The Golf Club 2019 featuring The PGA TOUR – Xbox One Review
Find your best balls and start swinging for glory!
Over two games, HB Studios have built up a big fan base with their Golf Club games giving players more of a sim experience rather than the arcade style play of the previous big hitter in this genre, EA, with their long established Tiger Woods/Rory McIlroy/PGA franchise. We could be about to see a big shift who has the go-to game for golf fans, as The Golf Club 2019 featuring The PGA TOUR hits the market. With the partnership of big publishers 2K Games and the acquisition of the PGA licence, HB Studios are looking to deliver a golf simulation that is well above par.
The new game comes only a year after The Golf Club 2, but from the first tee shot the new game feels like a big step up in quality. There may not be any licenced PGA or LPGA players in the game, but what we get are 6 beautifully and accurately recreated TPC courses, and no doubt more courses will become available at a later date
The official courses are the backbone of the improved career mode, and you start at TPC Scottsdale with the Q-School finals, trying to qualify and gain a spot on the web.com tour. From there you work your way up the rankings to get on the more prestigious PGA Tour. This mode is great fun and a challenge for all levels of player, because there are a generous 5 skill levels to pick from, so you can set the difficulty to however hard or easy you want to competition to be. This makes the career mode a lot more accessible than the last version of the game, with plenty of courses to play through in a season, as the official courses are interspersed with some good fictional ones.
I always like to put myself in a sports game, so the advanced level of customisation is a very welcome feature. With a fair bit of tweaking on the facial features I can to an approximation on my likeness (albeit a lot slimmer!), and then went to see what I could dress my golfer in. Most of the clothing was locked to me at the start, but as you progress through your career, more and more items unlock, and as well as a plethora of designs and styles of golfing attire, you can fully customise the colours as well. You can step out onto the course looking cool, casual, or if you fancy recreating the crimes against fashion of Ian Poulter and John Daly, that choice is there too! It’s a shame there isn’t an option to share your creations with the community, as with the omission of the real life pro’s, this would’ve been a good way to get those into your game.
A new feature for the game is sponsorship in career mode, where you earn deals and get rewarded when you hit certain goals. With 5 different sponsors, and four levels of sponsorship with each one, there is exclusive equipment to unlock as well as items of branded clothing. You do this by hitting the goals set by your sponsor, which could be anything from getting an eagle to winning a major.
The swing mechanics are pretty much the same as in the previous game, which is great for those upgrading to the new game as thy’ll hit the ground running and be able to get straight out on the course, but then if its not broke, you don’t fix it. There are some areas where the stroke will feel different, such as hitting out of the rough, which feels easier, and you have to pay more attention to the lie of the ball. If your feet are higher or lower than the ball it will have an effect on which way your shot will hook or slice slightly, so you have to factor this in and make adjustments to your aim more than you did before. The graphical feedback of your shots looks very different to the last version of the game, but that shouldn’t put you off, because its vastly improved, gives you must more detail of how the shot went, and can only improve your game in the long run.
The set of clubs you use will have a big effect on your game, with 3 sets to choose from. Beginners should start with the regular clubs, and as you gain more skill you have the option to move up to the pro and then the master set. Regular and pro give you more stability during your swing, with shots less likely to be wayward if your swing isn’t dead straight, but the pay if is that the lower clubs don’t hit the ball as far, so you’re at a disadvantage on the longer holes. The rhythm and speed of your stroke is important, especially with the master clubs, so spending time practising on the driving range is advised until your have the stroke nice and smooth. Which type of shot you’re making will also affect the swing, so practise each one so you don’t get caught out. Depending on your lie and your distance to the hole, you’ll have to make a decision as the which type of shot is best for you at the time. You have the normal shot, but if you’re stuck in a bunker you might need the added elevation of a lob shot to get you out of the sand. Stuck under a tree? Go for the low elevation of the punch shot to avoid those over head branches. Just off the green? The pitch might be the best shot for you, or maybe the chip and run will get you closer to the hole? The game will over you a good default shot and suggest a club, but it doesn’t factor in the elevation difference between your ball and your target, and it doesn’t factor in the wind speed and direction, those are all things you need to work out for yourself, master those and you’re on your way to a low score. That is of course if you can master the putting. This is one area that perfectly reflects the fine line between triumph and frustration in real golf. Before you putt, a grid is projected onto the green with moving markers showing you the direction and degree of the slope, the faster the marker moves, the steeper the slope. This gives you the info you need as to where to aim and how much power to put on. All I can say is practise makes perfect, and it’s a tricky skill to master. You could be swearing the screen when you miss an easy short put on one hole, then punching the air with glee as you curve in a tricky 40 footer on the next.
