Golden Tee golf phenomenon is gaining popularity at area bars

AMike Morgan As cigarette smoke rises past his widening eyes, a smirk comes over University junior Eric Greco’s face that only pride can bring. Pride and an 80-foot eagle putt.

Leaning back and exhaling over an illuminated putting green, he takes a leisurely sip of beer and awaits the next hole. Golf never looked so easy.

It is difficult to frequent drinking establishments without noticing the video golf phenomenon of Golden Tee. Within the world of this golfing video game, players take control of a virtual golfer and guide shots on courses designed specifically for the game. Using a bocce-sized ball anchored into the game console, players spin the ball a variety of different ways, controlling the direction and velocity of their shots.

With most of its consoles in bars, the game has risen to impressive popularity. There are currently about 50,000 Golden Tee games throughout the country, with 78 Minneapolis locations. Introduced in 1995 by Illinois-based Incredible Technologies, in seven short years Golden Tee has made itself as common in bars as pool tables.

However, not everything is perfect in the world of Golden Tee. For the serious player, the game can have physical, monetary and emotional tolls.

“It can become physical,” laughs Greco, a communications major. “I was trying to get maximum power on a shot once, and I sprained my wrist on the machine.”

Learning to play Golden Tee can be challenging due to the unique controls, Greco said. Players often wind up and swing an open hand over the top of the control ball as hard as possible to hit longer drives.

The video screen itself abruptly stops the follow through on these “power shots.”

“I once saw a kid who hit it so hard he broke the screen,” Greco said.

Golden Tee machines are constantly upgraded, said Mike Pritchard, a manager at Dubs in Dinkytown.

“A new edition comes out every February or March. The distributor comes in and upgrades the machine right in the bar,” Pritchard said.

Gary Collabuono, a marketing director for I.T. Games, said the company advanced the game further when it introduced the “gold card” aspect of the game in 2000.

For a $3 fee, participants can order an identification card right from the game. Sliding it into the machine adds a new dimension to an already addicting pastime, Collabuono said.

He said I.T. Games keeps individual statistics and allows for tournaments between players in different networked locations through its main server in Chicago.

Players can then work to improve their handicap and see how they stack up against players around the country.

When serious players put their Golden Tee careers on the line by using these cards, the addiction and competition levels are furthered exponentially.

“I’ve had guys come in when we open and stay for eight hours playing,” Pritchard said. “There are people in here playing every night of the week,” he said.

Greco agreed. “It’s addicting. I once played up to 72 holes every afternoon,” he said.

Luke Schmidt, a 24-year-old Dubs employee who once watched a first-time player break his finger on his first ever shot, also attested to the addiction factor.

“I have a friend who plays up to six games a day,” he said. “People have some problems with this game.”

These problems are not limited to physical injury and time consumption.

Priced at $3 to $5 per game, Golden Tee can become expensive. Schmidt estimates frequent players spend at least $50 per week playing.

Although I.T. Games does not specifically target college students, “92 percent of the people who play Golden Tee are males age 21-35,” said Collabuono, acknowledging Golden Tee is a game likely to attract college-age barflies whether they can afford serious playing or not.

Expenses might become steep, but are not enough to deter the most hardcore players.

“When you see people playing by themselves, drinking alone next to the game, that’s when you realize that some people are probably getting into it more than they should,” Greco said.

But that doesn’t stop Greco and his friends from enjoying a good round of virtual golf every now and then.

“The social aspect of the game can be really fun. I enjoy the competition with my roommates,” he said.

Mike Morgan is a freelance writer. The

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