The Golf Club comes to us at a time when EA has put Tiger on hiatus, suspending the officially licensed series that has dominated the golf game market for the last decade. This presents a great opportunity for a new challenger – enter The Golf Club, a golf sim whose headline feature is the possibility to never play the same course twice, thanks to an in-built course designer.
At the centre of any sports sim is the sport itself, and the sport here happens to be golf. I came into the Golf Club as something of a golf sim newbie – I have dabbled but never hung around for long. I booted up The Golf Club for the first time hoping to find some tutorials or videos to get me started, however after some time it became apparent that this is not a title for the impatient or uninitiated; this tour around the greens is hardened stuff, and comes with an expectation that you know your putter from your 9 iron. That said, there are all manner of tutorials on the game’s official website.
When you find yourself on the tee for the first time, ready to smack the ball down the fairway and onto almost certain frustration, it’s up to you to figure out the controls and all of The Golf Club’s other little intricacies. There are no shot trajectory graphics on show here, no power bar to aim for, no gimmicks, bells or whistles. Instead, at the start, it’s just you, a badly dressed man, and the right analogue stick. Dial the stick down for power, and swing it back up to strike the ball. It’s as simple as that. Well, sort of.
The Golf Club has a steep learning curve, sure, but after several trips to the bushes, bunkers and bar, you start to pick up on the finesse the title’s controls require. Before long, I found myself cruising around the holes picking up bogeys and even the occasional par. Yes I know that doesn’t sound great, but as a self taught sim-golfer, I’m pretty pleased with that.
You can choose to take on a single, randomly generated hole, an entire course, or even enter a tournament with other players. On several occasions during my time with The Golf Club, I chose to play a course either created by another player or one of the several pre-made representations of real world golf-courses, and here I ran into one of The Golf Clubs more intuitive features. My march around the fairways was joined by several other players, in “ghost” form – this added a real edge to play, as I was eager not to completely show myself up.
Needless to say, I failed, ending up no closer than 5 shots behind my nearest rival on every occasion. The other players are represented by colourful on-screen lines and curves, showing their shot trajectories. It would have been great to have this option as a live player, to be able to show a shot trajectory seems like an obvious feature to me, even just as a way to get to grips with the controls and intricacies of the game.
The Golf Clubs headline feature is its Greg Norman branded Course Designer, which offers players the chance to never play the same course twice. With a few button presses, you can create a randomly generated course that is totally unique. First you select a course theme, with Rural, Alpine, Autumn and Desert among the available options, then you dial in the amount of tree, water and hill cover you want, and the game engine goes to work creating a new landscape for you to gawk at. The best elements of the course creator are found in the finer details – think Sim City’s terrain editor, throw in a load of golf options and you’re there. If you have the patience, you can carve out the golf course of your dreams, adding lakes, bridges, fairways and bunkers until your heart’s content.
The course creator is a great idea, for golf enthusiasts the tools on offer here are brilliant. However, The Golf Club suffers a fate so often seen in ambitious projects such as this: bright ideas let down by bad implementation. Every button press in The Golf Club is a slow, laborious exercise. From the pause menu to the course creator, The Golf Club suffers from crippling lag. In the Course Designer, for example, you can expect a wait of around 5 seconds to place one bunker, the onscreen load indicator frozen in place, giving no indication of what is happening in the background. I suffered several glitches and crashes in my time with The Golf Club – but thankfully the Xbox One remained responsive throughout and I was able to close the game and restart without powering down. The bugs will likely be ironed out after release, but the lag is a fundamental flaw.
If The Golf Club was a beautiful title with next-gen lighting perhaps the lag could be forgiven, but given that it looks like decidedly last-gen, things just go from bad to worse. Rough edges, flaky foliage and horrible v-sync issues make it look like a title running on out-of- date hardware at the start of a new generation. The PC version is likely your best bet; the Course Designer in particular would be far easier to use with a mouse and keyboard.
VERDICT: The Golf Club promises a lot but falls down on its implementation. Golf fans will find a lot to like here, though, with the Designer and the solid gameplay providing an expansive experience. Unfortunately, last-gen visuals and a series of frustrating issues make this a hard game to recommend to all but the golf obsessed.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.