[‘Letters from the Metaverse’ is a regular weekly column by Mathew Kumar about his adventures in the massively multiplayer online world of Second Life. This week’s column covers sport in Second Life.]

Last week I was pretty addicted to Tringo, despite the fact I thought it was of debatable worth as a game experience. I lazily thought about this week simply covering the other casino style games available to players of Second Life, which are your usual fodder; slots, blackjack and so on, but also includes games entirely new and not in any way derivative of Tringo. For example there’s Slingo (slots mixed with bingo) or Bingtris, which is bingo mixed with Tetris. Wait, what?

2006_08_01_golf.jpgI’d rather do something more wholesome than gambling, though, and what could be more wholesome than a nice round of golf?

It must say something that the two sports I’m most aware of in Second Life are golf and sailing. I like to imagine it says, “All of the denizens of Second Life might be massive sexual deviants, but they’re also WASPy as hell.” But I digress.

The Holly Kai Golf Club is, as far as I can tell, the first golf club in Second Life, and features the Ocean Nine, which is, thanks to the ease of flying in Second Life, an unusual 9-hole course played across a series of islands, so it’s a nightmare of water hazards. Golf is played using the floG! system, an object you wear that creates a HUD of a sort familiar to anyone who’s ever played a golf game. The system is however full of quirks specific to the world of Second Life. The HUD spawns the ball for you, and also spawns an aiming arrow above the ball which you must click to maneuver yourself into position to tee off.

2006_08_01_flog.jpgAt the Holly Kai Golf Club 3 hours of play costs $300 Linden (around about $1.50). This money activates your free floG! HUD, allowing you to spawn balls and aiming arrows. If you’re planning on playing a round you should probably also pick up a score card. You have to fill it in manually (!) but it does have a much needed map of each hole on it; I initially started to play the first hole without it, and realized I had absolutely no idea what direction to shoot in.

So once you’ve picked up your HUG, plunked down your money and grabbed a score card, you’re ready to get started, and I can reference that quote that the law requires any writer to use in any article about golf. Unless it’s in a golf magazine, natch. Mark Twain once said golf was a “good walk spoilt”, and when it comes to Second Life, I have to say it’s a good flight spoilt. The Holly Kai Golf Club has some lovely architecture and the islands are all very pretty in that Second Life kind of way (I’ve grown to accept bitmap trees) but the game just doesn’t stack up.

It’s disappointing, but simply a side-effect of Second Life that all those user friendly aspects of dedicated golf games aren’t there with floG!, so there is no information about how far each club hits, no automatic club selection, no automatic score card and no special interface for putting. Most of those are pretty acceptable and other aspects like course flyovers you’re perfectly within your abilities to do yourself.

2006_08_01_steely.jpgWhat isn’t so acceptable sadly is the iffy way that the floG! system works. Rotating your aim is incredibly slow, and the shot meter, something which absolutely requires precision, always seemed to continue turning for a second or so after a click. I was pretty sure it was registering my clicks at the right time (well, kind of sure) but I was never, ever satisfied with the timing. That’s a pretty damning flaw.

Worse, sadly, it’s buggy. I’ve managed to strike my ball relaxing 10 foot away from it simply by entering and exiting the aim mode and clicking various things, leaving my shot meter active. That pales into insignificance compared to the 3rd hole, where my ball entirely refused to go in no matter how many times I hit it.

I feel like I’m being quite harsh on floG!, but the fact is that there’s absolutely no reason to play golf in Second Life until the system is further developed, especially considering it costs a quite hefty $1.50 or so for 3 hours play, which you have to use in one go. Were it cheaper and without bugs I could recommend it as a nice time waster with friends, but currently seasoned golf gamers should stay away.

I think I’ll stick to PGA Tour Golf.

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist who’s dabbled in MMORPGs, but is too cheap/strong willed to play past a free trial. He got his break with Insert Credit, and his work has been featured in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, Torontoist and Eurogamer.]