market take full advantage of the powerful
multimedia capabilities of today's home computers. Try, for
example, Links LS (Access Software, CD-ROM for PC, $79.95). This
simulation uses photos and videos of actual courses and players
that have been converted into digital information and then
programmed for the computer. The result is an eye-popping video
game with crisp graphics and stereo sound that tracks with the
action. When your ball hits a tree in the distance, the thunk!
seems to come from somewhere in your backyard.

The controls are so easy to master that you can tee off right
away, but they're sophisticated enough for you to fiddle with
any part of your game. Adjust your stance and address to
compensate for that deadly hook. Play draws and fades. Change
the color of your shirt. The details are wonderful: Tees break
after drives, birds chirp in the background, fog rolls in during
inclement weather.

Links LS comes with three courses: the two at Hawaii's Kapalua
Resort and Arnold Palmer's home course, Latrobe (Pa.) Country
Club. Images of Palmer have been digitized, so you can play with
Arnie or even as him. Future companion discs will allow you to
add new courses and other legendary golfers.

Like Links, PGA Tour 96 (Electronic Arts, CD-ROM for PC and Sony
PlayStation, $59.95) re-creates the nuances of the game, but
whereas Links drops you into a weekend outing with a group of
hacker buddies, PGA Tour pits you against the top pros in a
tense tournament atmosphere. Fourteen PGA Tour pros, including
Davis Love III and Lee Janzen, were videotaped and programmed
into this game, as were two PGA Tour courses: TPC at Avenel and
Spyglass Hill. (Two other courses, TPC at Sawgrass and The Links
at Spanish Bay, are also available, with more planned.)

PGA Tour's graphics, while excellent, aren't as realistic as
those of Links, and the feeling of control over your golfer
isn't quite as complete. But nothing can top PGA Tour's
simulated competition. The interface is designed to mimic a
television broadcast, so shots are shown from multiple camera
angles, and an analyst provides hushed and pointed commentary.

If yanking out the biggest club in your bag and ripping off a
monster tee shot is what appeals to you, there is Lunar Golf
(Berkeley Systems, CD-ROM for PC, $39.95), a wacky game that
lets you tee it up on the moon's surface. You play on a standard
par-72, 18-hole course that is highlighted by some decidedly
nonstandard distances: the 3rd hole is a 2,190-yard par-5. The
safe play would be to hit a half-mile drive down the left edge
of the fairway, but if you want to go for it, you can bust a
1,000-yard tee shot along the right side and aim for the flag
(marked by a giant laser beacon) in two. Just avoid those
mammoth dust traps in the lunar craters.

This program could have come off as silly, but instead the game
is so witty and irreverent that the entire galactic experience
proves captivating. As you survey the eerie lunar landscape from
the tee, all you hear inside your helmet is Darth Vader-like
breathing. After your swing, a static-filled transmission from
mission control comes through: "Copy. Ball is in flight. We read
a four percent overswing, two degrees off-target." To get the
idea, imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey crossed with Caddyshack.

For sheer kicks, the rush of hitting a drive 1,000 yards is
unparalleled. In the end it's simply a novelty, but who says
golf--especially computer golf--can't take a new approach, one
that may draw in people who don't play real golf? Anyone who can
open a word-processing file can play these games and learn about
strategy, competition and the thrill of hitting a ball on the
screws. Maybe years from now we'll look back on games like Lunar
Golf and realize that though they were one small step for golf,
they were one giant leap for hackerkind.

Albert Kim covers multimedia developments for Entertainment
Weekly, where he is a staff editor.

COLOR PHOTO: E. A. SPORTS You're up against top pros on courses like TPC at Sawgrass on PGA Tour 96. [Image from computer game PGA Tour 96]