Winter Golf: I'll Be Rolling the Dice Without Tiger

Peter ImberContributor IIIDecember 30, 2011

Forget the computer, I'm going old school.
Forget the computer, I'm going old school.

Golf is a game ideally played with golf clubs and golf balls on a golf course, but where I live—Midcoast Maine—our golf club closed in early November and probably won’t open again until the middle of April.

Actually, one of our longtime members used to play here year round. In winter he’d drive his car to the tee with the heater on full blast, get out and hit, then get back in the car and drive down the fairway or into the rough for the next shot.

Thanks to orange golf balls, snow wasn’t an issue, but tire tread marks around the greens were, and the club finally ruled his high-octane style of play out of bounds. Despite the intervention, I’m told the fellow still holds the Maine record for most rounds played by an individual in a year.

So, with my links locked and the sun working half days and dogging it, and television serving as a vicarious but insufficient substitute, where can I get in some golf without traveling to a different hemisphere?

Sure, I know there are sophisticated golf simulators that I can’t afford, and there are others like Nintendo’s Wii that I probably can but don’t know if I can get into. And of course there are the Xbox and PlayStation games, or those I can load directly into my computer fronted by everyone from Tiger Woods to Super Mario.

No, I want something simple and uncomplicated, just like golf itself. OK, I don’t know why I said that. Golf is the most difficult game man has ever devised. It holds out hope and leads us along into a pastoral paradise, then turns around and beats us up in a dark alley.

Ah, that’s it! What do you associate with a dark alley? Does a bunch of ne'er-do-wells crouched over a pile of crunched dollar bills ring a bell? Ring-a-ding-ding guys and dolls, it's another great old American game called craps where you can be on a roll one second and get slapped around the next.

The original "computer" golf game
The original "computer" golf game

And speaking of crap, I listen to too much sports radio. Most of it is stupid, a waste of time, but it’s fun. I like Dan Patrick’s show. He’s a good interviewer. Recently, he’s been advertising a dice golf game: “Play 18 holes in the time it takes to listen to this commercial,” or something like that.

Talk about simplicity! Talk about getting instant feedback and a result! Ah, dice! Have you ever felt that way on the golf course over a shot? Like you’re rolling dice despite whatever effective swing tip or positive thought was going through your head an instant before? Now, you’re doomed.

Yes, forget the most realistic cyber simulations geeks can concoct. I’ll take dice and my precarious chances, but I don't need the dice Dan Patrick’s hawking. I already have mine somewhere in the attic, and a round of unpredictable golf with them is within my reach if I can find the packing box I put them in so many years ago.

When I was a kid, I owned the greatest golf dice game ever. It wasn’t made by Microsoft or Sony or EA Sports, all of whom didn’t even exist of course in the 1960s. And it wasn’t made by Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers, who were the table board game equivalents of the home computer gaming giants of today.

The little company was called APBA and was founded in southeastern Pennsylvania in 1951. APBA stands for “American Professional Baseball Association” and the company’s original baseball game, which I also owned, was a treasure. Their golf game was perhaps less magical, but it was, as the saying goes, “The only game in town.”

Off the grid was Out of Bounds.
Off the grid was Out of Bounds.

For a table top game, APBA was the top of the line. PGA players had individual cards that were created to reflect their abilities and tendencies. In the original set of 32 there were the Big Three: Palmer, Nicklaus and Player, as well as forgotten pros like Joe Campbell, Ted Kroll and Johnny Pott.

To play you rolled multiple dice for each player for each shot and consulted a set of cardboard charts which determined each result. George Bayer and Mike Souchak, two of the longest hitters of the day, could occasionally rip a drive well over 300 yards. Short hitters like Billy Maxwell and Doug Ford never would but could make up for that on and around the green, just as they did in real life.

The course was a compilation of holes from around the country that included Cypress Point’s 16th and Riviera's sixth among the par threes and holes from Colonial, Firestone, Pebble Beach and Pine Valley and others I don’t remember.

My best friend and I would play each other. I liked Paul Harney in particular. He liked Ken Venturi a lot. Playing 18 holes took a couple of hours for each match, and the idea of having a 72-hole tournament using all of the 32 in the set might have taken a lifetime. 

It got us through the winters. It’s snowing outside right now. Hmmm…Let’s tee it up! How about Gene Littler versus Don January?