The Golf Club 2019 Review: Gameplay Videos, Features and Impressions

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2018

HB Studios

Fittingly, one of the top features of The Golf Club 2019 is a PGA Tour Career mode. 

There, players will create a golfer and start from the bottom rung of the ladder, climbing the ranks as a player's skill improves. 

It's a familiar story and trajectory in the budding franchise from developer HB Studios. All games are passion projects of the folks behind them, and The Golf Club 2019 is no exception. The third installment over a four-year period, this year's release not only features expected upgrades, but it also comes equipped with an official PGA license for the first time. 

The pairing of The Golf Club's challenging simulation play and attention to detail with the PGA itself works wonders while building a groundswell of hype for future releases.



Veterans of the young franchise know this isn't just any golf game—and that's a big part of the reason they continue to support one of the biggest up-and-coming sports properties on the market. 

This is strictly a skill-based simulation affair. No power-ups or modifiers. No equipment bonuses or anything else. There is a huge uphill learning curve, though helpful systems and tutorials greet players upon booting the game. 

It's all about tempo in The Golf Club 2019, with the swing of the club again handled by a brilliant analog-stick or mouse-control scheme. Speed and accuracy of the swing will dictate power and accuracy, something infinitely modifiable based on situation and club used. 

The in-game overlays are overwhelming at first, but becoming intimate with them quickly reveals just how much information is available to the player for every shot. Aerial perspective, detailed sloping and wind information offer insight to the situation, and one press of a button permits practice shots before lining up for the real thing. These aren't perfect, as the game clearly wants to strike a balance between giving away all the information and keeping the gameplay true to life by basing it on feel. 

Also available are suggestions from the game itself, which takes everything into account for each shot. But these are conservative at best—something players will discover the more their skills develop. Freelancing with different club selections or taking a different approach often offers much more upside than playing it safe, just like on real courses. 

Part of the beauty is the ability to do whatever fits the situation based on skill. This is a brutally difficult game, especially when putting regardless of the wealth of information available, but being free to tackle any situation with various clubs and types of shots such as fades or lofts is freeing. 

As such, this is one of the most rewarding sporting games on the market, as the skill progression is fluid. This is so seamless at times a player won't even realize they are freelancing or going without suggestions until they stop to think about it, though this development and joy that comes with it is barred behind a heavy time restriction.  


Graphics and Presentation

Tempo is a good way to describe this area, too. 

Camera angles swoop up and over intricately detailed true-to-life courses where applicable, showing the love put into each. The game pops off the screen with all the fine water and land details players have come to expect from a sports title with "2019" in the title. 

While player animations themselves aren't always perfect, little things like quiet celebrations through body language after a shot tell a big story.

The courses themselves are far more important for a game like this to get right.  

That said, only six of more than 30 courses at initial launch are officially PGA licensed, including TPC Courses at Sawgrass, Scottsdale and a handful of others. For those familiar, these courses are flawless re-creations, which is incredibly important given how tied the sport is to the playing surface. A game like Madden faithfully re-creates stadiums, but that playing field isn't changing much, whereas a missed detail at say, Sawgrass, won't play like the true-to-life thing in such a simulation-focused game. 

The attention to detail is a great sign, though it is an odd hodgepodge of balancing between true-to-life courses and fictional courses. The latter get creative and varied—keeping things interesting—and most play well, but the fact that one outnumbers the other is noticeable. 

The audio is brilliant, with the cracks of the ball sounding like perfect recreations and crowds lining the sides of the fairways reacting perfectly to the situation. 

Commentary will be polarizing. Repeated lines will pop up often, but players shouldn't let it take away from what is one of the most organic commentary offerings in sports games. These clearly haven't been perfectly rehearsed, and while this sounds a bit strange, the commentators tripping over an "uh" or pausing to gather thoughts gives off an authentic broadcast feel.

