I will admit it right off – golf is not my favorite sport (football and tennis are – cricket of late having been baseball-ized, but THAT is another story). I have played it a few times but I found it a tad on the slow side, almost like billiards or snooker in a large area – the idea being to patiently walk around and put(t) a ball in a hole, with equipment that makes iPhones look super affordable did not appeal much to me. The sport’s mobile avatars were, however, another matter – you did not need all day to finish a game, and did not have to shell out quite as much in the bargain.
So I dallied and played my share of golf games on iOS and Android from the relatively simple Stickman Golf series to the more complex Tiger Woods titles. There have been games that have been minimalistic in the extreme to those whose attention to detail would have got Steve Jobs dancing in delight. Ok Golf, however, is something else altogether.
The game has been making waves for the past few days – in spite of coming with a price tag (USD 2.99 at the time of writing) and after having played it for a few hours, I can understand why. Unlike other sport-based mobile games that have a hectic, competitive element to them, there is an almost Zen-like calm about Ok Golf. In fact, in terms of appearance and general ambiance, it is almost like that adventure classic series, Myst (incidentally the first game ever to be sold on a CD, remember those?).
The similarity between the two games does not end there. As in Myst, where you ended up on an island with no one else, in Ok Golf, you find yourself on a piece of land, floating seemingly in the air – yes, it has an address (there are four courses in all, three in the US and one in Japan, and one more is said to be on the way) – and as in Myst, each landscape is gorgeous. There are shimmering waters, gently moving trees, even the bunkers seem peaceful. And finally, as in the classic adventure game, there is no one else anywhere. There are no spectators, no applause, no scoreboards clicking away, just the sound of birds chirping and you striking the ball.
And actually, that is all you have to do in the game – strike the ball. For, the gameplay of Ok Golf is very simple indeed. If you are the type that likes to choose clubs and fuss around with swings and mechanics and try to make the ball spin and curve this way and that, this is not the game for you. There are no clubs to pick and hitting a shot is as simple as swiping your finger back from the ball, studying its path or trajectory and letting go. You can also swipe on the display to change your perspective of the shot, which is kind of cool if a little complex – you have to keep swiping to get exactly the right perspective every time you get ready to take a shot. There are no arrow keys or any onscreen buttons at all to worry about – you just move your finger back and release it to time the shot. It is incredibly simple, although the option to move your finger all the way back to the ball to cancel a shot is a trifle buggy – we often ended up hitting a shot anyway.
There are three modes – free play, championship and timed mode. But the essence of the game remains the same – hit the ball hard and as far as it can go initially and then bring in nuance as you get closer to the flag marking the hole. And while moving perspective every time you hit a shot can be irritating, the overall effect of the game is almost hypnotically calming. Yes, we could complain that the total absence of club and shot selection can kill the strategic element of the game ; that the ball sometimes does not seem to roll down what clearly seem to be slopes; that the same shot sometimes travels differently (a trifle odd, when you consider that the game does not have any “wind” factor); and yes, the absence of competition can be a little odd (it would help to have someone breathing down one’s neck). But we would be lying through our teeth if we said that we did not like Ok Golf.
So should you shell out the USD 2.99 required to get it on your iOS device? Speaking for myself, I would say “yes.” In an era where most sports oriented games are marked by hectic activity, it’s near total lack of need for speed (pun intended) is a refreshing experience. Golf purists are going to hate it, but it is perfect for those who just want a few minutes of peaceful putting and prefer calm to competition.
A couple of decades ago, when ESPN started detailed coverage of golf for Indian audiences, the channel carried out an extensive ad campaign that focused on the sport. One of them had a player speaking softly:
“It’s not really about the ball.
You should enjoy your walk.
Listen to the birds in the trees…”
If you agree, go ahead, download Ok Golf.
Available for: iOS
Download from: iTunes App Store
Price: USD 2.99