It was what seems like a lifetime ago in 1990 when EA Sports was a blossoming brand on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, and they released the first PGA Tour. While other golf games continued to evolve the formula with some excellent examples (I’m looking at you Neo Turf Masters), it was Electronic Arts who embraced the PGA licensing to become the recognized leader in digital golf. Over the years, PGA Tour continued to evolve and would eventually dominate the market due a licensing deal with Tiger Woods.
In 2013, EA ended its licensing agreement with Tiger Woods and, since that time, had only released a single entry: the poorly received Rory McIlroy PGA Tour in 2015. With PGA Tour: Road to the Masters, EA has decided to drop the player endorsement and instead focus on being the sole golf game on the market that features all four major tournaments, including The Masters (and thus, Augusta National Golf Course).
I’ve always been enamored with golf games, and, to be honest, I’m not even sure why. I have fond memories of renting PGA Tour games for the Genesis and spending hundreds of hours through the years climbing the leaderboards. As you can imagine, then, I had been greatly anticipating the return of PGA Tour since its announcement in 2021.
Living the Dream
Naturally, my first point of order in PGA Tour Road to the Masters was to create my likeness and get prepared to earn a spot on the Tour. After creating my Ted Lasso doppelgänger using the rather standard-fare character creator, I was introduced to the PGA Tour’s career mode structure.
You have a number of options at the start of your journey toward being sized for a green jacket. You can begin as an amateur and work your way through events to eventually earn your place on the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours. Or, if you are looking to move right into the heart of professional competition, you can begin directly at the PGA Tour if you prefer. The career mode also features real-life scenarios, such as winning an Amateur tournament and getting an honorary entry to the U.S. Open and The Masters, early promotion based on event wins, and the full seasonal points system at each level.
One of the best features of PGA Tour is the inclusion of some of the biggest licenses in the sport. This means it’s the only golf game on the market that features all four golf majors, including the U.S. Open, The PGA Championship, The Open Championship, and The Masters. It also features an impressive 30 courses at launch and several of the biggest sponsor brands in the sport. Whether you’re a golf aficionado, someone who merely appreciates the sport, or anywhere in-between, you’re sure to appreciate the range of realistic content provided.
As you play you’ll earn experience based on your performance, and you’ll be given skill points. While generally straight-forward, what’s unique in PGA Tour is that there are unique shot types you can unlock on your upgrade path. And, as you improve your overall skill level, you improve your competency with each shot type. It’s an interesting approach and one that I’ve come to appreciate the more I’ve played. In the theme of being a simulation, it makes sense that your overall skill level would improve over time. But, providing players with options for specific shot types is certainly a nice addition.
While playing through the career mode is generally what you would expect, there is one glaring omission which just so-happens to also be my largest gripe with the game currently. When playing events, you have two options: you can play the full, 4-day, 18 hole schedule like in real-life, or you can play a modified “Quick” version. Using the Quick setting, the tournament is still 4 rounds, but on each day you only play a few holes while the rest is simulated for you. Neither of these suffice for the average player.
Playing the realistic option of 72 holes over 4 sessions is excellent, of course, but it takes a very long time. My average 18-hole round was about 45 minutes, which means you’d have to spend 3+ hours of game time for every single tournament. Meanwhile, I’m genuinely not sure why the Quick option was implemented at all. By only playing a few holes, you leave your tournament up to the CPU simulation. For instance, I once shot -3 over the 6 holes I played, but I ended the day at a +1 because the CPU simulated the rest of my round at +4. So even though I shot well, I was left over par.
While I understand wanting to follow the 4-day presentation for tournaments, it’s simply not a good option. I sincerely hope that EA implements the system from the 2K series which lets you choose how many days each tournament runs for. That way you play all the holes yourself, but can finish tournaments in your choice of 1-4 sessions.
All that said, PGA Tour does give players a wide range of settings to choose from to fine-tune their experience across the modes. Whether a new player, or a seasoned digital golfer, you’ll be able to find a way to enjoy your time on the courses.
