The Best Of Desktop Golf Courses

My opponent and I are standing on the first tee at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. The wind is in my face on this tricky, 380-yard hole, with water running along the right of the fairway. Selecting my driver, I rear back and nail one 303 yards down the middle. I am about to let out a yell when I realize I'd better be careful; someone in the next office might hear me.

Such are the dangers of computerized golf. Over the past few years, software makers have produced a number of brightly animated golf games for the personal computer. True, they're a long way from the real thing. But on a winter weekend -- or, O. K., the occasional late Friday afternoon at work -- they can be a fun diversion.The two best are PGA Tour Golf (Electronic Arts, $50) and Links (Access Software, $60). While PGA Tour Golf comes in Macintosh and IBM versions, Links will run only on IBM and compatible machines. Links also requires a VGA monitor and a hard disk.

Both games have gaping water hazards, treacherous rough, and agonizing putts that roll off the lip of the cup. But unlike real golf, they're easy to learn. A golfer has no advantage over a nongolfer -- with the exception of knowing the terminology.

With PGA Tour Golf, your backswing begins with a tap of the mouse (or the space bar on your keyboard). Another tap starts the downswing, and your final tap decides how straight your shot will go. Hit it too early and the ball goes left, too late and it goes right. Once you reach the green, you'll get a detailed topographic map showing the putting surface's undulations. Playing the Links game is much the same.

ROBO REPARTEE. The attention to detail in PGA Tour Golf is great. But the animated graphics of Links are mind-boggling, from the lifelike trees to the realistic contours of the fairways and greens. Birds twitter in the background, and Links even duplicates golfers' inane chatter: "Get there!" croaks the computer when you've hit the ball a little short of the hole.

Links' main drawback is its slowness in drawing each hole. Some take up to 30 seconds. Having a fast computer, such as one based on a 386 or 486 microchip with extended memory, cuts the time in half.

One last notable is Jack Nicklaus' Unlimited Golf & Course Design (Accolade, $60). The golf game itself is mediocre, but the course design part is fun. You can lay out your own course, from tee to rough to green, and then you get to play it. Quietly -- if you know what's good for you.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.