Big Tournament Golf / Neo Turf Masters

Neo Geo CD
Nazca / SNK


From the team that discharged the herculean Metal Slug on the world of video games comes yet another one of the most fun, habit-forming, action packed titles of all time… and it’s all about the quiet sport of golf. It’s 1996 and the arcade scene is still on par with the home console market, but the dogfight is heating up. Flashy and futuristic, the latest games available for spinning from the comfort of the living room are looking more impressive by the month, with blockbuster titles such as Super Mario 64NiGHTS into Dreams, and Crash Bandicoot all holding court in front of couches across North America. Arcades are, slowly but surely, becoming much quieter places. So what better way to revitalize the public’s interest in those neon glowing forums of amusement than by developing an addictive, accessible game revolving around a sport that takes… immense patience and monk-like concentration? On paper, Big Tournament Golf (Neo Turf Masters in North America) doesn’t sound as if it would be the most exhilarating game to pump quarters into. Golf titles tend to speak more to the precisionist in gamers as opposed to the bubble gum chewing, comic book reading pre-teen that’s itching to go ballistic in another round of Virtua Cop 2. So why do people keep lining up to play it? Sure, it looks nice enough, but what is it about this golf tournament that’s got players so short on coins?


To say that Nazca scored a hole-in-one with Big Tournament Golf would be underplaying the achievement. Everything about the game screams masterpiece louder than the one guy at tee-off that yells, “get in the hole!” upon Tiger Woods’ initial swing. The entirety of the game is marked with beautiful visuals, a staggeringly superb soundtrack, and some of the most addictive, easy-to-learn gameplay ever placed on disc. So confident am I in Big Tournament’s qualities that I’ll go as far as to say that those who aren’t even the slightest fans of golf will find enjoyment in this outstanding title. 


Before selecting one of the five courses to play on, there are six golfers to choose from, all of which specialize in different aspects of the game. Among them, you’ve got your all-rounder, powerhouse, and putting master, all vying to hit the fairways, showcasing their unique play styles with every swing. I usually rotate between using George Spinner (the all-rounder – great for beginners) and Robert Landolt (the shot maker – excellent for making accurate shots but substandard in the rough). I also get a kick out of playing as Thomas Stewart (the technician) as he looks as if he’s attempting to absolutely murder the ball with every oscillation. Following the completion of a hole, your golfer of choice will almost always exhibit some sort of immoderate exhibit of emotion. The majority of which are hilarious and can be made even more hysterical if you add your own commentary to them. I’m guilty of doing this after almost every round – usually to the bemusement of my wife, who tells me to stop talking to the television. 


The courses themselves are modeled after different parts of the world and include locales from the United States, Japan, Germany, Australia, and Scotland. Speaking of the Scotland course, it’s only somewhat recently become widespread knowledge that it exists. A secret, unlockable course since the game’s launch in 1996, it seems that only a select few have known of the mythical fifth course that remains an exclusive to the Neo Geo CD version of Big Tournament Golf, scarcely spoken of even within niche SNK fan communities. This revelation of a complete 18-hole course (one that isn’t accessible on cartridge) easily adds to the disc’s interest value and replayability. All of the game’s fairways are enthralling and really capture the look and feeling of the different parts of the world that they’re set to emulate. With bright, vivid colours, and an attention to detail that Nazca had clearly mastered, this is easily one of the most prepossessing Neo Geo titles that I’ve ever played.


In today’s day and age, the intricacies of golf game mechanics can be enough to have one’s head spinning like a ball around a hole. That couldn’t be further from the truth in Big Tournament Golf, which operates by way of a simple one-click system. Line up the accuracy of your shot by tapping the A button at just the right moment, followed by another well timed tap of that same button to determine the height of the shot. Move from left to right to change the direction of your shot, avoiding trees, bunkers, water hazards, and combating aggressive wind in the process. The wind, in particular, is something that I should touch base on. In Big Tournament Golf, the wind can be your largest adversary – downright treacherous as it changes directions with almost every new shot you take, so keep a close eye on the direction in which it flows. There are also quite a few dark patches of grass on a handful of holes that can easily be mistaken for heavy rough, when in reality they’re O.B. (out of bounds) zones, so it’s sometimes best to avoid taking those risky shots, circumventing the possibility of being hit with any score damaging stroke penalties. 

With almost all of its accolades spoken of, I would be heavily remiss to exclude my personal favourite part of the game. Truly, Big Tournament Golf’s colossal standout lies within its unprecedented soundtrack. There really is no compact way for me to state how good it is. An album of numbers worthy of being played all on its own, every single song evokes a rhapsody of enthusiasm and has a way of simply putting me in an awesome mood. Now that’s a soundtrack! I’m impartial to the music for Australia’s course as it’s really funky with some jammin’ bass lines, but pretty much every track in the game is perfect for my ears, and that goes for the tunes that accompany the option and character selections, too. 


With a superior soundtrack and the significant inclusion of a fifth course, the penultimate way to play the greatest golf game of all time rests in the disc tray of the Neo Geo CD. An absolute work of art that anyone can relish in, Big Tournament Golf is one title that lives up to the prestige that follows it.  

Original article