Golf video games are far from uncommon. They’ve been around for decades, dating as far back as Computer Golf! for the Magnavox Odyssey² platform back in 1978. As time went on and technology improved, the games got better– and more realistic. By the time 1991 rolled around, SEGA Genesis owners got a taste of that realism with PGA Tour Golf from Electronic Arts. The game had the same professional golfers that people familiar with the Tour knew from TV, as well as a few of the courses they played on. It was a hit on the Genesis, prompting the development of PGA Tour Golf II in 1992. It offered more courses, better stat tracking, and a few additional play mechanics– like adding draws, fades, punch shots, and chips from off the green.

Then came 1994, and what may very well be one of the finest golf video games ever created: PGA Tour Golf III, again for the SEGA Genesis.

That sounds like lofty praise– and it is– but it’s not unwarranted. The game features a total of eight playable TPC courses, eleven playable PGA Tour professionals (or the ability to put yourself into the game), the ability to alter the strike point on the ball for lower trajectories or for more spin approaching the green, and deep stat tracking for players and cumulative hole and course stats. It perfects the three-click swing mechanic and leaves players feeling like they earned any reward or punishment based on the result of a shot.

Let’s talk about that three-click swing, because it’s the, ummm… “driving” force behind playing the game, if you’ll pardon the pun. One press of the B button begins the backswing; as the swing rises, the power meter does, too. The meter is split into four equally divides percentage zones, plus an added section past 100% for more power. A second press of the B button stops the progress of the power meter and sends it back toward where it began. A third and final press of the B button sets the accuracy of the shot; timing the button press exactly at the point where the meter started means that the ball will travel toward its intended target. A button press that’s too early or too late will add hook or slice to the ball, which can lead to serious trouble.

Timing is crucial when adding extra power to any shot by letting the meter surge past 100%, as the degree of hook or slice will be more severe in these cases. Perfectly timed power drives off the tee can mean the difference between an eagle and a birdie or par… or, if the timing is off, perhaps a double bogey or worse. It’s a wonderful risk versus reward setup, and the temptation to pound a 285-yard drive versus a 255-yard drive on long holes is often too much to pass up.

The power meter and each club’s maximum distance combine for constant math problems. If an approach shot leaves 53 yards to the pin and the club distance is 80 yards, hitting the approach at 100% could overshoot the hole. By figuring out the correct power percentage to use, along with accurate timing to to stop the power meter at the right spot, players can stick the approach like pros. (The percentage in this example, for you math haters, is 67%.) Of course, wind speed and direction plus any effect of the ball’s lie will affect the potential distance and flight path… so those must also be kept in mind.

Putting is an important part of golf, and it’s no different here. When the ball is on the green, a grid mode can be activated for players to “read”. The 3D green view can be rotated for a better view of the left and right breaks, as well as elevation changes. Depending on how close to the cup a player is, the breaks can be easier or harder to read. It’s vital to take elevation into account when calculating the proper power to hit the ball with; if the ball is rolling downhill toward the cup, using too much power will send it jumping over the hole. Also, too much power can be the difference between a putt rolling around the lip and in versus burning the edge and forcing another stroke. Like real golf, putting can be the most frustrating part of PGA Tour Golf III… but it’s equally satisfying to make the right read and use the right amount of power to sink a long putt that might initially look impossible.

PGA Tour Golf III puts on the pressure in Tournament situations, showing the leaderboard and where the player is on it after each hole. In addition, a broadcaster will occasionally break in after a shot and share an important development that has sent another golfer in the field either up or down in the standings. Playing in tournaments, there is a cut line, so players must be in the top 48 scores in order to survive past the second round and be “in the money”. While other modes are a bit more relaxing to play, Tournaments are the meat of the game and will test the mettle of any virtual duffer who attempts them. Earnings totals are tracked for each player, as well as tournament wins and other statistics, and all of the numbers are saved to the game’s battery.

Visually, PGA Tour Golf III is solid. Swing animations are very good, and the level of detail around the courses is decent. The colors look a bit dull, thanks to the relatively small Genesis color palette, but the greens of the grass and the whites of sand traps are fine. There are automatically-generated replays for drives over 300 yards (which was considered far back then), as well as approach shots that hit the pin, hole-outs, and lengthy putts that find the bottom of the cup. Music is minimal, with typical fare that plays while the leaderboard shows between holes and a triumphant tune that plays at the start of each round. Sound effects are typical, but strong. Birds chirp, clubs whoosh through their downswings, the ping of the ball hitting the pin is unmistakable, and the sound of the ball hitting the water always makes players cringe.

This is a game that, if you enjoy golf to any degree, you owe it to yourself to play. Like the real thing, there’s a bit of a learning curve in getting the swing timing down and properly judging the greens. The first couple of rounds may see scores in the 80s or 90s. For those who are willing to take the time to practice a bit and learn, though, the frustration gradually morphs into satisfaction. Missed cuts become Top 25 finishes. Top 20 finishes become Top 10 finishes. Then, thanks to accumulated skill, proper execution, and even a bit of luck… the announcers will be calling your name as a tournament winner.

The money may not be real, but the satisfaction definitely is.

Buyer’s Guide: As of this writing, a PGA Tour Golf III cartridge alone is worth about $6, while a copy that comes in its original case and with the instruction manual is worth about $12. The instruction manual isn’t a requirement to play, but can be helpful for new players. The game can be enjoyed solo, or with up to three other people. Be aware that, due to the age of the game, the battery inside of the cartridge may not work as it should… but these can be replaced.

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