The world of golf is a strange one, which seems to track given it’s such a funny sounding name. The immortal actor Ted Knight once made fun of the game that his character, Judge Smails, loved in the movie Caddyshack. The PGA Tour is still a powerhouse, despite the recent push from the upstart LIV Tour, and EA Sports recognizes that. For the first time since 2015, we have a new golf game on the market that is true to the biggest golf tour in the world, with the simple title EA Sports PGA Tour.
Lush, beautiful courses await!
I cannot stress enough just how good PGA Tour looks. I jumped in for a quick round as Bryson DeChambeau and went straight to Augusta National, home of The Masters. In the 2015 game Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, Augusta National was not a selectable course. However, the community had numerous content creators who were able to generate a perfect recreation of one of the most famous courses in the world, along with many others that didn’t make it in. EA made sure not to disappoint fans this time around, as every hole looked and felt like I was playing for a green jacket.
Golfer models are pretty accurate as well. Bryson DeChambeau certainly looks the part. There’s a few LPGA golfers as well, such as Lexi Thompson and Jessica Korda. I would have liked to see more to have more balance, though credit to the developers in making the men and women equal when it comes to stats. If you want to create a female golfer for the game, it’s there for you.
Speaking of created golfers, I was underwhelmed by the options available to create my own golfer. The options are extremely cookie cutter and feel like the curse of Madden created players: simple models with no way to customize them. I didn’t expect anything with the complexity of Baldur’s Gate 3, but a system for customization like FIFA 23 has would be much better. The created golfer simply feels like an afterthought with basic options.
Gameplay is solid….with a couple of exceptions.
EA Sports made the right decision in keeping with the same swing mechanics they’ve been using for quite some time, utilizing the analog stick for swing tempo and accuracy. Even weirdos like me, who swap it to the right analog stick, can feel like the swing is natural and know how to properly time and shape all shots. What is a nice addition is how a custom golfer will learn new shots as the player gains experience points. Granted, some of the scaling on these skills can be harsh. For example: Driving distance, which everyone wants to have, has the most expensive scale in the game. It will cost you 161 skill points to max out your power. Compare that to something like Approach Recovery, which will cost a player just 25 skill points. The most important things are going to take a long time to build up.
The good news is that even in the early levels, your skills might be lacking, but it won’t feel like a major handicap on the course. Learning how to play while not being able to control spin, shot shaping, and recovery is pretty straight-forward. I did find myself struggling with the short game, especially with chipping and pitching, so opting to rely on the flop shot saved me a lot of headaches in early tournaments.
An important aspect regarding building up your golfer is that earning that delicious experience and unlocking skill points means improving on specialized shots. If you want to be able to hit a stinger like prime Tiger Woods, you have to go through a progression where you might learn the shot, but it’s at a bronze level. More points mean getting to silver, then to gold. As the skill increases, the effect that the skill rating has becomes more obvious. I found great value in maxing out the finesse and spinner shots to control the ball best within 150 yards of the green.
Controlling your shot sounds simple, right? Here’s where things go sideways: Even with perfect swings, there’s quite a bit of variance that wasn’t made clear, especially if you skip over the tutorials. Shot elevation is one factor that can be easily overlooked, sending a ball left or right when it feels like you’ve hit a perfect shot. However, there’s a slightly infuriating issue where sometimes it felt like the game wanted to punish you for no particular reason. I found this happening frequently in the challenges where I hit two similar shots where one exactly followed my intention while the second would go wide right or wide left. I’ve found that the variance became less as I gained ratings, but it would be nice to know what is causing these problems with little tips.
I have a love/hate relationship with the swing meter, though. In most cases, I’d say probably 80% of the time, the meter is clear and I know the target I have to hit for a perfect swing. The problem comes into play when you’re in less-than-ideal situations, especially in bunkers and deep rough. While you can change the camera angles with a press of a button, this doesn’t necessarily help and sometimes the black line that depicts the 100% accurate swing can be deceptive. You can end up swinging much earlier and causing a gross underswing for no reason. It also took a bit of time to see when you don’t pull the stick back perfectly and the swing has an angle to it. This can be hidden based on your camera angle of choice, which needs to be clearer, perhaps through a patch.
There are endless amounts of ways to customize the difficulty when playing, and believe me: You’re going to use these sooner rather than later. Picking up the mechanics and building up early levels does not take long. I quickly found myself shooting well under par in the most difficult tournaments. When I started shooting around 60 in standard tournaments, I started taking away some of the early tools such as putt reading/assistance. This turns things up a bit, but if you want to leave those options on, there’s a simple selection that makes the field much harder to play against. Turning that up to the highest levels means seeing guys also hitting around 60, forcing you to play rounds as error-free as possible. Finding the level you’re comfortable with is pretty easy with some trial-and-error, especially as you play the game longer and get better.
