Genre: Sports Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1989
I love golf. Funny as it may sound to some, I find it to be a welcome change from the fast paced, hard-hitting action of my other two favorite sports, basketball and football. There’s nothing like a bright and sunny day, birds chirping, and the lovely green slopes of a course to relax a man. Unfortunately, we can’t all shoot a few holes every day, and for that there are games like Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf.
Shortly after launching the Genesis in 1989, Sega decided to attract more attention to its American game releases by signing many of the big personalities of the era to endorse them. Some of these were well received, like Joe Montana and Michael Jackson, and others flopped entirely (hello Buster Douglas!). Arnold Palmer fell somewhere in between, and though most of the younger set probably didn’t know him from Adam, those interested in the sport recognized the power of having such a strong name behind Sega’s release. Apparently, the endorsement worked, and Sega later re-released the game as part of its Sega Classics line.
In truth, most of Sega’s name branding consisted of simply giving a title change to an already existing game. Final Blow Boxing became Buster Douglas
Knockout” Boxing, and the Japanese Super Masters got changed to Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf. Nothing is really different between the latter two, and whereas Final Blow at least received the champ as a playable character, the golf release doesn’t even boast a sprite change.
But hey, it’s the gameplay that matters, right? In that regards, at least, Arnold Palmer doesn’t disappoint. It lacks all the frills and thrills of EA’s PGA series, but that has more to do with it being the first golf game on the Genesis than anything else. As with Joe Montana and Buster Douglas, what we have here is decidedly arcadey in style. There’s a tournament mode, where players can inch up the leaderboard to try and take the top spot, but there’s also a practice mode that plays more or less the same. In practice, you’re basically putting in the same effort but not getting the cash prize at the end. This shouldn’t be underappreciated, as it’s where you’re going to get a feel for the different clubs and courses, and once you’re ready, it’s finally time to take on the world.
The tournament mode is pretty straight forward, and it shouldn’t boast too much of a challenge for seasoned players until the later stages. As you battle through twelve rounds against fifteen other golfers, you’ll find that it’s pretty easy to jump far ahead. In fact, I didn’t really notice anyone making a run against me until somewhere around round eight. As you progress, your shot power, skill, and caddy levels increase, and you also gain better clubs every time you win a round. Easy money! Perhaps the biggest challenge in the tournament is properly copying the thirty-six character password. While I admire the foresight to allow players to come back at a later time and continue, one little mistype means you can kiss all your progress goodbye.
I found myself getting so involved that I could probably have played through the whole tournament in one shot, but unfortunately life’s little nuisances prevent that. Accordingly, I’ve chosen to use emulation for winning my championships, and save states have proven to be a god send. Despite this, my cartridge still gets plenty of play time, as I love to toss it in for a few rounds of practice.
In essence, that’s where the charm of Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf lies. Lazily spending an afternoon with the simple controls makes for some serious fun. How simple are we talking here? Well, there are only three courses (U.S. Britain, and Japan), and you only have three sets of clubs. Gameplay involves choosing your club, setting your stance in the desired direction, and measuring the height and strength of your shot. It can be a bit tricky at first to get the hang of landing the ball where you want it, and more than a few attempts will end with the ball barely traveling any distance at all. In fact, Sega incorporated a neat little Fantasy Zone mini game that can only be accessed after taking a hundred shots without hitting the green and getting the “game over” screen. Some nice compensation for sucking, but I’d rather work on improving my score. Thankfully, the left side of the screen is dedicated to a view of the fairway, which makes tracking your ball a breeze. Moreover, caddies are always on hand to lend advice, and their pearls of wisdom become more detailed the more you advance in the tournament.
Remember what I said about charm? It’s perhaps Arnold Palmer’s most endearing trait, as the game is much less refined and authentic in scope as other golf titles on the Genesis. Due to its age and basic gameplay, many are sure to dismiss it as outdated and irrelevant. That’d be a mistake, especially for those who don’t mind the lack of real golfers and locations. The presentation still holds up pretty well, and even the background music will get you humming (I especially prefer track #4).
Ultimately, Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf may not have official licenses or the ability to view the green from multiple angles, but that’s not what’s really needed to deliver a solid golf experience. Challenging courses and solid gameplay is what rules the day, and that’s what you’re going find here in spades. Fans who want all the trappings of a genuine PGA tournament already know where else to look, but those seeking a quick way to get a game going would do well to give this one a chance.