Forget all those computer chips and trivia questions gathering dust on the sports game shelf. An old-fashioned board game called Ultimate Golf has arrived on the market. To win at Ultimate Golf you don't need to know who won the '53 PGA. The game depends on a knowledge of how to score low—"course management" to the pros—and for my taste a little too much on rolling a pair of dice. Remember dice?
Ultimate is clearly for the sport's zealots. Golfers, as a rule, have never been discreet with their discretionary income, which is a good thing because the game costs $39.95 at local department and sporting goods stores. But Ultimate has plenty to offer. It is, without question, the most visually arresting board game I've ever seen. Eighteen of the finest courses in the world are represented on the 6,966-yard, par-72 Ultimate Golf course; e.g., the 1st at Royal St. George's, the 2nd at Winged Foot, on through to the 17th at TPC and the 18th at Pebble Beach. Each hole is beautifully depicted in watercolors by Jack Crompton, on a 15" X 15" laminated board.
The game includes four sets of 20 "club cards": five woods (including two three-woods, for tee and fairway), seven irons, three wedges and a putter, plus two cards for bunker shots and one each for chip and "recovery" shots. The player first picks a club card, then chooses his shot's alignment with a swivel ruler.
The ruler swivels because, as in real life, not every shot travels down the middle; this is where strategy comes in. Take Ultimate's 12th hole, the 155-yard par-3 at Augusta National that has determined the outcome in many a Masters. Do you choose a six-iron and aim for the middle of the green? Or opt for a seven-iron, fly it at the pin and risk hitting into Rae's Creek? Or consider the 15th, a 442-yard par-4 from Riviera Country Club, the course where Hal Sutton beat Jack Nicklaus in the '83 PGA. Do you try to pinch the dogleg right and risk hitting into the trees? Or hit to the wide portion of the fairway and leave yourself a three-wood to the green?
Unfortunately it is here that Ultimate Golf takes the game out of the player's hands. Once you choose your club and your alignment, a roll of the dice determines your shot. Roll a seven and your tee shot soars, your putt disappears and all the world's in love. But roll snake eyes or boxcars, and your drive hooks, your chip shanks and you learn to count to six or higher. There are plenty of Sunday golfers who will recognize the feeling: Every swing of the club is a gamble. So whether your strategy is to play it down the middle or to cut corners, in Ultimate it's ultimately a gamble. You have to roll the dice, and the result may or may not approximate what would happen on the actual course. For example, in my six trips to the Masters I've never witnessed a tee shot land where my Ultimate six-iron landed on the 12th hole.
For all its trappings—which include a pad of scorecards that resemble the genuine article and plans for a national Ultimate tournament—Ultimate Golf turns out to be a game of craps. Nevertheless, it is ideal for vacations, rainy days or any time a golfer has a couple of hours to while away and can't get to a real course. For the time it takes and the talent it requires, it's a satisfactory substitute for the links.
Now for you trivia addicts: The '53 PGA champion was Walter Burkemo.