A few years ago The Golf Club was a plucky independent that was able to offer a genuine alternative to EA’s AAA golfing offerings. HB Studios were so successful with their rough and ready take on the sport that, as EA stuck their own exploits on a pemanent hiatus, The Golf Club has had an unhindered run at things ever since. Now, with the arrival of the 2019 edition, HB Studios have not only created their best ever take on the sport, but one of the best golf games in recent memory.
There’s literally everything you could hope for here, whether it’s a fully-fledged single player campaign through the PGA Tour (the licensing for which must have EA spitting feathers), faithful replicas of a handful of Tournament Players Club courses, local and online multiplayer, the return of last year’s popular Societies, the introduction of Skins matches, and the ability to design your own course. This 2019 edition really is the culmination of everything that’s gone before, and while it’s more about refinement than revolution, golfing fans will find a near endless amount of content here.
Control is precise, and the feedback provided is designed to help you adjust your swing as you progress. Backswing tempo affects the power and control of your shot, while downswing affects what kind of spin you’re going to get. Broadly, a fast backswing lowers your accuracy, while too slow sees you lose power, while in the downswing if you go fast you’ll hook your shot while going slower will slice it.
This being the third Golf Club game I’ve played, the swing speed just felt smooth and natural, and I was able to hit the ball accurately nearly every time. It’s perfectly intuitive and makes an enjoyable amount sense, so to reduce the power of your shots means you reduce the length of your backswing.
The meters that show how you’re doing with tempo sit to the left of your main swing gauge and are a big improvement in helping you to perfect your swing. While the central swing gauge is obvious – you’re supposed to be pulling back and pushing forwards, with it narrowing depending on the difficulty of the shot – the tempo gauges show where you need to be in terms of rhythm, and where you’re hanging on too long or rushing the movement. Once you’ve settled into how to take a good stroke – I really don’t want to say “the swing of things” – you likely won’t refer to any of the gauges too much, apart from the odd occasion where it all goes wrong.
As in previous entries you’re given access to pretty much the full array of shots you could want, allowing you to customise every single swing depending on the situation. Whether you need a chip shot or a flop shot, it’s all in here, and of course you’re carrying a full bag of virtual clubs with which to actually hit those little balls into those distant and only marginally bigger holes.
It seems as though HB Studios have really got a grip on the Unity engine this time out, and there’s been a big jump in visual quality, at least while running on a half-decent PC. The courses look luscious and crisp, the crowds are lively even if they’re not lifelike, and there’s a great deal less pop-in apparent, especially during actual play. It’s not got the blockbuster feel of EA’s last outing, but it’s much more consistent which is likely to be far more important in the long run.
The character creator has received a nice update too, and you should be able to make something that looks pretty close to you, or someone else if you prefer. Along with enhanced appearance options that give you more control than ever before, there’s new licensed apparel, club heads and, perhaps most importantly, new facial hair, for you to spruce up that avatar.
The course editor also remains as user friendly as before, with a few welcome tweaks that improve things incrementally. To begin with you can choose the type of setting and alter the details of the landscape using simple sliders to dictate the level of water, raise or lower the terrain, or simply change the number of trees on the course.
Once you’re happy with the starting point you can drop into the course as it’s been procedurally generated and set to work making it truly your own, with the dedicated amongst you liable to continue recreating every golf course in the known, and unknown, world. Thankfully, if you’ve already put hundreds of hours into perfecting your courses in The Golf Club 2, it’s a nice and easy process to import your courses to this year’s edition.
The Golf Club 2019 sounds even better than its predecessors with the addition of broadcaster Luke Elvy to the commentary team, though it feels as though he’s been slightly under-utilised, with a great deal of the leg work still being done by laidback veteran Golf Club commentator John McCarthy. Still, it makes the experience feel much closer to a television broadcast, and helps this new outing to feel like a much bigger production than the previous games.
For golf fans, The Golf Club 2019 featuring PGA Tour should be an essential purchase. It’s the refinement of all of HB Studios previous work, and while the series may have started out as an indie underdog it now feels like a AAA sports franchise.
Score : 9/10
Version Tested: PC – also available on PS4 and Xbox One