As a Scotsman, I greeted this game with a great deal of enthusiasm, after all we did invent the sport, you know. I am none of the millions of golfers who enjoys a love/hate relationship with the game - I love it when I play well, and hate it when I play badly.
Come to think of it, I also hate golf when it is windy, raining or cold, and when I have forgotten my umbrella. I despise it when my little towel becomes wet and full of sand from one of the many bunkers I have landed in. It gives me apoplexy to watch my brand spanking new ball go whistling into a patch of what passes for a rough, but appears on closer inspection to resemble a miniature Amazonian rain forest on a bad day.
The chance, therefore, to hack my way round 18 holes from the comfort of an armchair, without once having to replace a divot and struggle up to the next tee with half a ton of equipment was too good to miss. The reality was that I ended up huddled in front of a monitor squinting red-eyed at the screen from a distance of about two inches, no doubt absorbing x-rays at an alarming rate, and swearing profusely at a little white dot as it drifts smoothly into a stream.
If perhaps a measure of how rapidly Jack Nicklaus' Golf becomes addictive that this stage was reached after about four holes. The idea is the same as countless other golf games, from Leaderboard to PGA Tour Golf. You are given a graphical representation of the hole from the player's viewpoint with information on total yardage and distance to the hole, offered a selection of clubs, and finally you take your best shot.
All the golf games on offer do more or less the same thing, which is hardly surprising since they all simulate exactly the same sport. So as you already know what to expect when you open the box, any newcomer has to be able to prove that its implementation of the scenario is good enough to set it above the rest.
As far as actually playing the game is concerned, Jack Nicklaus' Golf offers nothing new. You aim your shots by moving a marker across the top of the screen, adjusting for wind as represented by a compass-style wind direction and strength indicator, then take the shot, whose force and timing is controlled by clicking on a standard power bar at the left of the screen.
Hardly advanced gameplay, as the classic Leaderboard, now four years old, was controlled in much the same way. You won't find any of the 'ball effects' and swing factors that Greg Norman's Ultimate Golf offers. It would have been nice to be able to open and close the club face as you can in the latter, but as these could be said to over-complicated things, the omission is not much of a handicap when you compare the two games.
The usual options are well catered for. You can play with up to three friends or against up to three computer opponents. In stroke or matchplay situations, and at beginner or expert level.
A novel and laudable addition to the standard format is to allow for female players and womens' tee-off positions. A regard for gender is all too often missing from sporting simulations. Other nice touches include a club membership list, to and from which you can load or save players, the ability to play 'skins' - matchplay for money - and a hole-in-one club which, strangely enough, I have not yet joined.
The options menu, available at any time, offers a switch to the overhead view. It replays your best shots - or your worst if you are a masochist - statistics for the round and the chance to alter the course conditions. By messing about, you can set up the round to suit your own tastes to a tee (groan! Ed), and the hands-on involvement this offers is enough to make the game enjoyable and the whole thing more personalised.
One lingering doubt about the gameplay is that it can often seem a bit too easy, particularly for someone with my lack of real golfing skill. The timing of the shot is relatively simple, so gameplay boils down mainly to the strategic choice of clubs and the way in which you decide to play each hole. Should you thump a three wood, thus risking a wild slice, or lay up with a measured iron and hope for a good wedge shot? How much borrow should you allow for, given such-and-such a putting distance and the indications on the break meter? These are your main concerns, rather than decisions about the golf swing itself. In the end it does not detract from the gameplay, as the course supplied, Muirfield Village Ohio, is difficult enough, and the greens treacherous enough to keep you interested.
Jack Nicklaus' Golf however, is not just about hacking your way around a course. If you know anything about the game, you will know that since retiring from full-time golf a few years ago, Jack Nicklaus has become a leading course designer and constructor, his links popping up all over the world. The unique feature of this program, therefore, is its course design element, and it is an element which takes up 80 per cent of the 156 page manual. No prizes for guessing which half of the package Jack was more interested in.
Course design is really quite easy. You start with a plot of land, rough out a course, and then build each hole in turn, every step of which is done with the mouse. Tee, fairway, rough, and green come first as simple drawings, then objects such as trees, buildings, bunkers and lakes can be added at will.
There is a paint section which allows you to embellish the backdrops or change their colours to simulate other terrain types so that you could, for example, build a course in the desert, adding camels and pyramids for a touch of atmosphere.
Everything you need to create a course is included with the designer, so all you have to supply is the magical ingredient, imagination. If you are a bit stuck to start with, Jack provides some useful tips, and if you just cannot think of any interesting ideas, you can always edit existing courses, including the Bear's Track, Jack's own creation which has been designed to show off as many tricks of the trade as possible. There is no need to be a Da Vinci to do this. The objects are already colourful and well drawn, so just putting them where you like will create for you a course that is pleasing to the eye, if not the player. This last suggests a rather sadistic use for the course designer, if both you and your friends are golf fanatics you can design the most excruciating courses imaginable and challenge each other to play them. Or compile a collection of the 18 most difficult holes you could dream up. There is no limit to what you could do.
Jack Nicklaus' Golf is, all in all, a pleasant piece of software to use. The game section is perhaps a bit too easy to play, but provides enough chess-like appeal to nurture some long term interest. The course designer is user-friendly yet comprehensive and adds enough to the package to place it very high on the over-crowded golf game leaderboard.