Is there any such thing as too much golf? The Golf Club tries to answer that question by welding a rock-solid golfing engine to a versatile and straightforward course generation and construction kit, allowing for a functionally infinite amount of holes and courses. Even in Early Access it’s seen thousands of courses, both serious and ridiculous, and if none of them are quite what you’re looking for it’s simple to roll up a set of holes to meet your own personal specifications.
The Golf Club is basically two toys in one, both feeding into each other. The game of playing golf is served by a capable engine that puts all the information you need to figure out the shot within easy reach. Setting up fade, draw, and ball loft is a simple matter of hitting the left trigger (there’s mouse/keyboard support, of course, but it plays great with controller) to call up an adjustable indicator. You’ll need to do a bit of mental math, though. 12 MPH wind going up the course and a bit to the right, I’ve chosen a club rated for 170 yards, hole is 150 yards away. Raising the loft so the ball smacks down on the green and doesn’t roll too far away from where I hope it will land seems like a good plan, but it will also shorten the maximum range of the stroke, and after tweaking things 85% of full distance seems about right, maybe? Angle a bit to the left to make up for the wind, plus 85% of 170 is 145-ish so it’s a bit short for the 150 yard range but, again, help from the wind to make up for it, and then take the swing. If I’ve judged all factors right and avoided my normal slice to the right during the familiar “pull back, push forward” analog stick swing, just maybe I’ll land right beside the hole. Or 20 feet away, I’m not picky.
That sounds like a lot of mental gymnastics but it’s actually not, and the tools to set up the shot are very easy to get used to. It doesn’t take a lot of experience to start making choices by feel, because it seems right, and pretty soon the shots start performing almost like you pictured in your head. Give or take several yards, because golf is a game equal parts planning and broken dreams. Every once in a while, though, that 50-foot putt for birdie pays off and makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Nice as the golfing is, it needs courses to shine. The Golf Club’s big gun in this regard is a course editor that works off the parameters you give it and auto-generates a unique new set of holes. Procedural generation is all well and good but lacks that personal touch, so there’s a robust set of tools to go in and start terraforming your own little slice of golfing heaven. Raise and lower terrain, change the time of day and angle of sun, add hazards, trees, buildings, and other scenery, and in general make the course look like a place you’d actually want to beat a ball with a stick in. New features are being added at a steady pace, with tutorials posted at HB Studios’ web site to show off how to wring the most out of them. Alternately you could generate a random course and use the terrain editor to plop unrealistic hills everywhere, just for the fun of seeing how many strokes over par it takes to overcome them. You can instantly hop into a creation to play either one hole or all of them, getting a sense of how your changes impact the feel of the environment and flow of the green. Whether it’s something silly you delete instantly or a course to edit down to its finest details, The Golf Club’s editor lets you play with design to your heart’s content.
Once you’ve got a course you’re proud of (or want to inflict on people) it can be uploaded to the world. The course selector has multiple filters to trim the thousands available into a more manageable number, from official developer courses to newest, highest rated, friends’ courses, etc. There’s already a good amount of variety in the layouts and challenges, and it can be just as fun tackling a serious creation as an oddball. Your golfer’s stats are saved, but there’s no real career mode that would get hurt by scoring a +20 par. Everybody’s golfer has the exact same stats and clubs, so scoring is down to skill. Or using a straight-edge on the controller for the perfect swing, but let’s ignore the cheaters.
Content-rich as The Golf Club may be, it’s been simmering away in Early Access for over three months while working towards proper release. The engine starts dropping framerate after a while as you hear the PC cooling fans rev up, character customization options aren’t nonexistent but pretty close, commentary gets repetitive quickly, and the seaside Links environment is still a ways off. The course editor is powerful but needs features like being able to, for example, raise a prop so you can create scenarios like guarding a bridge with a goat at its midway point rather than accidentally drowning the poor beast. Also, we can tell it’s Greg Norman’s Course Designer because Greg Norman’s name is all over the Course Designer, in a Course Designer endorsed by Greg Norman. The branding is maybe a bit omnipresent, would be the point. The updates have been coming at a decent pace, though, with each one adding major new features while refining what’s available. The official release of the game is planned simultaneously with the PS4 and Xbox One versions, and that’s only a few weeks off if things work out right. The Golf Club has covered a lot of ground since it’s initial release back in April and has steadily improved in content, gameplay, and creation tools, and if everything works out right it has the potential to be the definitive golf game on whatever platform it lands on.