E3 2014: ‘The Golf Club’ Gives PGA Tour a Run for its Money

The Golf Club landed on Steam Early Access a few months back but, while the PC will be one of its homes, there will be plenty of other options available. The E3 show floor had the game on the PS4 and the Xbox One, looking sharp on both, and I got to chat with the developers over at Microsoft’s booth about the development and features this ambitious golf game has implemented.

The big obvious feature is the course editor, which lets you set a variety of factors in place and then the editor auto-generates a brand-new set of holes. You can tweak course theme, number of holes, ambient lighting, time of day, the tree density, and a large number of other options in the generator, and then dive in to give the layout the personal touch. Sculpting terrain and adding or clearing out individual objects is a straightforward task, and you can even completely reroute individual holes.

This leads inevitably to the question “What happens when the fans meticulously recreate real-world courses?” As it turns out, not a lot. The golf clubs of the world are defined as much by their iconic buildings as their course layout, and The Golf Club can only allow people to make the latter. Without the rest of the details that make, for example, the Augusta National Golf Club look like Augusta, it should be ok. Although it’s worth noting that “should” is a direct quote.

All these courses don’t do anyone a lot of good without a solid golf engine to play with, and my time batting the ball around the green showed a game that’s instantly better than Tiger Woods/PGA Tour. Setting aside EA’s passionate love affair with DLC/microtransactions, which is a diatribe for another day, The Golf Club just feels good to play. The information necessary to make a good swing is presented clearly, and the swing itself can be tweaked in a number of ways before performing the familiar “pull back, push forward” motion to send the ball flying. There’s just enough info to hit the ball without negating the need to work by feel as much as pure numbers.

At the moment, however, motion-control is still a long way off. Very few games can benefit as much from swinging a controller wand as golf, and while HB Studios would like to add this, it’s going to be a while before that happens. Something to do with a big, complicated game that lets players go nuts creating whatever course catches their fancy while simultaneously getting a solid golfing engine working, plus motion controls being an entirely separate discipline needing multiple types of motion controller (Move, Kinect, whatever the PC might have available) seems to have slowed down the inclusion a bit. Getting it right takes work, and from what I got to play it looks like they’ve already put in a crazy amount of effort to good effect.

It’s always hard to come to a real conclusion about a game at E3. Many things that seemed fun on the show floor fall apart when you finally get to put real time into them in the comfort of your own home. The Golf Club, however, left me itching to play more. I want to generate par-3 holes as pretty as they are simple, or put a tree in just the wrong place on what would have been an easy par 5. I want to play around with the insane holes of pure evil the fans have created, or shoot a few rounds on the real-world-alikes people can’t resist making. There’s a world of content to swing, putt, and swear through, and the library of challenges is only going to grow as people get creating.