Review: Playing Tennis, Golf at Virtual Country Clubs

Like most journalists, I can't afford membership in a country club

The only one I've ever been invited to is Ray's Hilton Country Club, a sarcastically named dive bar in my hometown of Newport News, Va.

Just about everything I know about country club life comes from innumerable viewings of "Caddyshack."

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I may never get a chance to enjoy the lush life — frankly, I'm more at home in a bowling alley — but I can simulate the experience at home.

I may never be any good at tennis or golf, but in virtual reality I can throw down with Roger Federer or Annika Sorenstam. And I never have to stand around waiting for another foursome to play through.

The only thing missing from my cyberspace country club is a polo simulator. Well, that and a crazed greenskeeper with a license to kill gophers.

—"Virtua Tennis 3" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $49.99): Tennis may be the simplest sport out there, which is why it's been a staple of video games ever since "Pong."

That simplicity helps make "Virtua Tennis" one of the most accessible games on the market, one that players of just about any skill level can enjoy.

"VT3" has a decent selection of pro players, from superstars like Venus Williams to relative unknowns like Gael Monfils, but the real fun comes from creating your own character.

A robust career mode lets you slowly build the skills of your low-ranked doppelganger, mastering wacky minigames and competing in low-profile tournaments until you're ready for the Grand Slam events.

As addictive as the career mode is, it's almost as much fun to round up a bunch of friends for some mixed doubles. If you want to play online, however, you'll have to pick up the Xbox version.

Three stars out of four.

—"Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07" (EA Sports, for the Wii, $49.99): Nintendo's Wii console seems tailor-mode for golf games; it's easy to imagine that its motion-sensing remote is a driver or a putter.

"Tiger Woods" is the third golf title we've seen for the system, and it's easily the most realistic.

Of course, the Wii controls take some getting used to if you've been playing "Tiger" on another console.

To take a shot, you point the remote down and hold the B button; then you swing it back and forward.

The height of your backswing and the speed of your follow-through determine the power of your shot, and if you don't swing in a straight line your ball is likely to end up in the rough.

It may frustrate duffers who are used to more precise joystick controls, but that frustration when a shot goes awry may just add to the realism.

As always, EA offers a ton of game modes, an impressive roster of pro golfers and the ability to build your own character from scratch.

If you've worn out the golf game that came with your Wii, you're bound to enjoy this upgrade.

Three stars.

—"ProStroke Golf: World Tour 2007" (Oxygen, for the PlayStation Portable, $29.99): Golf can be a nice change of pace from the frenzied action of most video games, but even the most laid-back player will lose patience with the excruciating slowness of "ProStroke Golf."

Every shot is framed by pointless animation of your golfer walking, lining up shots or staring down the fairway — and then you have to watch your computer-controlled opponent do the same things.

The mechanics of "ProStroke" are decent enough, and the courses are realistically challenging. But the roster of real-life pros is skimpy and the create-a-character options are few.

Unless you're a die-hard EA Sports hater, there's no reason to settle for such a drab package when "Tiger Woods" is out there.

One-and-a-half stars.