If all this talk of the different shots and getting your swing right is a bit daunting, don’t fret, because there is an excellent tutorial mode that will take you through all the mechanics of the game and explain everything with clarity. If you need info about other aspects of the game, just press the menu button and everything has a little help box that will give you more information. You can also drop into the practise mode to fine tune your shots if you feel you need it.
The sound and the graphics are excellent on The Golf Club 2019, and gone are lack of detail and depth of field issues of the previous game. I tested the game on the Xbox One and the graphics were stunning, so I can safely assume they will be amazing on the Xbox One X with its enhanced visuals. There is an incredible amount of detail in the landscape, there are more televisual camera angles when you hit a shot, and the golfer animations always run nice and smoothly, which is a relief as the input lag on the backswing was often annoying for me in TGC2. The sound fits the game much better, from the satisfying sound of your driver hitting the ball, the noise the ball makes when it drops in the hole. You get the the background noise of the local wildlife, and the precise sound no-one wants to hear, the agonising plop of you ball hitting the water! The commentary is also improved but there is still plenty of scope for improvement there. In career mode the commentator seems to be a bit subdued, but when you play a standard round the commentators are much more relaxed, jovial, and even encouraging to your golfer.
There are some issues in game play that I felt still needed a bit of fine tuning, and that was to do with the balls hitting the green, as there still seems to be too much run on a shot once it hits the ground, so shots often skip off the green faster than you’d expect them to in real life. HB Studios do listen to their community of players though and if its something enough people complain about, chances are a bit of fine tuning will come in a patch.
A part of the game that has seen big improvements in TGC2019 and something I was keen to sample was the multiplayer game. The Societies return, where you can join with golfers of similar ability to play in tournaments, or create your own societies just for you and your friends to battle it out over the course of a season. You can play single private matches, or go through matchmaking to play again random players that match your handicap. There are now different modes of game you can play in multiplayer as well. Which is a very welcome addition and adds much more variety to your online play. As well as regular stroke play, you can also pick from Stableford, Four Ball, Match Play, Alternate Shot and Skins. These choices really elevate the enjoyment level as you’re never likely to get bored with that much on offer.
A feature that has made The Golf Club series so popular is the excellent course creation mode, where you can create your own courses either from scratch or from a set template. HB Studios have made it easier to create a simple course with its array of tools, that are all well explained, but it still takes a high level of skill and dedication to create a truly great course. Luckily for those like me that maybe lack the imagination, skill or time to create their dream course, there are literally thousands of community created courses for you to download and play. Thankfully all the courses from previous versions of the game can be converted to this latest version, so the choice just keeps getting bigger. There are some stunning fantasy course to be found as well as some incredibly accurate recreations of real life courses for you to add to your custom games, are just play a round on your own.
The Golf Club 2019 featuring The PGA TOUR is probably the best golf simulation you can find on the Xbox One, and although some might be put off by the price tag, this version really has been elevated to a AAA game. The licence with the PGA is in its infancy, so the content there is a little thin, but I fully expect that to grow over the life of the game, and graphically the series has come on in leaps and bounds. The great thing is you don’t need to be a big fan of golf to get a lot of enjoyment from playing it, you can still be thoroughly engaged and may get hooked. Its not perfect by any means, but its probably not that far off it, and I’m sure HB Studios and 2K Games will keep striving towards that.
Developer: HB Studios
Many Thanks to 2K Games for the review copy.