In many respects, The Golf Club 2019 is less a game, and more a simulator.
Consider the classic golf game control scheme. You tap a button to begin the swing; tap it again to set the power; then tap it a third time – with a degree of timing – to determine the accuracy and efficacy of the strike. This accessible control scheme works well for the average player. It allows them to play (virtual) golf at an extremely high level, without any huge investment in practice and skill.
The Golf Club 2019 on the other hand – like the previous games in the series – favours the less popular right-analogue-stick-to-swing control scheme. It’s a method of playing (virtual) golf that requires not just forethought and timing, but practice, repetition, and muscle memory.
It is, quite frankly, a lot harder.
Raise your club too quickly, or deliver the swing too slowly, and you’ll lose power on the shot. Pausing too long at the top of the backswing has roughly the same effect. Timing, as they say, is everything. And all of that is assuming that you rock the analogue stick back and forth on a perfectly even swing plane. If you deviate from the straight and narrow, your ball will fly off laterally; to the left for a hook, or the right for a slice (for a right-hander). The worse you shank that stick, the worse the trajectory of the shot.
And where in most golf games you can affect a controlled draw or fade – the intentional versions of the hook or slice, respectively – by an even, repeatable amount each time, The Golf Club 2019 ramps up the uncertainty farther again.
Backspin is the same story. You can’t just expect to drastically open the clubface, adjust the flight of the ball, carry the same distance, and zip the ball back thirty feet when it lands on the green. This isn’t Everybody’s Golf. There are no fireworks or flames. It’s a delicate balancing act between exerting some additional control over the shot and increasing the difficulty of the undertaking.
This adds pressure to each swing and requires a greater degree of attention than your average golf game. It’s hard to play The Golf Club 2019 one-handed while laid on the sofa.
It is however a deep and meaningful control scheme that, when you’ve gotten to grips with it, carries all of the nuance and intricacies of the real game. So let’s get the biggest issue with The Golf Club 2019 out of the way: that investment of time, repetition and learning won’t be for everyone.
Not everybody wants to sink dozens of hours of practice – and fail, a lot, in the process, before getting any good at it – into a virtual sport. Sometimes you just want to pick up a controller, bang a few buttons, and feel like a hero. There’s an argument that if you wanted to spend all that time learning to play a golf game, you could actually learn to play golf.
That’s not to say if you set the difficulty low and just hack around you won’t get the ball in the hole eventually. The same is true of golf in real life (perhaps you’ve seen me play). But if you want to get to the top of the PGA Tour – the big licence added with this year’s release of the series – you’ll need to put in the hard yards with The Golf Club 2019’s career mode.
Compared to the likes of F1 2018 and FIFA 2019’s career modes, the progression on offer in The Golf Club 2019 could be seen as basic. Outside of the PGA Tour licence – which brings with it a number of official courses, sponsorship from the likes of Dell, FedEx, and John Deere, and a new degree of verisimilitude – there are no big-name players, motion-captured amateur dramatics, or BioWare-alike branching dialogue choices to contend with. It’s just a sequence of tournaments accessed from a menu. It would be unfair to criticise HB Studios for not having the budget available for that level of theatrical polish, and not everybody wants that kind of career mode, but it is noticeably old-fashioned in comparison.
Elsewhere, all of the good stuff that made The Golf Club a popular series in the first place – including course-building, online societies, and regular tournaments – is all present and correct. The course builder is so good that the guys from HB Studios told me (at this year’s E3) that they use it themselves to put the game’s courses together. They look more beautiful than ever, too, including shinier water, denser foliage, better crowd galleries, and extra little details like adorable model John Deere tractors for tee box markers on sponsored tour events.
It all comes together for a polished and progressive iteration on a trusted formula. You do have to be prepared to put in some work to get the best out of The Golf Club 2019, though.