The commentary is making calls as things unfold, too, which is impressive. Early on while still learning the ropes, a player might hear the broadcaster call out something along the lines of, "I don't think he's going to make the green here" after a tee shot, which is not only likely true but also a welcome bit of realism. 

Like the overarching license implementation, the graphics and presentation are superb for where this series stands on it personal trajectory and provide a strong foundation where the only direction to build is up.


Career Mode and More 

While the career mode isn't overstuffed with details like other sporting games, there is enough here for the solo player to enjoy. 

Players create a golfer and start in the equivalent of the minors in the Web.com Tour, progressing enough in tournaments to eventually earn a PGA card and start taking part in those events. A full-blown creation suite offers seemingly unlimited looks for the player's character, and unlocking these creation pieces and sponsorships is a fun way to keep things fresh. 

Unlike the course balance, though, it's hard to get excited about golfing with no-name players, as PGA golfers aren't included in this year's release, presumably because the licensing deal was only struck in May. The rivalry system is a good idea in its execution, but again, having a fictional character as a rival instead of say, Tiger Woods, is a tough pill to swallow in a game deeply grounded in simulation. 

These transitional hiccups for the franchise are forgivable, though, especially when the overlying gameplay is where the real sense of progress lies, not in the career mode itself. 

This isn't a knock, though players may have to adjust expectations: progression of player skill itself is much more rewarding than advancement to the PGA Tour in the career mode. That's a good thing for a game like this, but a little unconventional in a sports video game sense. 

After all, climbing the career ladder simply rewards a player with a few prompts and offers participation in differently named tournaments. Progression in the sense of confidence and less thinking in tough spots like bunker shots is much more rewarding. 

Playing into this, not just in career mode but overall, is the progressions of unlocks. There are no leveling up of attributes—the only thing unlocked is better skill within the gameplay systems. That's great, as this keeps everyone at an even playing field in online modes. The only thing players "level up" is their personal skills, regardless of the on-screen character. 

Those characters get fine-tuned in a deep creation suite that has a staggering number of wearable items and options. The former includes some name-brand items and fun things, while the latter offers something as tiny as shape-tuning a face with a graph.  

The Golf Club 2019 also flexes its customization muscles on the excellent course creator, which has gone unrivaled in the golfing-game space since its arrival in the first release. It's a ridiculously detailed course creator with options for the little details like slope design and even silly things like what wild life will pop up around the ponds. The exhaustive creator will allow some of the community's more creative forces to fill the gap with re-creations of some of the missing real-life locations. 

Multiplayer functionality is the other big talking point, as HB Studios has clearly worked hard to seamlessly weave in these features. Players can add and drop from a friend's party easily. "Societies" are user-created country clubs joinable by others, and those within can choose to follow along with the real-life calendar, play random matches or even go head-to-head with other societies. Outside of societies, the addition of Skins and Alt-Shot matches offers more welcome options for players to test their skills against other players, if not get more of an arcadey dose of the gameplay. 

As an aside, it's clear the PGA license will keep progressing the game after release, as one major free update already added Atlantic Beach Country Club. It's a wink-and-nod to players that more is coming well before the next installment. 



While some might clamor for HB Studios to further game-ify this series, what they have created is a unique blend of gameplay with a feedback loop most sports games wouldn't dare attempt. 

A player's individual performance feels more tied to on-screen results than any other sports game on the market. There isn't a feeling of randomness or artificial difficulty and there are no excuses available—not with the excellent UI and feedback systems explaining details behind each shot. 

Clearly, the series as a whole has plenty of room to grow with a PGA license now in hand. But for those who have stuck by the series since its humble beginnings, The Golf Club 2019 is an enjoyable victory lap of sorts before it moves on to something greater. 

And for those new to the series, there isn't a better time to dive into the rewarding mechanics and stellar customization options. The Golf Club 2019 has found the perfect tempo, and it's one HB Studios will ride to bigger things. 

With PGA and 2K Sports branding on the packaging comes grander expectations, which mostly go fulfilled here given the circumstances of the timing for a fun release the market needed.