Never believe everything you read, especially when it comes to advertising. Sierra On-Line’s Golf Challenge was marketed as a game where parents finally could triumph over their kids, leading players to believe it was somewhat true to a real game of golf where skills, techniques, knowledge of the different clubs, and Newtonian physics were needed for success. The truth was, in reality, a far cry from that.
The computerized version of golf earned its mainstream fame in the latter part of the ’80s with Accolade‘s Jack Nicklaus series and Access Software’s Leader Board and later its hugely popular Links series. Technology was now fast enough to do complicated simulations, a perfect fit if you wanted to create a realistic golf game. But rewind a decade and this was far from what the late ’70s and early ’80s technology could muster. Yet, in the young but thriving industry, nothing was deemed impossible. Everything could be simplified, boiled down to the bare minimum, and blanks filled in by the imagination of the player. But for a computer golf game to resemble the real-life challenges many different factors had to be present, something a bit optimistic for a real-time game running on a 1 Mhz processor with 4Kb of memory.
In 1980 more than 13 million people played 15 holes or more of golf in the US, making it one of the most popular sports and presenting an enticing opportunity to translate its appeal into the world of video game consoles and personal computers.
In 1978, owners of the Magnavox Odyssey video game console were treated to the experience of playing golf on their television sets. Although the graphics were clunky, and the gameplay left things to be desired, it marked a beginning for the genre. In 1980, Atari released Golf for its Atari 2600 console, and in 1982 Sierra On-Line released Golf Challenge for the otherwise capable Atari 8-bit line of home computers. Common for all of these early attempts was that none managed to incorporate more than simple mechanics resulting in games that in reality hadn’t much to do with real-life golf, other than getting the ball in the hole, that is.
Golf Challenge was released as one of the first games under Sierra On-Line’s dedicated but short-lived SierraVision label in 1982. It was created by Harold Schwab and published on cassette for the Atari 400/800.
Golf Challenge teed off in the latter half of 1982 as one of the first titles in Sierra On-Line’s dedicated but short-lived label for arcade and cartridge-based games. It was only released for the Atari 8-bit line of computers and only sold a small number of copies
Golf Challenge looked good and the course was nicely depicted and readable but the player resembled someone who had undergone an unconventional surgical procedure involving the replacement of one arm for a golf club. The game lacked any semblance of realistic physics, turning the seemingly simple act of hitting the ball in a desired direction into a rather frustrating task. Penalties were given for hitting the rough, sandpits, or water hazards and trees would stop the ball completely.
The course was visually easy to read, but hitting the ball and making it go in the right direction was a challenge.
Getting the ball onto the green, switched to a closeup view for putting
While Golf Challenge may have left any true resemblance to real golf out on the course, it still managed to offer an enjoyable and challenging experience, especially as it supported up to 4 players, meaning the entire family could come together and play through 9 or 18 holes together.
Nearly a year after its release the game was briefly featured in the September 1983 issue of PC Magazine. Here the reviewer concluded that he would rather watch grass grow than play Golf Challenge. While that definitely doesn’t sound like a hole-in-one it nonetheless helps tell the story of a time when golf aspirations took a swing on the digital fairways.