I love the game of golf. I love everything about it. To quote the late great Arnold Palmer, “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect….”. Everything this quote embodies about golf itself is mirrored in EA Sports PGA Tour. It is deceptively simple in its premise, but if you don’t operate with reserve and caution, it will be tough sledding for even the most seasoned of virtual duffers.
Like most other sports games I play, I began EA Sports PGA Tour by creating my own player and heading over to Career Mode. Once you go through the character creation menus, which were surprisingly short, you have the option to choose which level of play you want to start at. I elected to start at the bottom and try to work my way up to the PGA Tour. I immediately jumped into my first event, the Latin America Amateur Championship, which was being played at the Teeth of the Dog course in the Dominican Republic. I recognized it right away from when I used to watch The Big Break on Golf Channel.
After I easily battered the field and won that tournament by 16 shots, I wondered if I had the difficulty on too easy. It just so happens that by winning the Latin America Amateur Championship, I secured my place in The Masters for the very next tournament. Keen to earn my first green jacket (of many, hopefully), I hopped into Augusta National and attempted the first round.
To say that I was humbled immediately would be the gaming understatement of the year for me so far. A first-round score of +8 quickly brought me back down to earth after winning the previous tournament with a –24 score. All these years of watching The Masters on TV did not help my course knowledge, and it showed.
Thankfully, EA Sports PGA Tour has an incredible number of challenges to show you the basics of the game, how to adjust for different lies, different situations, course management, and a wealth of other options. These challenges are the best way I’ve found to earn in-game currency to spend on a number of different things, such as equipment (different clubs to put in your golf bag), apparel for your player to wear, upgrades (items to be used to upgrade your player’s stats), and more. Some of the challenges are very simple and straightforward, and some of them are downright diabolical.
“The absolute best thing about EA Sports PGA Tour is how it looks.”
Tournament play can be a bit of a slog in EA Sports PGA Tour, however. There are only two options for how long a tournament is played: full length, which is four 18-hole rounds, or where you only play the influential holes of a round. These two couldn’t be more opposite if they tried, and if there were an option, like in PGA Tour 2K23, to play two 18-hole rounds for a complete tournament, I’d be much happier. I love the gameplay a lot, but sometimes I want to move on from a tournament but can’t because I still have to play the last two rounds.
The online sections of EA Sports PGA Tour are where things start treading on rocky terrain, and not for the reason you’d think. Coming from playing the FIFA series for so long, I’d gotten used to the constant complaints about the servers being terrible, causing disconnects and things like that, but that wasn’t the case here. I had absolutely no issue with the servers whatsoever. The issue I had was that there was no one on the server to play against.
Multiple times, I tried to play a game online against another person and let the matchmaking find me a worthy opponent, but I could only ever find one other person. Total. And that is across two different game modes as well. There is a Competitive mode and a Social mode for online play in EA Sports PGA Tour, and Social managed to find me an opponent after repeated attempts to search. Each lobby for Competitive and Social can hold 16 players, so it wasn’t even that there was no one local….there was no one at all.
“The online sections of EA Sports PGA Tour are where things start treading on rocky terrain, and not for the reason you’d think.”
Visually, EA Sports PGA Tour is very good. Even though it only runs at 30fps on PS5 and Xbox, I never experienced any slow-down or stuttering when the game would render the next hole or follow the flight of the ball after my shot. The beauty of Amen Corner at Augusta, and the openness of Hole 7 at Pebble Beach are amazingly captured and keep me coming back to be amazed by these places I’ve been dreaming of seeing in real life for a very long time.
The absolute best thing about EA Sports PGA Tour is how it looks. Each pre-rendered scene or new hole to play is a delight to see. Courses like Pebble Beach and Banff Springs really showcase the beauty that a golf course can provide. In short, this is the best-looking sports game I have ever played.
EA has gone to great lengths to ensure that each course in EA Sports PGA Tour is recreated as accurately as possible. The Frostbite engine is on full display to bring as true-to-life of a representation as I have ever seen of each and every course, down to small details, like the way the ball reacts on the fairways of St. Andrews compared to Teeth of the Dog.
“Making sure that you place your shots in the best possible position to set yourself up for success on the next shot is paramount in EA Sports PGA Tour.“
In terms of the number of courses, EA has put 30 different courses into EA Sports PGA Tour. There are 30 courses, spanning the globe, from Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada, to St. Andrews in Scotland, to Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic. Between all of those courses available, players will have no problem choosing their favourite and getting on the first tee for a round.
The gameplay itself is very straightforward and easy to learn. You use one of your analog sticks to swing the club and the other one to adjust the spin on the ball. Months and months of using Pinpoint pitching in MLB The Show put me in a good place to get very comfortable with the required stick movements to hit the ball straight consistently.
While I do feel that the gameplay is easy to learn, it can have a very sharp learning curve in practice. There was a lot of trial and error when it came to learning how to shape a shot or how much to underpower a shot when I was in between clubs, etc. Making sure that you place your shots in the best possible position to set yourself up for success on the next shot is paramount in EA Sports PGA Tour.
Course management is something I found myself doing so much more in this game than I do in real life on the course. The most important shot in golf is the next one, and that is very evident when playing this game.
All in all, I enjoyed my time with EA Sports PGA Tour, and it will be in my regular game rotation next to MLB The Show 23 and Gran Turismo 7. The online ghost town is a very unfortunate thing to have experienced, especially since the rest of the game is really well done. With more live content coming in the near future, hopefully, more players will arrive on the course because there is a lot to be happy with here.