Have You Played… Sid Meier’s SimGolf?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

A collaboration between Maxis and Firaxis, Sid Meier’s SimGolf oddly plays at times more like a Bullfrog ‘Theme’ game than like the other games from its two prestigious developers. You build a golf course, earning money with which to expand, and occasionally play a few holes yourself.

If you’d asked me ten years ago, I’d have foolishly said that it seemed almost easy to design. The template is already there in umpteen other management games – whether Theme Park, Theme Hospital, or Will Wright’s SimCity – for a game loop where buildings attract customers which gives you money to purchase new buildings. But very few other developers seem to have been able to mimic that formula in the years since.

SimGolf is frighteningly moreish once it has you in its sand trap. I confess I have no great insight into why its formula works here and not elsewhere. I can tell you that it is pleasantly green, which makes looking at it for long hours easy. I’ve spent too long placing trees just so, to make my country club look its best.

I confess also to enjoy it as an actual golf game, though it lacks any of the complexity or sensible camera angles of its golfing peers. It’s not uncommon for these games to let you take a ride through your own construction, but in most, it was a novelty I’d perform only once. But I spent almost as much time golfing in SimGolf as I did balancing the books.

If only we lived in a world where more developers or designers could team up like this.


  1. TeePee says:

    God yes.

    This has the dubious distinction of being the only game I’ve ever pirated. Not because of any sinister reason, I just simply wasn’t able to find a legitimate copy that I could pay for in order to own. I still maintain that if such a thing exists, I’d happily do so. GOG.com, are you reading this?!

    Onto the game itself, and it really is a little gem – on the face of things it shouldn’t be this addictive, but somehow it all clicks together like all the (good) Sid Meier games do and becomes more than the sum of its parts. There’s got to be room out there somewhere for a modern-day remake, surely?

    • ItAintNecessarilySo says:

      These days you just download it for free from such sites as abandonware.
      Don’t know how long my sister and I were stuck with the demo as kids because we couldn’t find the real game anywhere!

      Lovely game, but a I would never have the patience to finish a career with all the locations. It just gets too much below par to keep hitting it.

  2. Flat pack Bartho says:

    Totally would give that one a a few bong hits!

  3. JonClaw says:

    I loved this game.

    It’s only major flaw? The game speed is VERY slow…

  4. Zankman says:

    Huh, I have literally never heard of this game before!

    Interesting to see that the gaming world still has some surprises in store for me.

    Golf is not really my thing (quite the opposite, very boring) but any cool and pleasant (aesthetically and otherwise) management game deserves a look at.

  5. Darth Gangrel says:

    “A collaboration between Maxis and Firaxis” So, that would be FirMaxis?

  6. Orumo says:

    I hate dandelions! I absolutely love this game. An almost perfect mix of great mechanics.

  7. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Oh yes. Oh, I played the heck out of this one. A little gem, now sadly lost in the murk of abandonware. I too would happily pay for it again, especially if it was updated to work on modern widescreen/high-res displays.

    SimGolf is frighteningly moreish once it has you in its sand trap. I confess I have no great insight into why its formula works here and not elsewhere.

    It’s rare, in that it provides pleasures for both the left brain (balancing books, optimizing processes) and the right (landscaping, tending a garden). A really fascinating little work of game design.

  8. Danc says:

    This is a game that comes up regularly in our design discussions. It is probably one of the purest examples of using a simple AI agent to ‘test’ a player created level.

    In the game you build courses and then little golfers come and play it. Their total experience is the score of the level. Make a change and see if they like it. So elegant! The same rough pattern exists in other sim games like Theme Park, but there the little people’s AI is a bit more sporadic and hard to judge. This implementation is tightly coupled and creates surprisingly rich, clear feedback.

    It solves a very hard problem in user generated content. How do you distinguish quality from crap? How do you encourage players to increase their creative skills and get ‘better’. Sometimes you can use other players to judge (Little Big Planet) but they are often unreliable and most user content is played 0 to 1 times. AI is reliable and gives quick feedback. It is of course limited as well so it helps to have a creative space that is tightly constrained. Like a golf course. Really rather brilliant.

    • LexW1 says:

      The trouble with that philosophy is that it fails to acknowledge that AI has literally no idea what “quality content” is, it only knows what it’s been programmed to like, so it’s reliant entirely and completely on what the original designers programmed it to say was good. Thus this quality and nature of the feedback entirely dependent on and bound to that.

      Looking at something like LBP, there’s no way you could have produced an AI that would have recognised all the “good” levels that produced, because some were so wildly and totally divergent from a normal platforming experience.

      The more complex the user generation is, the more possibilities there are, the less your AI can possibly hope to give any kind of accurate assessment of their value.

      But if you’re keeping things extremely simple, as with just allowing the creation of golf courses on which people play golf, then you have something, potentially.

  9. iviv says:

    ‘Mary, the sun is like a shiny new ruble this morning.’
    ‘Ten mornings like this would buy a pair of blue jeans.’

