Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Baseball, basketball, soccer, bowling… all had been adapted to the arcade by the early 1960’s, but for some reason, golf remained largely ignored. The occasional golf-themed pinball game would crop up, but a true driving/putting arcade machine didn’t arrive until 1964.
Southland Engineering’s Little Pro was the first to tee up. Housed in a pinball-like cabinet, Little Pro presented players with a 9-hole, par 27 course. Each hole was separated from the others by only a small margin, so precision was the name of the game.
A knob on the cabinet rotated the small, metal golfer to place him in position. Balls teed up automatically, and players decided to take either a “hard stroke” or an “easy stroke.” The holes had to be taken in order, and the marquee kept tally of total strokes. Once all 27 swings were taken (or all 9 holes were completed), the game was over.
Little Pro was certainly innovative, but its popularity was eclipsed by a very similar game released that same year, Williams’ Mini Golf. Williams had bought the rights to the concept from Southland Engineering, and Mini Golf swiftly became the more frequently-played model, thanks to its colorful artwork and alternating two-player option.
The next arcade golf game was another Williams hit, 1965’s Hollywood Driving Range. In place of the 9 Mini Golf holes, Hollywood Driving Range had players drive the ball toward a row of targets at the back of the cabinet. Once more, the ball teed up automatically, leaving players with the responsibility of aiming (another rotating knob) and striking the ball (only one button this time).
Five ramp targets gave the highest point totals, awarding special bonuses when lit (from 100 to 1,000 points). A miss sent the ball into one of the six “alternate targets,” worth a mere 50 points. Each game lasted as long as it took to drive fifteen balls, wherever they may land.
Chicago Coin offered another twist on the golf game with its 1965 entry, Par Golf (alternately known as Super Par Golf). If Little Pro was the thinking man’s arcade golfer (calculating angles, force, etc.), then Par Golf was the madman’s. Patterned after “pitch and bat” baseball games, Par Golf offered only two buttons for control: one to launch a ball, one to whack it. Aim was all a matter of timing, trying to rocket the ball down the center of the playfield for a “perfect drive.”
The game was divided into 9 “holes,” for a total par of 34. The straighter the shot, the longer the drive, while a hook or a slice (helpfully labeled with curved arrows) netted as few as 50 yards. Once the “green” was reached (the distance varied with each hole), the “Putt” display lit up, and players once more tried to hit the ball down the center for a minimum of strokes.
Arcade golf games dwindled after Par Golf, as arcade-goers preferred to test their skills on traditional greens (whether full-size or kiddie-size). But as Mini Golf and its kin began to become highly-prized collectors’ items, arcade manufacturer Bromley decided it was time for a comeback. In 1990, the company released an all-new Little Pro. Players still rotated a metal golfer and putted toward nine holes, but the course had been redesigned with true family fun center trick holes—an alligator’s mouth, curving ramps, a castle drawbridge, and of course, the obligatory windmill.
While it wasn’t enough to spark a full-scale revival, the new Little Pro managed to introduce the pleasures of mechanical golfing to a generation raised on video games, keeping the spirit of the old-school arcade golfers alive.
Arcade Machine Release History1964 - Little Pro - Southland Engineering
1964 - Mini Golf - Williams
1965 - Hollywood Driving Range - Williams
1965 - Par Golf - Chicago Coin
1990 - Little Pro - Bromley
Arcade Game Sub Categoriessports