Presentation is fine, but there are some pretty major annoyances.
I’ll preface this by saying that I love the overall feel of tournaments in this game. It feels like a Golf Channel presentation, right down to the scoreboards, your status in the top right, and the build up packages prior to the biggest tournaments. All of this is good and I appreciate the level of detail that EA Sports applied to this.
While I enjoy hearing Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo (with appearances by Notah Begay III, Iona Stephen and Sir Nick Faldo) giving me the play-by-play, they needed probably another 500 lines of dialogue because I was hearing the same explanations and reactions in short order. The extra commentary provided by Begay, Stephen and Faldo, however, were timely and rarely repeated themselves. This is almost certainly down to them only being called upon for approach shots and in certain situations. Lerner and Nobilo are with you every step of the way and, while I expect some repetition because of this, it felt like they burned through every line in the span of about 10 hours of gameplay. Compared to my two biggest complaints, though? This is excusable.
What isn’t excusable is failing to capture proper emotion and moments. Getting an eagle on a par 5 on the final day to go into the lead should have a huge crowd reaction and maybe a fist pump from a golfer. Instead, I found that situations like this resulted in the standard “golf clap” and little bow of the head from the golfer….or tipping a non-existent hat because the AI doesn’t pick up on the golfer not wearing a hat. Having played this game for long enough in review where I won all four majors, every single final putt was as dull as dishwater. It was just another putt. Maybe a slightly louder reaction but nothing that would feel like a proper culmination of winning a major title. While the game has a short presentation afterward of the golfer holding up the trophy after, even that moment feels muted. It’s just some light applause and a couple of generic smiles….and you’re on your way. That’s outright insulting, if I can be frank. Also, commentary falls into a trap when a tournament is finished in a tie and Lerner will congratulate you, only for the next screen to come up with the playoff and then he’ll explain those rules. This doesn’t go into depth about the inaccuracy of reporting tournaments/majors won in the past.
Arguably, the worst part of the presentation is the gallery. A lot of times they have repeat models and don’t have great reactions to most every shot. Sure, when a putt is made and the angle shows them, which is quite rare, they are shown clapping but so many times it just feels like the models are soulless. That’s not the worst, though. A lot of times, especially on specific courses, the gallery is far too close to the action and even standing in the fairway on the edges. This would never happen for obvious reasons, and the problem that comes into play is you can use the gallery as a backstop to keep from going into water or deep rough. I could hit a stinger and let a ball run forever, and my helpful gallery would take a shot in the foot or shin, have a minor reaction and I had a perfect approach shot. That’s a big problem that should be corrected.
Rewards are surprisingly plentiful and loot boxes exist, but it’s not egregious.
Built into the game are plenty of coaching and sponsor challenges. These are good ways to build up experience, unlock some items called specs which give you a boost to your clubs based on power, accuracy, etc. Some of those specs are specialized and named after current golfers, providing even bigger boosts such as Jordan Speith’s wedge settings or Hideki Matsuyama’s irons. There’s also the standard reward points that you can rack up pretty quickly, especially with completing those challenges but also winning tournaments in your career mode. These points are used to unlock clothes, clubs, golf balls, etc. These items can also be purchased with EA points, which require real world money. Honestly, I haven’t needed to consider putting money into my EA points because the rewards are plentiful. What I’m slightly disappointed at is the rotation of equipment and not making more items available. Clothing and accessories suffer from this the most, but these do refresh on a regular basis but it means hanging onto those reward points and hoping that something good pops up.
Another item that can be purchased are tickets, which grant you access to tournaments online. These tickets are pretty cheap, only costing 100 reward points per purchase, but it can rack up quickly if you’re looking for that online competitive fix.
Bottom line time: What’s the verdict?
I have such mixed opinions on this game. On one hand you have a gorgeous game that nails all the major technical aspects and feels good to play in most cases. On the other hand, there are clearly some issues that will grate on you and make you scratch your head. I wish there was more depth to the custom golfer and the commentary because fixing those two things would make me care less about the other issues.
That being said, I couldn’t stop playing it. It’s a fun game. It’s easy to pick up and fire off a couple of rounds in career mode or hop into online competitive play. I have no idea how long I’ll keep playing but being able to load up and just hop straight in gives it a big advantage compared to other games that require longer commitments. Being able to save your round midway through competitions is a huge help for those who are busy, so despite it’s glaring issues at times? It’s worth the pick-up.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.View Profile