It’s a pun!
Golf used to be a staple of video-game lineups purely because it is so simple. Of course there are thousands pf physics-based interactions you could model Forza-style but in essence you hit a ball with a stick until the ball goes in a hole. Repeat. That being said, the PGA Tour series has been less popular over the last few years, possibly partly due to a decline in interest in golfing after Tiger Woods’ scandal. On the Xbox One we’ve had Powerstar Gold – an excellent Arcade-style golf game and now, nearly a year after launch, we’ve finally got a golf simulator with The Golf Club.
The Golf Club allows you to play tournament golf, single rounds or just practise on a simple 3-par hole. There is local multiplayer for up to four players (you can use one controller) and then there are a plethora of custom tournaments and competitions online that can be entered by thousands. Whenever you play you will see the ghosts of other people’s shots and after every hole you will be compared to a global or friends leaderboard to see how you’re doing. In the manual it does say it is possible to play in real-time against online friends but we couldn’t find any way to do it in the review copy, and none of our friends have the game yet so we couldn’t test it out very thoroughly.
Unlike Powerstar Golf and the like the swinging system in The Golf Club requires a lot of skill. You choose a club and type of shot as well as lining up your body, then you can even choose roughly how you want to hit the ball with a complicated diagram that can be modified, but then the actual shot is performed by pulling back on the right stick and then pushing forwards. This gives you a surprising amount of fine control but unfortunately that fine control generally leads to balls going all over the place. When you’re driving it’s relatively simple to use full power and keep it straight, but when you’re putting there’s no indication as to how far you need pull back, you just need to judge it. This element of skill is probably the biggest thing that stands out about The Golf Club and something that will appeal to many. People who are good at putting are actually good at a skill, rather than just reading meters. Sometimes you can intentionally hit a ball slightly wrong to get it to veer to an angle, it feels very precise.
Of course the normal physics interactions apply with wind, gradient, different kinds of clubs and different surfaces. We haven’t been able to skip a ball across the water yet or do anything terribly exciting with trees, but the shots at least interact with them. It would be nice to get a little more information after a shot on what affected it, but sadly any kind of diagnostics are completely absent. There is a statistics section in the menu but it just focuses on furthest shots and your average score.
Graphically the game is functional but never impressive. There are different times of day and some nice reflections but the models are stiff with rigid cloth structures, the tree models are ugly up close and the low resolution on Xbox One does lead to jaggies being prevalent. There’s also an odd effect where the shadows are replaced with higher quality ones at about 200ft and this is performed with a straight line so whenever the camera moves (such as when following a ball) it looks like there’s a huge amount of pop in that is always visible and very offputting. The audio is just as you would expect with the added joy of a sarcastic and irritating caddy who comments on everything you do. Thankfully he doesn’t repeat too often but you will hate him when he comments over and over again on how badly your last shows were.
There is some customisation of your golfers but it’s limited to picking from 6 models (four men and 2 women curiously) and changing the skin of their hats, gloves, trousers, shirts and shoes. There are no different models for the items and they are all unlocked from the very start so it is purely a token feature that doesn’t add anything at all to the gameplay.
The big addition to the package over most golf games is the course editor. This allows you to control a bunch of sliders to procedurally generate a course and then fine tune things as to how you want and then publish it online. All of this works well except for the fine tuning, crafting the landscape with a gamepad is almost impossible and seemingly very buggy, with the elevation tools leading to giant warped bits of land because there’s poor indicators of what is you’re about to do. The procedural generation is nice and has lots of options to make sure you create the kind of hole you want, but trying to make something in particular is just going to be an exercise in frustration.
The final big problem with The Golf Club is the menus. They are slow and unwieldy often taking 20-30 seconds to become active. This could be just because it is still technically pre-launch (but only a matter of hours) and the servers keep dropping connection, but if it translates into the release this would be a big deal. Often you will lose connection and the game will force you to stop playing (there is an alternative cut-down ‘offline mode’) until you regain it. I can’t remember a time that has ever worked well for a game and if you have an unstable internet connection it’s going to be immensely frustrating.
Overall The Golf Club is a clearly competent golf game. There’s a lot of skill involved and infinite course for you to practise on. Unfortunately the presentation is fairly poor and the lack of customisation or progress beyond improving your skill is going to limit the value for more casual golfers. If you’re dying for a ‘proper’ golf game then go for it, you’ll find something to enjoy, but if you’re on the fence we wouldn’t bother.