With EA announcing it will not be releasing a golf sim in 2014, there's now room for a rival - which would previously have been crushed by the marketing might of Tiger and chums - to present its alternative. Especially if it's one with a different take on the best way to spoil a good walk. With tons of systems working at once, the Tiger Woods series can be intimidating for newcomers, with a mountain of things in the way of the golf itself. Long load screens, microtransactions and lots of time in the menus were just some of the things detracting from the time on the course. This is where The Golf Club shines.
Still in Steam Early Access, The Golf Club is a game built on a simple foundation: it's you versus the course. There are no new clubs to improve your power or swerve, no new putters to better accuracy, no XP to level up your golfer. Every player is on par with each other, and it's all about how you handle the course in front of you.
Speaking of courses, The Golf Club features a bespoke creator, using very simple tools, for players to design their own holes. You start by choosing the basic appearance - alpine, desert and so on - before setting parameters like how many trees and sandtraps are littered throughout. Once these are set, the game builds a course within a matter of seconds, which you can then adjust to your heart's content or jump straight in and play without out the hindrance of load times. It feels very LittleBigPlanet, though more welcoming, while maintaining complexity should players wish to delve deeper.
Sadly, there are no officially licensed courses. Though that's a shame, with the ability to craft your own course, there are already examples of Augusta and other real-world courses being uploaded by users.
The simplicity continues on the course. You can't add spin to the ball after it's hit, only being able to add loft, fade and draw before taking a shot. Playing in such a pared-back but realistic manner reminds you how difficult golf is: one slight error and you'll find yourself two strokes back.
Putting is naturally the most challenging part of the game, made more frustrating because you can't manipulate the camera to get a good read of the green when far away from the hole. The camera does a swooping motion past your player and then above the hole, which doesn't give you a good view of the grid.
The commentary also feels more personal than in other sports games. HB Studios uses its audio engineer to do the voice-over for the game, meaning that if any new phrases need to be added, they can be done much sooner than in other sports titles (take FIFA's stagnant commentary track as a prime example), which would require either an outside actor coming in or hours in the audio room cutting clips from real-world commentary. The Early Access version has a bespoke welcome for early adopters, for example, and although it lacks the conversational dialogue that other, two-man commentaries have, it has a freshness that few games outside of 2K Sports can offer.
Thanks to the use of the cloud, you can also add up to three ghost rivals to play a round with. You can opt to either take turns or all play at once, all watching the balls fly along the fairway together. Being in Early Access, many of the courses don't have a wide range of scores yet, but you can still just play the course alone.
Though there isn't a progression system, the sheer number of courses to play through and attempt to improve your score on should be enough to keep coming back. With new courses uploaded every day, there's always something new to play. Naturally, I can't vouch for the qualities of all of these, but there are sure to be few gems that pop up.
With The Golf Club set to launch on Xbox One, PS4 and PC soon - the developers are hoping to get the game out before the British Open, which starts on July 13th - you don't have long to wait to see how the final version of the game will play. But even in this Early Access build, the game looks very promising indeed: a wonderfully relaxing game of golf that does nothing to impede the player from the course.