A New Standard
Developers aiming to re-create iconic courses in golf games have always faced a daunting task. With so many courses, and so many variations down to the smallest detail, it’s always a major challenge to replicate them. Of course, as technology has advanced, so have the re-creations. And now, sitting at the pinnacle is PGA Tour Road to the Masters.
EA hasn’t been shy about the efforts they have put into re-creating these iconic courses, but, as with any press presentation, I’m always a little jaded until I experience it for myself. Having spent a few dozen hours now playing the classics, however, I can honestly say they weren’t selling a false bill of goods. PGA Tour’s 30 courses have been reconstructed down to the finest detail, and the presentation of them is nothing short of spectacular.
This was never more evident than during The Masters this past weekend when I would finish watching some of the tournament and then login to play a round at Augusta myself. Not only could I recognize each hole, green, and obstacle based on what I was watching moments prior, but it also affected how I chose my shots. From the cuts of grass to the surrounding foliage, the undulations, and changing winds, PGA Tour re-creates the experience of playing a real course better than any golf game before it.
The ability for a golf game to immerse you in the experience is one of my favorite aspects about them. Sitting on your couch and being transported to a serene day at Pebble Beach is a joy, and PGA Tour excels in this area, too. The courses are stunning and feature beautiful skyboxes, realistic ambient sounds presented in 3D Audio, wildlife, and realistic crowds. If you’re like me and enjoy digital golfing as a form of escapism, you’ll be in heaven here.
Further enhancing the simulation aspects are new ball physics and the addition of the different shot types, 20 in total, that players can utilize. In real golf, different courses have widely varying ways in which a golf ball responds to its surface. And, just like the layouts themselves, game developers have attempted to capture that as realistically as possible. And, as stated before, PGA Tour captures the courses better than ever, and they’ve done the same with ball physics and the ways in which you approach each shot.
Taking into account every single aspect affecting your shot is imperative. If you think you’re going to simply land your ball near the pin at Augusta and find it staying there, you’d be sorely mistaken. Each course offers a different challenge in this regard, and part of the fun is figuring that out while learning from your mistakes. At your disposal to do so is a wide-range of shot types that offer different arcs, spins, and variations in how you strike the ball to counter the conditions. As I noted earlier, with the shot-type competence, it comes into play on nearly every strike of the ball.
It’s these nuances and fine details that make golf the sport it is, and EA Tiburon deserves a gentle, non-intrusive clap for the way in which they’ve captured and presented them.
This sense of realism is further complimented by the presentation. Every hole, on every course, features a full flyover with commentary, a top-down satellite view with key distances marked (including front to back of the green), and even the specific names of each hole, should they have them. Taking it one step further, the commentary team will make remarks about specific holes, how they relate to the course, challenges they present, and even hole history. If you’re someone who truly appreciates the details, they don’t come better than this.
The commentary team in PGA Tour is impressive beyond merely overviews as well. Similar to a live-broadcast, they will point out details relevant to the player, such as good drive angles, obstacles to be aware of, pin placements, and more. There’s also some rather impressive dynamic commentary at play here.
For instance, I had a ball kick off the fringe on a drive and end up in the fairway. The commentator pointed this out specifically and joked about how he could never get a lucky kick like that. It’s these details that serve to immerse you in the experience and enhance the enjoyment of playing. There are a few phrases you’ll hear too often, but they don’t detract from the overall implementation.
Have It Your Way…Sometimes
Despite being the first golf entry from EA Sports in several years, the team at EA Tiburon has done an admirable job of giving players many ways to play. But they come with some caveats, and that, in and of itself, seems to be a running theme throughout PGA Tour.
Outside of the Career mode, players can play any course in stroke play, enter social or ranked online tournaments, play private matches of multiplayer with friends, and take on numerous challenges that both aid your game and re-create iconic moments in golf history. You can also challenge, or play as, a small range of PGA pros, including the LPGA, should you choose. But while it seems fairly fully featured on the surface, there are limitations in a number of options which are rather baffling.
For example, you can setup a private lobby to play with friends. And, unlike some games that limit players to a party of 4, you can have up to 16 players in a private match here. Additionally, all players play their own balls in real-time together, you can see each others’ players and balls on the course, and even watch others on the green if you complete the hole early. Excellent.