    The little sim stories that would happen between the golfers as they played through the course were so ridiculous as well. I remember having trouble getting it working in Win8, I imagine windows 10 won’t be any smoother.

  10. HeavyStorm says:

    I’ve been wanting to replay this for ages. I remember playing a demo (!) when it was released, loving it, and never finding it for sale.

    Anyone knows a place to get? Steam doesn’t have it AFAIK… Does GOG do?

    • TeePee says:

      I’ve never found it anywhere legitimately, I think you might be able to find it on abandonware sites these days, but I had to get it via an alternative source the last time I played.

    • zeos386sx says:

      There are 80 copies on ebay right now, low price $4.50.

  11. visor841 says:

    I still have .iso of this game. I’ll pull it out from time to time, dabble for a while. It’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s just plain fun.

  12. zeos386sx says:

    simgolf is one of my favorite games ever. I sometimes wish that they would make another one, but then I remember it was a EA game.

  13. Veles says:

    I had a demo copy of this when I was younger. It blew me away. I don’t know why but this is one of my favourite sim games. Its just surprisingly amazing.

  14. Bobtree says:

    SimGolf is brilliant because it’s a game about game design.

    You build courses that need to reward players for having various combinations of skills (accuracy, distance, curved shots). The tools are simple (hills, turns, hazards), but can be combined in elaborate and subtle ways, and the sequence of holes should flow together to facilitate quick play, happy players, and your profits. Additionally there’s a business management angle, and you can cash in your profits to start building another resort.

    I’d love to see an HD update with UI improvements, but EA/Maxis and Firaxis are not my favorite studios these days.

  15. adamsorkin says:

    I loved this game. The combination use of fairly simple tools to build increasingly complex and rewarding courses, course/resort management, and playing through an isometric “strategic” game of golf with a steadily improving avatar made for more fun than you’d expect.

  16. CMvan46 says:

    Absolutely loved this game. I also had to pirate it recently as the disc of it I have is too scratched up to be read. Wish GOG would pick it up.

  17. PancakeWizard says:

    This game would be perfect for an Age of Empires 2-type remaster and re-release on Steam crossplay. I could see it going down well with the Mac and Linux crowds.

  18. Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

    I last played this…yesterday.

    I particularly enjoy how if there’s a golfer you especially dislike, there’s nothing preventing you (beyond an innate sense of fair play) from removing the tile their ball will land on and replacing it with water. Or a tree. Or rock. As they play. Even during a televised competition.

    Hole 1, henceforth known as “Olive”, has been voted one of the top hundred holes in the country by “Golf Enquirer” magazine…

    • Rituro says:

      “…if there’s a golfer you especially dislike, there’s nothing preventing you … from removing the tile their ball will land on and replacing it with water. Or a tree. Or rock. As they play. Even during a televised competition.”

      Brilliant. How did I never think of doing this? Stupid innate Canadian sense of fair play and honesty, denying me hilarious SimGolf shenanigans…

    • HeavyStorm says:

      That reminds me of cheating on transport tycoon. You couldn’t touch your enemies tracks, but you could join your track to theirs and a train would pass thru it. Or just stop a train while over a road to block it forever, stopping your enemies vehicles permanently.

      • Shar_ds says:

        The trick was that you could change ownership of a road tile by putting a train track across it. You could then just demolish the train track. Do it enough times and the AI just couldn’t cope and wouldn’t be able to make any road deliveries, leading to rack and ruin!

  19. Rituro says:


    Oh my goodness, this brings back so many great memories. The intricate fiddling of courses to make them just tough enough for the AI to be challenged while letting my avatar breeze through was a joy.

    In fact, so wonderful was the execution of SimGolf that my Dad(!) was hooked as well. This game stands out in my memory for the two of us sitting in different rooms, crafting the zaniest courses possible and daring each other to make par on them.

    Oh, and let’s not forget adding your friends/relatives/enemies to the game as AI players. Such fun.

    Y’know, I might still have my CD kicking around somewhere… or I could bother GOG to get on with it. Either or.

  20. Resheph says:

    Had so much fun with this, would totally buy and play a Win10/HD version.

    This game was sooo addictive, the demo alone was good for days of playing. I was instantly reminded of a classic Penny Arcade about this game that summed it up perfectly, from the days they were funny and relevant: link to penny-arcade.com

  21. Shar_ds says:

    Not sure quite how I missed this at the time, but just downloaded a version and had a look at a Let’s Play… this is great!!

    Well done to whomever put this on the “Have you played” spreadsheet!

  22. Someoldguy says:

    Oh no, you’re tempting me into installing this again. As if I didn’t have enough games to play already!

  23. canis39 says:

    SimGolf was a unique gaming experience for me. Easily one of my favorite games of all time. I recently re-installed it on my Windows 7 machine and haven’t had any issues.

    I think I may do a couple of gameplay videos for my (not yet activated) Youtube channel. The 5-6 people that will eventually view my videos will be introduced to the awesomeness that is SimGolf!