The first two Golf Club games from HB Studios were capable and compelling golf sims, but they lacked the punch of the official PGA Tour license. Thanks to a new deal, HB Studios now has the license, and this--along with solid, smooth swing controls and fine attention to the small details of golf--helps make The Golf Club 2019 a drive forward for the golf simulation series.
The Golf Club 2019 brings six real-world courses to the game, including some of the well-known ones like TPC Sawgrass (home of the Players Championship) and TPC Scottsdale (home of the Phoenix Waste Management Open). The licensed courses are baked into the game's new PGA Tour career mode, with fictional courses filling in the gaps. The six TPC courses are modeled with a fine attention to detail. The famous and dramatic No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass shines in the Florida sun, and I found myself holding my breath teeing it up to the protected island green. The love-it-or-hate-it party hole, No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale, is captured faithfully with its huge stadium-like atmosphere and massive crowds. The Shriners tournament at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas even includes fezzes as tee boxes just like in real life. If you've seen a broadcast or walked any of these courses in person, they will look familiar. The Golf Club 2019 is a good-looking game, particularly when playing at dusk with sunspots peeking through the clouds. And there is a fine attention to the small details. The distinctive cracking sound of a well-struck drive reflects what you hear on the course in real life and on TV. You'll hear birds chirping and see beautiful vistas of mountainsides, lakes, deserts, and lush forests.
That level of realism, depth, and detail doesn't extend to the other aspects of the career mode, however. There are no player likenesses, so don't expect to tee it up as the recently resurging Tiger Woods. Also absent are famous courses like Augusta National and St. Andrews. As a result, The Golf Club 2019's PGA Tour career mode feels limited, especially when only six of the mode's 32 events take place on real golf courses. Although the fictional courses are beautiful, challenging, and diverse, I was left wanting a lot more for a career mode carrying the PGA Tour name. That being said, it was a memorable and challenging journey to advance through the different tours, building skills and experience on the way to the top.
It's too bad that the journey to becoming the best golfer is not generally a fun one to listen to. Just like in last year's game, tournament commentary in The Golf Club 2019 is distractingly rough at times. You'll hear the commentary team making out-of-place comments and repeating themselves very often. It almost never feels natural and comes across as forced and contrived, with main commentator John McCarthy speaking in overly hushed, serious tones However, the commentary while playing solo, outside of a tournament atmosphere, is another story. In this more relaxed setup, McCarthy is a delight. He cheers you on and makes polite, playful little jabs when you miss a putt or shank a shot. He even makes groaning, guttural noises when you narrowly miss a putt, and he mimics Borat with a "Very nice" quip when you make a difficult shot.
As you progress through a PGA Tour season, you'll level up your player and unlock new customization options like clothing and clubs. You also unlock sponsorship tiers and related items after wins, including gear from real-world companies like Under Armour. These rewards, in addition to a rival system that tracks your progress against a fictional player on the tour, give you ample reasons to keep coming back and shoot low scores. It's also nice to see that progression--for the career mode and head-to-head multiplayer--does not include leveling up the attributes of your player. This helps keep everyone on a level playing field, unable to smash a drive many yards longer just because they've played more. Also of note is that the character creator is extremely deep, letting you tweak things like the fine contours on your face and the color of your hair with a wide spectrum of options. Weirdly, the game only offers one shade of darker skin tone, which stands in contrast to the plethora of other personalization options to choose from.
On the course, The Golf Club 2019 is the most mechanically sound, challenging, and rewarding golf sim out there. The swing mechanics heavily emphasize tempo. It's a real challenge to make sure you're swinging with the right speed and direction to send the ball where you want it to go off the tee box or with a short iron into a green. One of the most exciting and compelling parts about golf is creating your own shots and scrambling, and The Golf Club 2019 gives you the tools you need to succeed in this regard. The game automatically recommends clubs and shot angles, but these are mostly suggestions on how to play it safe. While there are times when it's important to make safe, normal shots, that isn't always the case and the mechanics are fluid and dynamic enough to give you fine control when you need it the most. Very often you will be in between clubs on a critical approach shot, and your success or failure depends on your ability to dial in the right combination of many distinct elements like height, fade, power, and direction, all of which you manipulate simultaneously. There are also times when you will need to go for a gutsy shot over water or trees, or with draw/fade to get around a corner. It's a thrill when you get this right, and a gut-punch when you don't.
Getting to the green is just the start, and putting is where your skills will truly be tested. The game lets you see the undulation of each green, but you must pick a line and judge the speed correctly to send the ball rolling in. Like the two games before it, The Golf Club 2019 earns its simulation nature by being difficult, particularly on the greens. You are punished for poor swings and misreading wind and lies, and the game's most challenging courses will put all of your skills to the test in an experience that can feel frustrating at first but ultimately rewarding when it all comes together. While the game is unquestionably difficult, the swing mechanics and systems for drives, iron shots, and putting, always feel fair. The ball might not always go where you want it to, but you can always reasonably pin your failure on something you could improve.
A lot of the animations in The Golf Club 2019 are very good. The way your character's knees buckle when they miss a close putt faithfully captures the pain of that experience many golfers know too well, and. things like body positioning over the ball and the angles and extensions of your character's arms and hands from start to finish appear natural. Unfortunately, there are some problems as well. There is a fist-pump animation you'll see after sinking a nice putt, and while it's effective in capturing the magnitude and emotional expression of the moment, it's the same animation over and over again which eventually makes what should be an exciting moment a boring one. Some of the animations when your player gets in a precarious position, like near the water or on the lip of a bunker, are not very fluid. There are further unfortunate moments of strangeness, including your character standing over the hole when they sink a putt and galleries during competition rounds looking in the wrong direction and acting in unison as they clap and cheer. These weird moments detract from what is otherwise a well-presented package.
Another major element of The Golf Club 2019 is its robust course-creator that was one of the signature elements of the first two games. Using a relatively simple and intuitive interface, you can adjust and design almost everything on your course. Want to add alligators next to the tee box on a Par 5 that stretches over water on a blustery day to make the tee off even scarier? Go for it. You can upload and share courses with the community, and the ability to play new and never-before-seen courses will surely keep golf fans coming back for a new challenge.
Additionally, the game brings back last year's online-focused Societies mode, which lets you create and join clubs where you and your friends (or the wider public) can compete against other players' ghosts in seasons that run for multiple weeks. There is also head-to-head online multiplayer that, for the first time, now lets you play Skins and Alt-Shot game modes in addition to standard ones like Stroke and Match play. However, as of 10 AM AEST on August 29, I was unable to find any head-to-head online matches on PC.
The Golf Club 2019 remains a challenging and ultimately rewarding golf sim with a solid swing system that puts a premium on skill and strategy. The addition of the PGA Tour license is a welcome but limited addition that gives the game a further level of realism and authenticity, while the course-creator again shines as one of the franchise's standout features. Despite its issues, The Golf Club 2019 is the franchise's most attractive package yet.