In an age when high-octane home video games such as Grand Theft Auto rule the market, the king of the coin-ops relies on a leisurely roll of a track ball. Since its debut in 1995, Golden Tee has become the most successful arcade game ever (raking in about $1 billion), thanks to realistic graphics, wide shot selection and the fact that it's easier to shoot 65 on a screen than at the local muni. Bars across the nation are full of guys ignoring girls and staring at verdant video fairways. Says PGA Tour vet Peter Jacobsen, a consultant for the game's creator, Incredible Technologies, Inc. (IT), "It's some form of birth control, I guess."
Each spring, on a day players describe as a combination of Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday, IT updates the courses on 25,000 of its 100,000 machines. Demand is so great that bars and arcades use lottery systems to determine who gets to play; others ask Golden golfers to call for tee times. Top players qualify for the national championships, the seventh of which will be held this weekend in Las Vegas with a grand prize of $15,000. The tournament's three-time champ, Steven Sobe, 29, of Mount Airy, N.C., says that including online tournament victories, his career earnings from Golden Tee are $150,000—which would put him 440th on the PGA's alltime money list.