My memories of EA’s golfing games goes way back to the 90s, smacking a ball around a range of courses on the Mega Drive, trying to get my head round wind speed, awkward greens and not quite understanding that thumping it at full power every time didn’t automatically result in a hole-in-one. Spin forwards nearly 30 years, and EA have broken their golfing break with PGA Tour, a gorgeous but brutally challenging golfing game which sees its best moments come after you’ve spent a fair few hours figuring out how to actually play it properly.
PGA Tour carries the presentation shine and sparkle that we’ve come to expect from an EA title, with fantastic TV-style visuals and commentary pushing a level of accuracy that really helps to build the atmosphere as you work your way through the meticulously recreated courses. You’ll find 30 of these courses, all of which provide unique challenges, life-like weather and individual commentary opportunities as you try to navigate awkward hazards, blustery wind and undulating fairways. Visually it all looks fantastic, with a range of PGA professional players nicely recreated for you to either take control of or compete against as you work your way through your own career.
This career mode is where I spent a very decent chunk of time. You start off designing your golfer, which sounds like a good chance to create a decent lookalike in-game (as has been the case in numerous other EA Sports titles down the years) but actually manifests itself as a few different options that gives a vast number of different outcomes, but doesn’t let you make smaller tweaks to actually properly change your character in those specific ways that really let you be you in the game. Still, no matter, my first tournament beckoned signalling the start of my PGA career.
A few moments later, I decided I might need a bit more practice before giving Tiger a run for his money.
Getting to grips with the mechanics of PGA Tour is extremely tough. You get a few tutorial tasks to do, but beyond that you’re pretty much on your own. Using an analogue stick to swing feels good but demands accuracy, the slightest deviation in the down/up motion, or a small slip of timing, will see your accuracy drop and your shot start to lean to the left or right. In addition the power can be tricky to judge; trying to line up your swing with a notch on the swing meter takes a lot of trial and error and is almost impossible to hit accurately shot after shot. But not even the pros hit perfect shots every time, and as such this idea of “as good as possible” doesn’t feel unfair. What does feel a little harsh is the speed of the greens, which behave like they’ve been cut so short you’re essentially trying to pitch onto a concrete car park. Even after getting the hang of the controls I’m still seeing half of my approach shots skidding off the back of the green, into some deep rough or smacking a spectator on the shin (although they don’t react in any way, so it can’t hurt that much). Practice genuinely helps though, and once I noticed how far off I was aiming with my chips and short bunker shots and improved my character’s spin abilities, I hit the green (and stayed on) more often than not. Despite these speedy greens, the steady improvement you’ll see from practice leads to some extremely satisfying moments when it all comes together, and like the real sport itself it’s that dedication to improving that’ll see you succeed.
As you complete rounds with your player (which can be full rounds or quicker one with just a selection of holes from the 18) you’ll earn XP, used to build up your skills and abilities to help you increase your power, accuracy, spin and open up various different types of shots. It’s slow progress at times, but gives you an incentive to keep plugging away at these tournaments, even if you repeatedly fail to make the cut. There’s the inevitable option to pay real money for points that let you buy random selections of items from the shop, but it’s not required to make progress – that’s only really there for people who might want a bump in XP or a couple of new shirts to wear.
Elsewhere you’ve got simple quick-play options that let you play any course with any player across a range of different match types, as well as an array of challenges that allow you to earn rewards by recreating championship moments and earning sponsors’ equipment by succeeding in a wide range of different challenges. These are pretty nice diversions from the main game and let you unlock new gear without the worry of those microtransactions.
There is, as you’d hope, a range of online options as well. You can play games with friends, go up against random online people in casual or competitive one-off games, or take part in a set of daily, weekly and seasonal tournaments to win rewards points to spend in the store. These are fun, bite-sized events that test your skills against the world and make you realise just how far you’ve still got to go before believing you’re actually good at the game. But there’s plenty to do here, and while it’s the career that I’ll be going back to until I’m winning every PGA Tour event in existence, there’s a lot to do to give you a break from that longer term challenge.
EA Sports PGA Tour is an incredibly satisfying and good looking game, rewarding practice and experimentation with results that take a good while to achieve. While it might feel easy to give up when things get tough, if you stick with it you’ll fully appreciate the amazing presentation while still taking the competition to the pro players. It might not be the perfect game in all areas but after a break of several years away PGA Tour is back with a bang, setting some excellent foundations for future titles to build on. Golfing fans will love it, sports fans will have a ball and anyone who’s after a slower paced challenge could do much worse as well.
Reviewed on PS5