The Golf Club
Platform(s): PS4/Xbox One/PC
Review Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: HB Studios
Price: $34.99 PSN/XBL/Steam
Golf is one the most challenging - and humbling - sports one can participate in. Even if you've spent your whole life trying to master the sport, it will often leave you questioning your club choice or swing mechanics after any given shot. The beauty about golf is that no matter how bad you play during a round, there's always that one shot that you'll think about long after the round is over, and it reminds you why you love the game so much. When it was announced that EA Sports would be taking a year off to transition over to new-gen with their franchise reboot, EA Sports PGA Tour (Tiger Woods' deal with EA Sports has ended), many wondered if there would even be an offering this year for those looking to head out on the virtual links. Thankfully, HB Studios saw an opportunity to meet the demand and have brought us The Golf Club.
There are a few things you need to know about The Golf Club before you decide if it's worth the $34.99 price tag. First and foremost, this game does not carry the PGA License, so if you were hoping to play as Tiger Woods, you can't. If you are perusing through the available courses in hopes of playing eighteen holes at Pebble Beach, you won't. Essentially, it comes down to whether or not the gameplay and the plethora of user created content is enough to keep fans of the genre interested. Let's get into it.
Practice Makes Perfect
While the Tiger Woods franchise was very popular among gamers in its early years, the greed of EA (remember that DLC course fiasco?), along with the series becoming the MLB 2K of golf games in terms of improving the series and adding meaningful features on a year-to-year basis, caused fans of the series to begin wondering if Tiger Woods' PGA Tour being the only golf game on consoles was allowing EA to become complacent and lazy with each "new" installment.
Just like the real game of golf, how much you will enjoy The Golf Club will ultimately come down to how much time you plan to invest in the game. Unlike Tiger Woods, where you had the option to use a shot/putt preview indicating the path your ball will travel, there is no such feature present in The Golf Club. The only indication you'll get at the start of each hole is the distance to the pin, and the direction and speed of the wind. If you want to lay up in front of a pond, you will have to pull up the course map and use the distance markers to judge how far you have to go before choosing your club accordingly. It may seem much more tedious than what you're used to seeing in previous Tiger Woods installments, but in all honesty, this is a more accurate depiction of how golf is played. Other abilities that you won't find here are Power Boost or Spin Boost. If you want to create those types of effects, you will need to adjust your fade/draw and shot trajectory. Again, this isn't an arcade golf game. This is more a simulator than anything else.
The analog swing mechanic present in The Golf Club is very similar to the one used in Tiger Woods' PGA Tour. Pulling back on the left or right stick (you can change this in the control set-up) will bring your golf club back, and pushing forward will begin your follow through. The idea is to keep your stick centered throughout the whole process so that you don't end up slicing or hooking the ball into the deep rough. As I stated earlier, without a shot preview, you will need to choose your club based on the limited info given, finding the right amount of power so that you don't go too long or come up short. It take a lot of practice to try out different shot types with each club (punch, flop, normal, etc.), but thats exactly how golf is meant to be played.
I didn't have any issue adjusting to the the swing mechanic, whether I was driving the ball, performing mid-range shots, or chipping. The analog swing felt 1:1 with what was happening on the screen, so eventually I began to get a better understanding of how much power I needed for each shot. The putting, however, is a different story. I'm torn as to whether I'm totally onboard with The Golf Club's putting system. I believe putting is the hardest part of golf because, not only do you need to find the right amount of power, but you have to read the breaks on the green as well, so making it difficult makes sense. However, the swing motion happening in the game while putting is much slower than what your input is on the analog stick. It makes putting - which is hard enough as it is - a little more inconsistent when compared to the rest of the game. When I pull back on the analog stick in all other aspects of the game, it reacts and feels a certain way. It seems silly that I don't have that same kind of control while putting. After some practice, I feel I have become more competent at putting now, but I still think the swing speed should be consistent across all shot types. It should be up to the player to determine how fast or slow they want it to go.
No Official PGA Courses, No Problem
At first glance, it may seem off-putting to some that The Golf Club does not carry a PGA license. HB Studios has given the power to the players to create not only those PGA courses you wish you could play, but just about any course you can put your mind to by means of a very deep course creator. Having this tool creates the possibility of an infinite selection of courses to play. Everything from PGA "inspired" courses (ex. Pinehurst), to unique courses (Camp Crystal Lake Resort) and anything in-between will essentially offer gamers an unlimited amount of courses to play without having to deal with DLC shadiness. Toss in the fact that any course created is available to everyone that owns the game, regardless of the system it's created on, and the sheer amount of content that will be available to aspiring digital golfers is set to be staggering. This amount of content should keep golfers busy for years to come if the community can continue to flourish.
The other area that's impacted by the lack of a PGA license is that you can't play as or against your favorite pro players. And if you're hoping to create a character to develop and improve their skill set over time, you will be disappointed in the rather skimpy amount of customization options available. Other than the gender, shirt color, glove color, and a few other generic fields, there is essentially no way to replicate yourself physically in The Golf Club. And in an effort to keep the playing field level, there isn't an attributes system to tinker with to fit your particular play style; everyone is the same. While this may be frowned upon by some, I like the fact that it puts the focus on your approach and how you play the game. Shot selection has never been this important because you don't have the luxury of knowing you can drive the green with your overpowered character. It would be nice, though, if there was some sort of career mode at least, and it's been hinted at by HB Studios that they may be looking to add something like it in the future.
Membership Open To Everyone
Up to this point, it may sound like the lack of a PGA license isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, and in all honesty it really isn't. With everyone on the same playing level, it presents the player with the opportunity to be the professional golfer, putting the onus on you as a player as opposed to playing as Tiger Woods or another amazing golfer. And what better way to do that than by putting the focus on your play by means of leaderboards for every single course?! Not only will it give you the global high scores for each created course, there's also a separate list showing your friends' scores on that course should they have played it. Despite the inability to actually set up a round where you can play with your friends via live matchmaking, you are still able to invite them to play a course that you're currently playing, and they will appear on the leaderboard as well. Instead of waiting for each other to shoot, you will see their shots via tracers, allowing you to play at your own pace.
Another great feature is the message center, which is constantly updating you with what your friends are currently playing, or posting their previous scores and giving you the option to challenge that score. You also have the ability to create tournaments for your friends to compete in, which keeps the competition aspect of the The Golf Club at a feverish pitch. With so many courses to choose from, and so many ways to stay connected with friends, the recipe is there for The Golf Club to remain relevant for many years.
The Potential Is Real
There is a lot to like about The Golf Club, and it's easy to look past that lack of a PGA license and see that HB Studios has done a good job creating a golf title that will challenge even the most hardened virtual golfer. Despite a lackluster presentation (the announcer is dreadful), zero affiliation with the PGA, and a perplexing putting mechanic, it's hard not to appreciate the attention to detail that is at hand here when it comes to capturing the sport of golf. Add in the incredibly powerful course creator and impressive social features, and you have yourself a golf game that could challenge EA Sports PGA Tour whenever it does arrive. This game is for purists of the game of golf. If you're looking for a more forgiving, arcade-y golf game, you'll be better off making a tee time elsewhere.
- Authentic golf gameplay. No shot preview, no boosters. Just golf!
- Powerful course creator = Almost infinite replayability
- Social notifications and tournaments keeps competition at a consistent high
- Inconsistent swing mechanic makes putting harder than it already is
- Annoying announcer (Turn it off!)
- Lack of a PGA license (courses & players)