Originally created 11/21/02

World's best video golfers compete in Golden Tee tournament



ORLANDO, Fla. -- On the 18th hole of the King's Canyon course, Graig Kinzler tapped in a short putt as his opponent watched his final drive bounce off an embankment and into the water.

The crowd burst into tears and applause at Kinzler's dramatic four-stroke victory.

"He's the best player in the world, and he proved it," said opponent Ryan Fehrens.

But the victory wasn't on the links - it was on a video screen at the first Golden Tee video game world championship, a competition among 32 virtual golfers at an Orlando sports bar.

Kinzler's victory makes him tops among the countless devotees who have made Golden Tee the top-grossing video game in the world for seven straight years.

"This was an awesome display of competition," said Elaine Hodgson, the founder of the game's manufacturer, Incredible Technologies, of Arlington Heights, Ill.

Kinzler, an aspiring professional golfer from Schaumburg, Ill., estimates he's won $65,000 playing in smaller Golden Tee events this year. For Tuesday night's victory, the 23-year-old won $15,000.

Incredible Technologies is also prospering. Golden Tee has become a staple in taverns and bars - including at the fictional Bada Bing strip joint run by Tony Soprano and his mob cronies on the HBO hit "The Sopranos." The company estimates that its 100,000-plus machines around the world will gross more than $350 million in the next year.

Virtual golfers pay $3 for 18 holes, swinging clubs by rolling a trackball.

Through a computer network, gamers can compare scores with players everywhere and face off in Golden Tee tournaments. Frequent gamers even have their own personalized "Gold Cards," which store their identities, handicap, ranking and stats for the machines to read.

A virtual Ryder Cup rematch was the highlight of Monday's action, with the Americans downing the World Team 35-13 to win the team title.

On Tuesday, Kinzler defeated Fehrens, a 23-year-old college student from Oakville, Ontario, as 50 spectators watched. Fehrens won $5,000 for second place.

"It just wasn't happening," said a teary-eyed Fehrens. "A couple of unlucky breaks, but I got outplayed. I'm just happy I made it as far as I did."

On the Net:

Incredible Technologies: http://www.itsgames.com/