Making a comeback in golf isn’t easy. It’s been more than half a decade since the last EA Sports PGA Tour game, which featured Rory McIlroy on the cover back in 2015. Since then, the PGA Tour 2K series has filled in the void, providing a solid version of realistic golf simulation that EA now has to contend with. The 2K series even signed Tiger Woods to its franchise several years ago, taking him away as the potential cover athlete from this reboot. Even so, EA Sports PGA Tour has several notable advantages over its rival, even if many parts of the game are unfinished and underworked. The game does enough to land the ball along the edge of the fairway, but its form is still noticeably rusty.
All about The Masters
If you’re looking for a golf game that features all four major championships, including The Masters and its signature Augusta National course, then EA Sports PGA Tour is the only one in town. You can get fairly close to playing this in PGA Tour 2K23 with its course creator, but it wouldn’t be the official version. In fact, EA Sports PGA Tour was intentionally delayed a few weeks out of March so it could release around the same time as The Masters in April, if just to make a point.
Along with the surprisingly strong commentary and the wonderful fly-by videos for every hole, the game’s depiction of Augusta National is spot-on. Having to navigate its notoriously thin fairways between the trees and its fast, hilly greens made me groan with appreciative frustration. It’s a peculiar experience watching The Masters tournament in real life while playing the course in the game, but it made me better understand how difficult, say, Amen’s Corner would be to survive without dropping a shot or two.
EA Sports PGA Tour brings the same level of detail to all of its courses, at least in terms of the painstaking process of making every hole look like their real-life counterparts. The game comes with a whopping 30 courses right out of the gate, which is a huge improvement over its Rory McIlroy predecessor that only came with about a dozen courses at launch. So while the lack of a course creator somewhat limits the lifespan of the game, there’s plenty of content to master and the developer will release more courses in due time.
It's swings and roundabouts
The game’s swing mechanics and shot-making are manageable for the most part, but they’re rather rough around the corners. While I prefer the three-click swing, which is a feature EA promises will be added later, using the analog stick to pull down for back swing and then up for the follow-through isn’t difficult to understand or do consistently. The right analog stick makes performing draws and fades easy, and there are several options to make putting and swinging as challenging as you’d like. After turning on a few assists and spending a few hours getting accustomed to the putt preview and the putting grid, I was making birdies left and right.
That said, the swing meter isn’t as refined as it could be. There’s an awkward delay between the upswing and downswing that’s hard to judge accurately. No matter how fast I pulled up on the analog stick, the game said my downswing was too slow. Perhaps if there was a driving range, which is surprisingly absent here, I would have been able to decipher exactly what was happening. I got used to it eventually, but it would have been better if the tempo for a swing could be customized more than just a simple setting in the character creator. There are also times when the circular meter is hard to see against a while background or so thin relative to the camera that it’s difficult to tell where the sweet spot is.
Also strangely absent are an indicator for the lie of the ball and vital information on hole elevation white putting on the green. How your ball rests on the ground, particularly the slope of the lie, can impact where you need to aim. In Everybody’s Golf, this info is easily shown in a corner that tells you the tilt of the slope, but that interface is missing here. On top of that, while you’re on the putting green, the indicator for hole elevation will cut off the inches if it’s beyond one foot in either direction. So if the hole is, say, above you anywhere between 1 foot and 1 foot 11 inches, all it says in the box is “1 FT.” That can make judging the strength of your putt nigh-impossible unless you have putt preview on. I remember this being an issue in past PGA Tour games and that problem unfortunately still persists here.
Take your best shot
Fortunately, I was able to mitigate most of these UI issues by either going through the options or by using one of the many special shots that have been added to the game. Each golfer on the pro roster has stats in various categories, like Power, Driver Accuracy, and Approach Control, and if they meet the minimum requirements, the golfer will gain access to cool shots like the Pick or Finesse. Having these tricks in the bag broadens shot selection while giving you a chance to get out of the rough or a bunker, or prevent you from being there in the first place.
On the subject of the roster, EA Sports PGA Tour sidesteps the whole controversy between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour. You can even select players like Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter to play in PGA Tour tournaments, so it’s up to you whether that’s a problem or not. For comparison, PGA Tour 2K23 decided to remove all players on the LIV Golf tour from its roster for realism.
