The Golf Club originally came to life in the wake of the cancellation of EA’s Tiger Woods 15, which Canadian developer HB Studios had been set to work on. Instead of sitting on their hands they looked to fill the subsequent golfing void on next generation consoles. The Golf Club released in August 2014, with the aim of producing an accessible, social and customisable golf experience. Since then HB Studios has been steadily adding to and improving its game, with the newly minted Collector’s Edition now bringing the game to retail disc with everything included in one package for the first time.
Unlike the PGA series, The Golf Club offers a single style of control, opting to use the right analog stick to represent the swing of your golf club, though you can choose to use the left stick if you prefer. Anyone who has played an EA Sports golf title in the last ten years will recognise the system, and it’s used to solid effect here, allowing nuanced control of your shot power. While putting, a grid is overlaid across the green, with the undulations of the surface represented by directional pulses in the grid. It’s an effective visual style, and I actually found it easier to read than the comparable system found in Rory McIlory’s PGA Tour.
The Golf Club certainly plays an enjoyable round of golf, while the laid-back and relaxed music and commentary – provided by Senior Audio Designer John McCarthy – lends a suitably stress-free air to proceedings. There is some repetition to be found, but it doesn’t overextend itself into dull exposition and is often happy to just let you enjoy your game in peace.
A key new addition to Collector’s Edition is Seasons mode which lets you work your way through five seasons of golf from Local Club level to Elite. You can find a nice sense of progression here which I imagine was missing from the game originally, and makes it feel like a more complete package, though owners of the original are able to purchase the mode as DLC.
Yet it still feels like a budget package, emphasised at the outset by the extremely bare-bones character designer, though it’s still packed with an impressive amount of content for an independent title. Given that it lacks any licensing beyond Greg Norman’s Course Designer, there aren’t any big names here, nor official tournaments, but thanks to that course designer users have been busy recreating real world courses to download alongside fictional creations that will keep you playing for months to come.
One of the nicest things about The Golf Club is the way it deals with asymmetrical multiplayer, loading in ghost data of friends and other players so you can play alongside them, attempt to emulate their shots, or feel smug when you out-drive them off the tee. You can also play a live online session with up to three opponents, though this is somewhat less essential given how good the experience is using ghost data.
The game’s menus move about swiftly, and its fuss-free presentation can have you playing a round of golf in a satisfyingly short period of time. In-game loading between holes is non-existent, making playing a whole round of 18 an accessible and immediate affair, which is welcome after years of often laborious golf games. It’s a trick that Rory McIlroy’s title has recently cribbed from though, making it less of the advantage it was when The Golf Club originally released a year ago.
The biggest detraction from The Golf Club Collector’s Edition is the game’s performance. It isn’t an unattractive looking game, as long as it remains static, but as soon as there is movement of any kind the problems become obvious, with severe pop-in of both textures and course furniture, frame rate drops and some horrendous screen-tearing. The combination of these on some courses should probably carry a seizure warning.
Things fare slightly better on courses with fewer details such as Royal Balwearie, but it’s wholly disappointing to see problems such as this on the PS4. Comparably, while Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour has some pop-in, but the Frostbite 3 engine allowed for the creation of some fantastic courses and lighting effects that are far beyond those The Golf Club is capable of.
One final performance issue that The Golf Club has is the “noisy fan syndrome”, making the PS4 sound like it’s about to take off and giving the assumption that the game simply hasn’t been optimised to run efficiently. Though it’s a year down the line, hopefully it’s something that’ll be remedied in a future update, as I actually found myself having to turn the volume up on my television, such was the noise. It doesn’t quite coincide with the relaxed feel that the game has aimed for.
One of the most interesting facets of the game is Greg Norman’s Golf Course Designer, though quite why he only endorsed this segment of the game is anyone’s guess. You choose from one of eleven themes, which range from Highland to Desert to Tropical. You’re then able to make changes to the terrain, with broad settings for trees, water and hills, while you can see the changes occur to the landscape in the background. The game noticeably hangs up after you’ve changed anything, slowing down what is otherwise an exceptionally swift creation tool.
The final steps are to set the course difficulty and the number of holes it features and then you’re nearly ready to go. Your finished course is playable at this point, but you’re missing out on a few key options that will make it uniquely yours. You can edit each hole’s par, before getting into the nitty-gritty of terrain options such as raising or lower the landscape, adding hillocks or other items as you see fit. The camera in this mode is rather unruly, moving extremely fast and proving so difficult to wrangle that you will barely see the hole you’re working on. It’s workable, but far from ideal.
Once you’re happy with your creation you can publish it to PSN or Xbox Live for yourself and others to play on, and given its relative simplicity, I can see plenty of players trying it out. The key problem is that if you’ve added a heavy amount of terrain detail you’re only adding to that course’s pop-in and screen-tearing issues. It may force you to think again about what you want your course to look like, especially as with a more subdued course design, the whole experience runs in a much more amenable fashion.
The Golf Club Collector’s Edition is a well-featured and enjoyable game, only held back by the lack of licensed content and performance issues that hamper the fun. The asynchronous multiplayer lends plenty of real-world competition to the proceedings, and the course designer is a powerful tool in the right hands. Its more serious tone may not be to everyone’s taste, but the fact that HB Studios has created an indie title that can genuinely contend with EA’s monolithic PGA franchise makes it worthy of attention.
Version Tested: PS4