GOLF EQUIPMENT

Microsoft Links 2003 Sets New Benchmark
for PC Golfing

By Shane Sharp,
Contributing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Oct. 1, 2002) -- This winter, its perfectly reasonable to think you can roll out of bed, grab a cup of joe and play 18 holes in Cabo San Lucas. Actually, you can play in Scotland, New Zealand, along the coast of Africa, or of course, in the good ole U.S. of A. You can stripe drives 280 yards down the middle of the fairway and watch as they hang in the air like skyrockets before rushing back down to a closely cropped fairway. You can hit cut shots, baby hooks, punch shots, windcheaters, high fades and sink 70-foot putts. You can fist pump, break clubs over your knee, and generally just have too much fun without even leaving the cushy chair in your office.

Microsoft recently released Links 2003, the newest version of history’s best-selling golf series featuring six all-new championship courses and a new real-time swing that fans of Golden Tee will be all too familiar with. Players can create their own character and play against some of the hottest pros around, or they can design their own course using the Arnold Palmer Course Designer and actually share it online.

Or for those who just want to flip on the computer, grip and rip, it only takes a couple of minutes to create a new player in Links 2003, or you can just choose from pre-existing lineup that includes Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnevik, David Toms and for you ladies, Annika Sorenstam. The new Real-Time swing option is similar to rolling the ball on the arcade golf game, Golden Tee. To swing, you simply pull the mouse back on a straight line (if you want a straight shot) and push it forward hard enough to generate swing speed.

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Remember those early versions of Links? You’d have to click the mouse two or three times to swing and your buddies would sit over your shoulder yelling “click it, click it!” in some sort of sick Caddy Shack carryover from “miss it, Noonan, miss it.” Well, the “Classic” swing option is still in tact and better than ever on Links 2003. The swing gauge can be enlarged and moved around the screen, and swing meter moves fast enough to make it challenging.

Before stepping onto the course, you can perfect your swing with the all-new practice facility and interactive swing tutorial. This new tool teaches swing mechanics allowing players to get into the game quickly and easily. It may sound ridiculous – warming up before your round of computer golf – but its well worth the time.

The number of shot options in the game can be overwhelming, but if you are like most video gamers, you’ll probably zero in on what works for you and stick with it. However, as you increase the game’s difficulty, you might need every club in your bag and shot in your repertoire. The Amateur setting eliminates hooks and slices from the game and includes a putting assistant that will actually highlight the proper line to the cup in red. Flip the switch to Championship or Elite, though, and you are on your own. Severe hooks and slices, no putting grid (much less an assistant) and aiming in the main camera only, buddy.

Students of the game will covet the Arnold Palmer Course Designer, even if you aren’t a fan of the King’s real world layouts. For golfers who complain about the design of certain holes and feel they can do better, go for it. The APCD is sure to give anyone who dabbles with it a better appreciation for what goes into designing and building a good golf course. The APCD includes a new library of 1,500 objects, new texture sizes up to 512 x 512, and other new tools.

Other new features

Sick, Real Graphics – Grass, sand, water and other textures are rendered in amazing detail. Shadows add more depth to each scene, and a dynamic “snap” camera lets players see their shots from several perspectives. Immersive 3-D positional audio, authentic ball physics and terrain generated from actual GPS data renders each course as accurately as possible. You may actually be disappointed the next time you play a real golf course.

All-new championship courses from around the world – “Links 2003” features six brand-new courses: Cabo del Sol (Mexico), Kauri Cliffs (New Zealand), Gleneagles (Scotland) The Tribute at Otsego Club (U.S.), Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail – Cambrian Ridge (U.S.), and Skeleton Coast, a fictional course set along the African coastline. Players will also be able to enjoy hundreds of additional courses created by fans and Microsoft. Courses designed for “Links 2001” and “Links Championship Edition” are compatible with “Links 2003.”

More realistic control over every shot – New Real-Time Swing lets the mouse become the club, with ball physics factoring in speed, tempo, direction and course conditions in real-time so each shot more closely simulates an actual golf shot. PC golfers are able to choose from several swing methods in “Links 2003” including the “classic” feel of Links click-swinging and the sweeping motion of PowerStroke. A new real-time 3-D Green Analyzer is also included for improved putting.

Manage your own professional careers – This single-player game mode allows players to compete against improved AI opponents in tour format. Players can choose an existing tour or create their own – then earn their tour card and challenge for the championship in every event on their way to becoming No. 1 in the world.

Play online, anytime – “Links 2003” will enable gamers to start their own online tournament or match with friends or family at anytime. All-new Links® Match Maker enables players to join matches with other online players at anytime from within the game. Players can also create their own custom tournaments, then run the tournament through email using the new Email Tourney feature. “Links 2003” also offers a revamped version of the extremely popular “Links Tour.” The latest version of the incredibly popular tour offers player stats, handicap information and message boards for the ultimate online golf tournament. Join the Links Million Dollar Virtual Golf Association Tour and play against 23,000 online gamers. The VGA is set up like the PGA Tour, with four majors and a 100 person semifinal. The top four players will travel to Atlanta were they will compete for $100,000 and a chance to putt for $1 million.

Impatient players or sticklers for realism may find the amount of time that the ball hangs in the air on shots a bit much. A well-struck drive from a slightly elevated tee box can take over 10 seconds to come to a stop, and another four or five seconds are required for player reaction to the shot. Our advice: grab the beverage of your choice and kick back and enjoy your time on the Links. No matter how many soaring drives and fist pumps you encounter during a round, you’ll be around the course in under an hour and you can get back to cleaning out the garage. On second thought …

Links 2003 is available in stores as of Sept. 19 on CD-ROM for Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows XP and Windows 2000 operating systems.

Shane Sharp is a Contributing Writer with TravelGolf.com. Reach him at sharp@travelgolf.com.

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