There’s no better feeling than waking up early on a summer day and heading down to your local course. You arrive just as the sun peeks over the horizon and head to the first tee. You tee up your first shot, hopeful that it will be the first of many good swings. There’s no galleries to contend with, only Mother Nature’s watchful eye as you grip your club and visualize crushing your drive down the middle. Golf in it’s purest form, just you versus the course. This is exactly what HB Studios has achieved with The Golf Club.
The Golf Club is a sim that strips everything you know about golf games and leaves you like Bambi in the woods. There’s no hand-holding meters or arcade pins to boost your golfer’s attributes or equipment. Instead the player must focus on tempo and feel to execute each swing in order to hit accurate shots. The swing stick is sensitive and it can be easy to hook or slice a ball if you aren’t precise. This is a refreshing change to the typical auto-pilot feel of most golf games swing mechanics. Utilizing the “Shot Mod” to hit a fade or a draw demands even more precision causing the ever intoxicating risk/reward scenario. Different shot types including punch, flop, pitch and chip allow you to manage the course effectively adding to the overall strategy throughout your round. Chipping is the lone sore spot and is too inconsistent to be reliable, especially if you are just below the hole. Flop shots on the other hand are too effective and much easier to execute than they should be. I found myself opting to hit flop shots rather than the more conventional chip shots in those scenarios. Thankfully on the green, with the flat stick, is where The Golf Club truly shines. Putting power and green reading has a bit of a learning curve and is tough to master, even with 50 rounds under my belt. Much like it’s real life counterpart, failures on the green eventually lead to success creating a truly rewarding and enjoyably experience. I still find myself doing the old Tiger fist pump after making a tricky putt, nicely done HB!
The Golf Club also offers the ability to create courses using the Greg Norman Golf Course Designer. This robust design tool allows you to generate a playable course within minutes or spend hours and hours recreating every nook and cranny of your favorite local track. The depth of the tool set is impressive and is easy to use offering tons of creative flexibility. There are currently 5 available themes: Desert, Rural, Autumn, Alpine and Links, with more on the way. Want to make a par 3 course? Do it. Want to put a bunker in the middle of the green? Done! Want to make a fantasy course with a 300 foot drop off the first tee? You get the picture. Another amazing feature of the Greg Norman Golf Course Designer is that all courses can be shared regardless of which platform they were created on. With no licensed courses available and only 11 official HB courses, the Course Designer will be lifeblood of this game. Also with the lack of difficulty levels, the courses you play will determine how easy or hard your round will be.
Currently there are over 13,000 courses available for download across all platforms, and thankfully finding great courses is fairly simple. You can easily search for any course by simply typing in a few key terms. Also, after finishing a round you have the ability to rate the course and add it to your favorites for easy accessibility later. The rating system allows the cream to rise to the top and will help sort out the lesser quality courses over time. I have already discovered over a dozen courses that are indistinguishable from the official ones made by HB and in some cases much better, not to mention free. It is only a matter of time until someone replicates the likes of Augusta, Pinehurst No. 2 or TPC Scottsdale just to name a few. The possibilities are endless and I’m excited to see what the community comes up with next.
Golf is a social game and The Golf Club offers a few different ways to play with your friends both online and offline. Most notably is the asynchronous ghost ball system. The Golf Club stores every single shot made by you and your friends on their server and can be recalled at any time. This allows you to play with your friend’s ghost shot-for-shot even if they finished their round hours or even days before you tee’d off. This system also allows for drop in / dropout live multiplayer as well. Meaning you can invite friends onto the course you are currently playing, even if you are in the middle of your round. Your friend will start on the first tee and will catch up to you if you play slow enough. If playing asynchronously is not your cup-o-tea you can toggle on the turn-based mode, which is the standard mode video golf fans are accustomed to. It’s worth noting that because each shot is recorded and stored on the server before allowing you to view it, there is a 6-10 second delay between your friend’s actual shot and you seeing it on your end. While this isn’t game breaking, it is an odd thing to have to deal with in 2014. HB Studios has mentioned that a lobby system will be added in the future and should resolve the delay issue at that time. The Golf Club also supports local multiplayer for up to 4 players with Match Play, 4-Ball, and Stroke Play options. Another notable omission is the lack of quick match system. So while you can play against anybody’s ghost, playing a live online match against someone who is not on your friend’s list is not an option as of now.
Another way to get the competitive juices flowing is by playing in a Tournament or Tour. Tournaments are a single course for multiple rounds, while tours offer multiple course for multiple rounds. There is no limit to the amount you can join at once and you can make them private if you only want your friends to have access. There are also a number of customization options that allow you to set a time frame that the rounds must be completed or which aids are available to the player. This is perfect for those players that don’t want to play with the green grid or wind indicator for instance. While this does not make up for the lack of a career mode or player customization, it does offer additional replay value and flexibility for those interested in running online leagues. There are already a number of leagues forming with constant chatter on the forums looking for people to sign up.
Visually the game looks stunning at times. Fairway, green, rough, and bunker textures look crisp and clean while the water looks incredible. Also the backgrounds on some of the themes look picturesque, highlighted by the Alpine’s snowy mountain back drop. Clouds, on the other hand, look out of place and are a blurry mess, especially on the Links theme. It’s also worth noting that there is a big discrepancy in resolution between the console versions with PS4 running at 1080p and the Xbox One version running at 720p. During my playtime on PS4 I noticed very little frame rate issues and any noticeable tearing was quickly solved by turning on V-Sync inside the options menu. Menus are slick and easy to navigate and the loading times are minimal, only happening once when you initially load up the course. You read that right, there are no loading times between holes. The audio in the game is also no slouch. Ambient noises capture the environment and tranquil feeling perfectly, while the club contact sound effects are some of the best I have ever heard. The only wildcard here is the commentary, which can be quite polarizing. I personally didn’t like it at first, but over time it started to grow on me and eventually added charm to the game. While it does get repetitive, it also offers some nice touches like updating me on how my live friends are currently doing in their rounds.
The Golf Club’s challenging yet rewarding swing mechanic, stunning visuals and powerful course designer overshadow the lack of player progression, licenses, career mode and online Matchmaking…especially for $35. With an endless amount of courses and developers committed to improving the experience, the sky is limit. This is one of the best pure golf experiences available on consoles and shouldn’t be missed. See you, or your ghost, on the links!
*Review based on PS4 version. Also Available on Xbox One, and PC.