However, the options are limited to basic, course-wide settings, such as the pin placement and green firmness. There are no options for handicaps, varying tee-boxes by player, nor game types beyond simple stroke play. Worse yet, certain options don’t work at all even as of this writing nearly a week since early release. For instance, there is no crowd or cheering during a private match even when turned “on” in the settings.
This strange dichotomy between hitting new highs but missing the basics carries throughout PGA Tour in nearly every area, with customization with cosmetics being some others. PGA Tour features licensing from several major brands and allows you to customize your character with different arrangements. You can set a different outfit for each day of a tournament and even customize your bag including head covers, towels, and shoulder-straps. However, you begin with next to nothing, and there is a paltry variety of things to unlock or even ways to unlock them.
The store features cosmetics and club upgrades that you can purchase either with in-game credits or real money. But you don’t earn credits by merely playing the game and leveling your player. No, you only earn credits by completing challenges, quests, or entering online tournaments. It’s not that these are bad necessarily, but not everyone is going to want to spend hours playing challenges or online tournaments, especially when they have zero connection to the career mode. I certainly don’t.
As other live-service games have learned the hard way, forcing players to play specific modes or in specific ways to earn unlockables is simply not a smart design. Whether or not you agree with 2K’s approach to a “Battle Pass” style system in PGA2K, outside of that, the game at least provides players with currency every time you level and offers a wide-arrangement of items to pick from in the store. PGA does neither, and it severely limits character customization which should have been an absolute no-brainer for a game like this.
All that said, I do want to acknowledge the online tournament offerings. They are a fun and unique way to earn rewards through online multiplayer while not forcing you to directly engage with others. Tournaments vary in challenge and settings, and it seems the plan is to offer unique tournaments globally during specific events such as The Masters. Tournaments can be free to enter or require points or “tickets” that can be earned through play or purchased with real money.
Once entered, you play to earn your score and get placed on the global leaderboard. Then, when the event timer is up, you earn a reward pack based on how you placed. It’s a nice addition to the overall package, and having another way to earn rewards at least helps a little with the lack of career-based cosmetics.
It’s also a little disappointing to see multiple currencies in PGA Tour. It’s not egregious, and I understand micro-transactions to a degree, especially as they relate to cosmetics. But this is a full-priced, new-generation title, and it should be easier to earn currency within the core game.
Building a Foundation
It’s clear to me that PGA Tour is EA building the foundational future for their classic IP. And in that vein, they’ve done a tremendous job. The core of PGA Tour, from the courses, to the presentation, to the gameplay itself, is superb. And I see myself spending many, many hours relaxing on the links while listening to some music or a podcast.
That said, it’s also very clear that they are still building, and, as with so many games in today’s industry, they will need to continue to update and refine it over time. In fact, EA Tiburon says this directly on the main site for the game. Features, such as 60fps support on the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles, are in development, as is the option for a more traditional “3-click-swing,” which old-heads like me enjoy (right now you must swing with the analog stick). And I certainly hope they continue to flesh out the options for each mode, particularly in multiplayer.
Beyond usability updates, EA Tiburon has called out a couple specifics, such as new tournaments and courses, as part of the FedExCup and Ryder Cup. This is great to read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how EA continues to evolve the game.
The 2023 major courses including Oak Hill, Los Angeles Country Club, Royal Liverpool as well as Olympia Fields as a part of the FedExCup series and Marco Simone for the Ryder Cup will be released prior to each major championship. We will also be releasing updates alongside golf’s biggest moments like The Majors, FedExCup and Ryder Cup with compelling new content tied to current and historic golf moments for players to enjoy.
As it stands today, I still highly recommend PGA Tour Road to the Masters for anyone who enjoys golf video games, especially if you are a fan of the finer details of the PGA or simulation-style play. While a little rough around the edges and lacking some fairly obvious options (that will hopefully come in the near future), it is still a highly enjoyable round of links. And all signs point to the game continuing to improve in the near future.
For now, I’m off to qualify for The Open. I’ll see you on the Tour.
You can find Seasoned Gaming’s review policy here