Sid Meier's SimGolf is the result of the joint effort of two of the most accomplished PC developers around: Firaxis, the creator of Alpha Centauri and Civilization III, and Maxis, the studio responsible for SimCity and The Sims. So you might expect SimGolf to be an incredibly complex strategy game. It isn't. In fact, you don't have to know anything about Civilization, SimCity, or golf to enjoy it. You don't even need to like golf to enjoy it. SimGolf is actually an extremely accessible strategy game that lets you build your own custom golf resort and create your own custom golf pro at the same time. The better your resort is, the more golfers it will attract, including special golfers who may give you more land or assets to work with. In the meantime, your golfer can improve his or her abilities through practice and can compete in practice rounds, single competition, or full-blown tournaments. The game does have some interface issues and some occasionally show-stopping bugs. But for the most part, you probably won't be thinking too much about any of SimGolf's problems, because you'll be having too much fun.
Create your own golf pro from scratch.
Starting a new game in SimGolf is extremely easy. All you need to do is choose a course you'd like to build from the game's 16 prebuilt areas, and get to it. If you like, you can also choose different themes for your game, which influences what kind of characters will appear on your courses and how they'll interact with each other. And as you'd expect from an EA/Maxis game with "Sim" in its title, SimGolf will let you install user-made themes and courses that fans will eventually create. You also create your own golf pro and customize the character's appearance and golfing skills, which will determine his or her different stroke types and putting ability. You'll then start in an empty lot and can begin building holes straightaway. You'll eventually create a course that's densely packed with fairways, vegetation, buildings, ornamental structures, and bustling, chatty golfers.
The seemingly simple act of laying down a tee, a hole, and a fairway in between can be as straightforward as laying down a straight line of turf, but it can actually get surprisingly complex. SimGolf lets you create your holes with a green, two kinds of fairways, and lots of different obstacles. You can also raise hills or lower depressions in your course's terrain as you see fit. These options provide you with considerable freedom in making your courses as tough or easy as you want. Well-crafted courses let different golfers with different abilities approach them in different ways, and they also make your golfers happier and more likely to spend money on your country club, so it's in your best interest to make the best courses you can. Fortunately, building courses is remarkably engaging--it's something of a cross between building your town in SimCity and furnishing a home in The Sims. It involves the same kind of planning and the same kind of rewarding payoff when your delighted golfers play through a course as you designed it. Best of all, SimGolf comes with a sandbox mode that lets you build in any of the game's 16 areas with an unlimited amount of money so you can build exactly the course you want, whenever you want.
Your courses can be colorful...and cluttered.
In addition to building new courses, you're going to want to develop your own golf pro by regularly placing him or her in practice matches and, later on, serious competition. The actual golfing in SimGolf is about as simple as it could possibly get. You choose from a few different types of strokes, and then choose the amount of power you want to put behind your swing using an intuitive targeting system that represents the trajectory of your strokes with a single line. There's just enough strategy in it to keep it true to real golfing, but it's easy enough to use to make it enjoyable for anyone.
What's more, SimGolf lets you develop your golfer's abilities and stroke types using a simple skill system that's reminiscent of a role-playing game. Your golfer has ten different abilities: power hitter, long driver, accurate driver, accurate irons, accurate putter, draw shot, fade shot, backspin shot, recovery, and luck. Having a higher skill level in any of these abilities is better than having a low skill, but you don't need to deal with any of them, because SimGolf will regularly check your skill against the appropriate shot in the appropriate situation. Additionally, if you make an exceptional shot, your golfer's skills may even increase (though your skills can also decrease if you play poorly), so you'll find yourself constantly playing rounds to try to advance your character's abilities. You'll also find that it's usually best to focus on only a few kinds of skills and shots, and, if you so choose, you can then build an entire course that's best suited to your pro's skills. Or not--it's entirely up to you. When you're confident enough in your golfer's skills, you can compete in tournaments for considerable amounts of prize money, which you can then reinvest in your ever-growing course or use to buy a new course in another part of the world.