By Kevin Lindsay
When you used to walk into a bar or grill, you would see what was perceived as normal; multiple televisions showing sports highlights, people feeding dollar bills into the gambling machines and some people playing the occasional pinball machine. But ever since 1989, Golden Tee Golf, a coin-operated videogame, has been changing the infrastructure of not only bars and restaurants but the changing the face of arcade industry as well. Golden Tee Golf is your typical stand-up arcade game (think a little bigger than a PacMan machine). The player stands in front of the cabinet and spins a trackball which is basically a cue ball . Depending on the way you hit the trackball, the golf ball responds in different ways such as the distance the ball goes, the height and the accuracy (how far left and right).
According to the website of Incredible Technologies, the makers of this revolutionary video game, Golden Tee Golf ‘is the most successful coin-operated amusement game in history. With more than one billion games played to date, Golden Tee has generated over $3 billion in revenue for thousands of small business owners around the globe and revolutionized the coin-operated amusement industry.’ To explain just how big Golden Tee Golf really is¸ Marketing Director of Incredible Technologies, Gary Colabuono said the following, “Since 1996 we've sold 50,000 cabinets but over a quarter million game updates.”
Over the past 23 years, Golden Tee has done what no arcade game has ever done and that’s evolved from a small time arcade game to a multimillion dollar a year success. Pac-Man was and still is a huge success but it never has obtained the status and the money that Golden Tee Golf has. One of the biggest reasons for all of the success was the beginning of the International Tournament System (ITS) in 1995. The creation of this tournament system linked every single Golden Tee across the world through a simple telephone line. This brought together monthly tournaments where players would spend more money playing more games in the monthly tournament in order to increase their ranking. With the release of Golden Tee Fore! in 2000, the ITS grew even bigger with the monthly tournaments being divided by brackets. Gold was the cream of the crop, silver was in the middle and bronze was for those players just starting off. Fast forward to 2005 and the release of Golden Tee LIVE changed everything. Players now had their own players account. Player cards have been around since 2000, but now a player could check in (and pay for their game) with a credit card, their Golden Tee Player card or gift cards. Gone were the monthly tournaments, because now, every game played was its own tournament. Every time a player started a game for prizes, they would be placed in a fifty man tournament. First place through 20th would win some sort of money. First place would win $10 and 11 through 20 would win a dollar back. 21st through 50th also wins a virtual golf ball.
With the release of Golden Tee LIVE 2012 in September 2011, Incredible Technologies now has a world ranking system and anybody who has played at least one game gets ranked. According to Colabuono, “we have had over 63,000 players play at least one game of 2012 in the last month and a half. There are also almost 17,000 people who have actively played each of the five 2012 courses as well.” Even though there are over 60,000 Golden Tee players, only a decent amount can say that they have made a living from the game. Brian Bernhardt of Alexis, Illinois has been playing Golden Tee for over 10 years. “I started playing Golden Tee while working at a bowling alley in Iowa City, Iowa. The more that I kept playing the game, the better I got. 10 games turned to 20 games and it just grew from there.” When Bernhardt was asked about his earnings over the years, his answer was astonishing, “I would have to say that I have made between 80 and 100 thousand from Golden Tee. I work for an operator (of arcade games, including Golden Tee) that’s based in Iowa and the way I found that job was through playing Golden Tee. If I didn’t start playing Golden Tee 11 years ago, I don’t know what I would be doing with my life now.”
For a lot of players like Bernhardt, the main reason they keep playing the game is for the money, but that’s not the only reason. The competitiveness keeps the guys glued to these games as well. Andrew Haas from Ohio explains it best, “I'd be lying if I said I'd play as much as I do now if there was no monetary incentive, but I really do enjoy the competition aspect of the game, especially the live tournaments. “Andrew Haas is a name that is instantly recognizable in the Golden Tee community. Haas is constantly at the top of the leaderboards. He credits his love for the game of golf and the live Golden Tee tournaments as one of his reasons for getting so attached to the game. “I always have enjoyed golf, so that's what initially drew me to the game, but going to my first live tourney and seeing how good those guys really were made we want to get better. Combine that with seeing how much money you could make on the monthly tournaments (and now daily tournaments), and I was hooked.”
Golden Tee Golf is one of the biggest entertainment entities in the video game industry.
The game has garnered mainstream media attention year after year, even having the Golden Tee World Championships taped for the Golf Channel a few years ago. Some of the biggest names in sports also play Golden Tee, including Chicago Bears player Brian Urlacher. From 1995 until 2001, professional golfer Peter Jacobsen’s name was included in the games title and to this day he still supports the game and appears as an on screen commentator for Golden Tee LIVE. With media playing such a pivotal role in everyone’s life, Golden Tee can only continue to grow from here. As long as there is money to be made playing the game as well as the occasional sand trap or water hazard to throw off player’s scores, Golden Tee will continue to be a coin-op success.