Computer golf has been a tradition going back 30 years, right back to the days of CGA and EGA monitors on PCs. And with palmtops/PDAs and then smartphones, golf games have been available and popular at every stage. Seems that ‘a good walk spoiled’ is better when powered by a CPU and without the fresh air!
On iOS in 2016, I’ve sorted through well over a dozen golf game titles to bring you just the best and most interesting. Part of the attraction of computer/mobile golf, of course, is that it gives you a taste of the open air, the grass, and trees, the challenges of wind and terrain, all without lifting more than a finger. Lazy, us?
The other reason golf is such a popular game genre is that it’s by nature almost a ‘one button’ game, in that the core action – that of taking a shot – is just a matter of timing a tap or flick on the touchscreen of, in this case, an iPhone. So golf is a perfect ‘casual’ game that doesn’t require massive multi-finger coordination and concentration. Lift your gaze for a moment or get distracted and you won’t have just been killed by a zombie or a gunman!
Not that the ‘one button’ nature should take away from the skill required to succeed. Typically there will be wind, ball lie and terrain to contend with, plus limitations due to the clubs available, and so on. I should add that I have some personal form in this game genre, having written golf games/simulations for the Psion palmtops back in the 1990s and the Nokia and Sony Ericsson smartphones in the early 2000s – so I know a good golf title when I see it.
The Best Golf Games for iPhone and iPad
3. Golf Star
For the first time ever in an iPhoneHacks ‘Top games’ feature, don’t necessarily take a placing as a recommendation. Golf Star has a huge amount going for it – and a huge amount to make any sane computer golfer run away screaming! Based on a professional physics engine, i.e. the golf itself is satisfying, realistic and challenging, the 3D world beautiful to look at and the shot UI is familiar and comforting.
However – the surrounding game ‘furniture’ is appallingly, terribly, over-complex and unbalanced. Golf Star is at heart just a way of making an obscene amount of money for the developers – who should be ashamed of themselves. From token to coin to heart to power-up to booster to experience points to consumable to every other virtual infestation under the sun (maybe you’re starting to get a sense of my outrage), Golf Star is a veritable nightmare to navigate. Real time tournaments are provided and, I’m sure, are lots of fun for those who have invested the necessary time and money in the Golf Star ecosystem. Me? I’d long since lost the will to live…
Such a shame – the programmers who worked on the golf bits itself should be congratulated. This could have been a terrific, challenging experience, but in the end, Golf Star has ended up as “A good golf game spoiled”.
- Golf Star – Free
2. Pro Feel Golf
You’ll know by now that computer (or in this case smartphone) golf is heavily numbers-based. But that’s good for the developers, since it’s easy to work the numbers into a viable freemium game that lets some people play for free and then others to pay extra for in-game customisation, better balance/timing/whatever, and more game options overall.
Pro Feel Golf not only masters all of the above, but shoehorns in lots of social/Facebook/community action, has a lady coach guide you through your first few hours of action, and manages to be one of the finest looking and feeling golf games I’ve ever played.
This is thanks firstly to a superbly detailed virtual set of courses – they’re not quite photo-realistic, but they’re not far off and, being virtual, you can play from anywhere to anywhere since everything’s rendered in real time as you go.
Secondly, there’s an innovative and quite excellent shot interface. First drag back on the ball and you’ll see where your current arc will take the ball – keep your thumb pressed down and adjust as necessary to adjust the shot arc. Then release and ‘time’ the shot by tapping when the expanding golf ball reaches the size of the green circle in the UI (see the screenshots if this isn’t clear!) It all works brilliantly and really draws you in to ‘just one more hole’.
As with many of the games here, there are daily challenges and a career mode, though note that the multi-player mode is ‘time-shifted’, i.e. your friend or random opponent played in the past and you’re pitting your skills against what they did then – it’s not real time.
A cracking title overall, though.
- Pro Feel Golf – free
1. WGT Golf Mobile
But it’s hard to not put WGT Golf Mobile in the number one slot – it’s utterly realistic, tremendously challenging, has full online multi-player… and is effectively completely free. Let’s tackle the price first – the WGT Golf marque across all platforms makes money from real world sponsors of the various online events, plus selling you credits, with which you can (but don’t have to) buy branded virtual goods, some of which are purely for show and some of which can apparently make your game better.
But the unique selling point is that the courses are real. And I mean Real with a capital ‘R’. The developers have been out and photographed each hole on each course from thousands of different positions and angles, then when you find yourself in (or near) that spot, all they have to do is put up the appropriate photo. The (vertical and surface) terrain in the game is mapped to ‘within an inch’ of that in the real world, ensuring that you and your ball stay realistically displayed, on-screen. And of course, lighting and shade on your golfer and the action are all handled as well. The only downsides are that for some lies the photo position may mean that your golfer avatar is shown slightly off to one side of centre, but hey, that just gives WGT Golf Mobile more of a ‘TV’ feel.
And where do all the tens of thousands of photos, per course, totalling several Gigabytes, live? On a server somewhere thankfully, but the streaming down to your phone in real time of just the images you need is very fast indeed, at least on Wi-fi or 4G. You may not want to play WGT Golf over a slow or limited 3G connection!
With the option to play through courses for the love of the game, to accept monthly challenges, to play ‘head to head’ random games against online opponents (and yes, you see everything they do), there’s enormous gameplay here and, as I say, essentially for free.
If I had to nit pick then I’d pick out the way it’s not trivial to reposition your aim in the UI, or the way the screen auto-dims and powers down if your online opponent takes a bit longer than usual, but take all this with a pinch of salt. Your bandwidth permitting, WGT Golf Mobile is still a superb golf game, simulation and – yes – an experience. A worthy number one!
Though I have tested these games on the iPhone, all of them are designed for the iPad as well, so I would recommend them for iPad users as well.
Do you play golf games on your iPhone or iPad? Let us know which one is your favorite iPhone golf game.