Anyway, this nifty upgrade to shot-making makes Career Mode far more engaging, as I leveled up my character from an amateur to a proper professional. You don’t have to start a new character in the amateur ranks, as you can bypass it at the start, but I enjoyed the experience (and the extra experience points) for doing so. The developer was also smart to include both the Masters and U.S. Open as the second and third events in the amateur season. After about sixteen rounds of eighteen holes, my golfer could finally perform High Flop shots to mitigate challenging greens, Pick shots to get out of the bunker with ease, and the Texas Wedge for when I thought the putter would be easier to handle than a tricky pitch or punch shot.
Better yet, you can earn experience points — the bulk of which is gained just by completing holes — for your custom character in any available mode, be it offline or online. Both local and multiplayer modes have plenty of options to choose from whether it’s ranked competitive or unranked social. And since the game supports simultaneous online play for up to 16 players, it’s fairly easy to get in and out quickly. The main downside is that multiplayer doesn’t support turn-based play apart from local co-op, leaving no option to gather a group of friends online and watch each other take turns like you’re on a course together. The game also doesn’t support multiple players using their own custom characters in local co-op, so it sounds like there are technical limitations preventing both of these features from happening.
Over time, you’ll gather enough reward points to purchase clothing from the shop, though you’ll likely try to save enough up to obtain a spec, since that actually improves your golfer’s skills. Surprisingly, the game only allows you to use real money to purchase currency for buying cosmetics and tickets for tournaments, so you actually need to play the game to earn specs. That’s right, you don’t need to worry about pay-to-win lootboxes or some kind of Ultimate Team mode in an EA Sports title. It’s a minor miracle.
Right into the sand trap
Where EA Sports PGA Tour falters the most is the character creator, which is almost criminally barebones when compared to past PGA Tour games and other sports franchises. All you can really choose here is a face from among about 50 presets, your body size between two types, and a few touch-ups for eye color and hair. That’s about it. There are no options to tweak body parts or to scan your game face. Sure, you can dress your character in different colored polo shirts, khakis, and shoes from the in-game store, but chances are that you won’t be able to create a character that looks like you or one that you’ll be completely happy with.
Worse, their reaction animations on the course are as stiff and generic as stock footage and sometimes they’re just wrong or awkward. It would have been much better to let us choose the emotion of the golfer after a shot so that it feels appropriate. The character models for the crowd are lifeless and blocky as well. Though the audio for the crowd rises and falls appropriately, their animations remain rather static.
Overall, EA Sports PGA Tour feels like it was rushed and that it needed a proper beta to iron out the issues. Menu navigation is sluggish, the camera can get wonky at times, and you can’t skip the intro video for a course. The developer could make rounds more dynamic by allowing an option to show all the experience points you gain with every shot, adding hole-based challenges, or increasing the XP earned by turning off assists and raising the overall difficulty. Also, making an eagle, chip-in, or long putt could be highlighted more effectively, while winning a major championship could be rewarded with something more than holding up a trophy for eight seconds or so.
Up and down golf
As a comeback, EA Sports PGA Tour performs well enough to compete with PGA 2K23 on fairly even footing. The inclusion of all four majors, the solid ball physics, the wider arsenal of shots, and the long list of official courses are impressive, though the presentation can be flat, laggy, and rough. If EA decides to turn this into an annualized sports franchise, the next installment will need to revamp the character creator and rework the user interfaces. Despite the game's flaws, though, I can still see myself casually playing it throughout the year alongside other sports games like MLB The Show 23. It’s been a while since we’ve seen two established developers battle each other within the same sport, and I’m all for it. At the very least, golf games will be made all the better from the competition.
This review is based on a retail Xbox Series X|S code supplied by the publisher.
EA Sports PGA Tour
- All four major golf championships, including The Masters
- Good ball physics
- Strong commentary, nice fly-bys
- Thirty courses right out of the box
- Wider arsenal of shot types
- No Ultimate Team or pay-to-win lootboxes
- Extremely barebones character creator
- Limited swing customization, no driving range
- Lifeless crowds and character animations
- Very laggy menus
- No indicator for the lie of the ball