‘The Golf Club’ Review

Platforms Xbox One and PC [PS4 at later date]

Publisher/Developer HB Studios

Genre Sports    Platform Played Xbox One

Sports games as a general rule have always fallen into one of two categories: a realistic approach to the sport which abides by all rules and laws of physics or a more “fun” approach which places less emphasis on reality in favour of lighting players on fire, enlarging their heads, or giving players supermoves to use on the field. The Golf Club is certainly the former, although it does find a way to embrace over-the-top creativity if the player is so inclined.

There are several modes available in The Golf Club, the first of which is akin to a practice mode, offering players a fairly simple hole to play. The practice hole has minimal wind, virtually nonexistent slopes, and an easy shot to the green. The green itself is large and flat, allowing players to hone their putting skills once on the turf. This practice is far more useful than one may initially assume as there is no tutorial and the help screen which informs you of the controls is incredibly minimalistic. The screen informs you which buttons or sticks control which aspect of play, but it does not instruct you on how to modify the strength of your shots. Considering that shooting the ball exactly how you like is crucial to not only playing golf, but playing it well, this is a significant omission. I tried experimenting with several different techniques but being unsure of what was actually affecting the shot led to confusion until I located the following video.

The second game mode available is to simply play golf, whether it be a single round, a tour, or a tournament. An important detail to note is that if you choose to play offline, you will not be able to play tours or tournaments, and you will be limited to the 19 in-game courses created by HB Studios. While playing through these modes, you will traverse a single course once, several courses, or replay a single course several times, all depending on which mode you choose and which particular course/tournament/tour you choose. So long as you are online, you will be given live or “ghost” opponents to play alongside, allowing you to compete against them, see each of their shots, and depending on your skill level, make you feel better about your abilities or enrage you as you struggle to keep up.

The aspect of The Golf Club with the broadest appeal is easily the course creation mode. This allows players to create their own golf courses with up to 18 holes, choosing a few broad options such as environment to lay the ground work, but then allowing for a great deal of customization beyond that. Players are able to place various objects wherever they would like across the course (and even the general area surrounding the course), modify the amount of shrubbery, water, and sand traps, mould them exactly how they like, shape the land, create hills or valleys, and countless other modifications. This creation tool can be taken as seriously as creating a gorgeous course in the middle of an alpine forest and replicating real courses or taken to the ridiculous extreme of placing a massive cargo ship or tree directly in the middle of the fairway. Once the course is completed to the satisfaction of the player, it can be saved and even published, allowing others to play the course and rate it.

Returning to the topic of gameplay and controls, there is certainly a steep learning curve associated with playing The Golf Club. If you do not take the time to learn how to correctly adjust to wind speeds, slopes on the green, and varying the strength of your hits, you will not come remotely close to par on any of the courses. The physics engine utilized in creating this game is fantastic, but is merciless towards unprepared and unskilled players. Putting forth the effort to learn how the game handles can be an absolutely infuriating experience, especially when playing against ghosts of far better players. However, after a day or so of playing and adapting, there is noticeable difference in skill level. Some may feel that investing that amount of time into learning how to play a game well while you see others doing far better is not worth it, but the game becomes significantly more enjoyable once you understand how to read the holes.

To aid you in playing courses, the game has a number of useful features such as spotting the pin, slowly scouting the course from overhead beginning with where you stand, giving you a static overhead map of the course with distance markers every 50 yards, wind direction indicator, and a grid on the green informing you not only of which ways the green slopes, but how severely. Each of these may be turned off from the pause menu if you would rather a more challenging game, although they are invaluable in the quest for a good score.

While playing this title, I encountered a handful of issues which took away from my experience as a whole. Considering there is a phenomenal course creation mode, the options for customizing your golfer are disappointing as they are fairly limited. The caddy the game assigns you is also a nuisance, particularly if you are trying to learn the game. There will be times when his comments are helpful such as recommending you adjust your shot to compensate for being on a hill, but in instances where you narrowly miss the pin, miss par, or land in the rough, he comes across as sarcastic. After hearing “Gotta hate missing par,” for the fifth time on a single course, the desire to continue playing takes a huge blow. The most significant downsides I experienced are undoubtedly the lack of a proper tutorial and the severely limited game options when playing without an internet connection. Most players will likely have internet connections, but there is noticeable lag when loading menus online, and playing offline removes most of your options for game modes and courses.

As titles within the sporting genre get more realistic, there are a number of sports which require far more attention to detail than others due to the many various factors which affect play. Golf is one of these sports with elements such as wind, course slope, environmental hazards, ball physics, and human error all influencing how a single hole is played. Fortunately, HB Studios seems to have meticulously considered each of the aforementioned and the end result is a true golf simulator.

The game is not without its issues, but most of them are minor and easily overlooked when focusing on the gameplay itself. The Golf Club is certainly not a game one can pick up expecting to already have mastered, but there is a great sense of satisfaction from learning how to play well. This title definitely targets golf fans as it recreates an authentic golf experience, but even casual golfers may find some enjoyment from the course creation mode or playing through courses as they improve their game. The replay value of this game will depend heavily on the community, as it will be the created courses and tours which really bring players back to the title once they have finished playing through the courses HB Studios has created.

The Good

  • Phenomenal game physics.
  • Extensive course creation mode.
  • Potentially endless content from community.

The Bad

  • Lacking tutorial mode of any kind.
  • No internet connection severely limits available modes.
  • Replay value relies on community creation.

The Score: 7.9