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The Commonspace

May 2003 / games :: email this story to a friend

The Golden Bandit
By Brian McCown

I have a video game problem. I always have. Growing up, a large chunk of my income would find its way into assorted video games. I've blistered thumbs, thrown my back out and wasted many, many hours on the no-armed bandits. I was inordinately proud the day I made all the high scores on the local Gyruss machine.

As time rolled on, the games became not so much a problem as a diversion — I guess we all grow up some time. However, if the mood strikes me, I can sink many hours and dollars in an arcade. I don't even keep many games on my computer at home, for fear that I might actually consider skipping work to play a computer game.

infernal machine So it was with some trepidation that I took my latest assignment from The Commonspace world headquarters: write about Golden Tee golf, possibly the most addictive game ever created. I've seen guys playing this game while ignoring their friends, girlfriends and wives. I've heard stories of people losing their family, friends and laundry money to these infernal machines (I've even heard someone refer to them as "infernal machines").

"Golden Tee?" you ask. What is it? Well, my friend, you apparently live a very clean life. Golden Tee is the golf video game that's staked out a corner in what seems like every bar, bowling alley and airport throughout the country. Players can play just for the fun of it, or they can play in one of the monthly nationwide tournaments. The machines keep track of scores and send them off to Incredible Technologies (IT), the company that created the game.

Actually, the game is the creation of Jim Zielinski, an IT employee who creates the golf courses used in the game. The game first rolled out in 1996. Since then, players have played on 30 computer-generated golf courses and have won nearly $7 million in prize money. Golden Tee Fore! 2004 recently hit the streets, and next month, IT is sponsoring the first of its monthly tournaments for the newest version of the game.

"How do I get a hold of some of that prize money?" you ask. Well, you play the game. Frequently. And maybe if you hit elite status, you can be like Ryan Bourgeois, this year's national winner, who won $15,000. Lest you think that IT can't possibly make money off of this game while throwing all this prize money out, IT claims that the 100,000 Golden Tee machines worldwide pump around $1.2 billion into the economy annually.

Money and video game fame . . . to me, that's a big draw. Except for one thing: I don't like golf. I don't play it, nor do I watch it. My one foray onto the golf course nearly resulted in a brawl. I probably couldn't tell you the difference between a sand wedge and a 9 iron. Basically, I'm not one of the 82% of Golden Tee players who actually plays golf.

But what the hell — I recently went forth with a pocketful of quarters and, obsessive behavior be damned, played some Golden Tee.

Remember the old Centipede game with the trackball and the "fire" button? Well, Golden Tee is very similar. However, the game warns you that the ball can cause injury; this concerned me, but I went ahead and fed my $.75 to the machine. Then I fed another $1.25, and it told me for another $1, I could play all 18 holes at King's Canyon. Suddenly, that $1.2 billion figure didn't seem so unrealistic.

After Pat Summerall and Peter Jacobsen told me that I had double bogeyed twice, a new screen popped up: the "Hole-N-Win" feature (new on the 2004 machines). If I insert another $1, I could win $100 — if I get a hole-in-one on the next hole. Since I'm a trooper, I tried it. Ten strokes later and $1 poorer, I moved onto the next hole.

Golden Tee Except for building up a powerful hatred towards Summerall and Jacobsen (the commentators who reminded me how much I stink), nothing much happened in the rest of the game. I tried using the "Rusty" technique (a way to generate a lot of ball speed) to hit the "Hammer" (when you hit the trackball perfectly and it sends the ball flying on your drive). All I found was that my coordination was rusty. The ball repeatedly sliced its way into the sand traps and water hazards.

I finished the nine holes a mere +18. My next venture, I finished a mere +22, and I'd prefer not to talk about games three, four and five. My hand ached from striking the ball repeatedly, and I vowed to stick to a less violent game, like Big Buck Hunter II, another IT offering. Here's what I learned from my Golden Tee adventure:

  • Instead of pounding the track ball with all your strength, use your thumbs to pull the ball back and propel it forward. Less pain; more control.
  • Toss back a few beers while playing; they dull the ache in your hand.
  • Find a crowded bar in which to play the game. That way, you won't hear Summerall and Jacobsen telling you how bad you are.
  • If you indulge frequently, I hope you own a washer and dryer, because you're probably going to raid your laundry quarter stash constantly to play this game.

The money and the fun is all there for the taking — if you have the patience and many, many quarters. Me? I'm going to stick to more straightforward games, where I can wreak havoc without getting arrested. Maybe there's time to start practicing for the Buck Hunter Tournament . . .

For more information on Golden Tee tournaments, go to

Brian McCown is swearing off computer games and computers for a while. This may be difficult, since he has to work with them every day.

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