Birdie or bogey?

EA Sports PGA Tour

We’re partial to a golfing game here at Codec Moments, the Tiger Woods series kept us entertained for hours before it morphed into Rory McIlroy, and then onto 2K’s iterations of the PGA championship; and not to forget Dangerous Golf for when we’re feeling more destructive.  It’s been a while though since EA furnished us with a golf game – 2018 actually – and the one that’s finally here is about 2 years overdue.  Of course, the planned release will have been hit by the global pandemic, though there’s never been any official reason for the push backs, not that it matters now that EA SPORTS PGA Tour: Road to the Masters is finally here.  Maybe they needed the time to come up with a succinct name?  Whatever… current generation console owners and PC games can get prepared to delve into what promises to be the most realistic depiction of the sport to date.  Quite lofty ambitions from the development team, have they managed to stay out of the rough?

Given the pedigree of the series and EA’s production values when it comes to sports titles, you’d fully expect EA SPORTS PGA Tour to tick all the boxes in transferring the experience of mastering the fairways and greens of the official PGA courses to gamers.  Maybe it’s the first link to realism then that there are about 40 pages of legalese to wade through before you can get to a menu, then character creation, introductions to the menu items, various voiceovers… it goes on a bit, and can be about half an hour before you actually get to strike a ball in anger.  Not the greatest first impression to be fair, though does set up an unintentional feel for the overall game – exercise patience and be prepared for frustration.  Those looking to jump straight in could find this off-putting, and newcomers might be a bit baffled because for all the menu explanations, there’s not actually a tutorial as such so you have to figure out how to play the game of golf by yourself.  Even seasoned veterans will have to pause for thought and work out the swing mechanics as there’s only one option with the sticks (the pioneering 3-click method isn’t being patched in until later).  Wade through all the fluff though and it’s time to hit the links.

I’d like to say that EA SPORTS PGA Tour starts to become more familiar once you make it out for a round, but this is where things have been shaken up and the subtitle of “Road to the Masters” comes in.  There’s a full career mode available starting in the amateur leagues, progressing across multiple seasons of the Pro-Am circuit, and with the ultimate aim of qualifying for each of the 4 major tournaments: the Masters, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.  Your aim is to take your bespoke golfer on this journey from their roots with a spark of talent, through the trials of intense golfing competition, and on to being one of the most accomplished players to grace the greens.  This is no easy feat in real life, and it’s the same in the game too.  Don’t come to any of the tees of the 3D scanned courses expecting an easy ride, the overhauled mechanics and focus on realistic physics and systems make this the ultimate recreation of golf – easy to grasp in principle, extremely hard to master.  It takes time and practice to understand the basics, and much more effort to become good, so this is one for those who like being in for the long haul.  That’s not to say there aren’t some accommodations the team have made to add accessibility.

Whilst your career spans multiple competitions over multiple seasons, there’s a recognition that you just might not want to play 18 holes in each of the 4 rounds of a tournament, especially when you’ll be seeing the same courses very regularly.  EA SPORTS PGA Tour is good with your time in that it defaults to only playing a set number of holes per round, typically four.  It’s possible to change this so that you can play the full 18 every time, or only go for that in a major tournament or a final, so purists can spend all day perfecting every section of a course; those that are time short can still experience the full season in a more efficient way.  It has it’s drawbacks, the AI takes over for all the other holes and doesn’t necessarily play to the same standard that you do.  Having to get used to it dropping shots and losing you a place in the cut is one compromise to make, though in my experience if you’re doing well it bucks its ideas up and performs on a par with you.  There’s also the need to recognise that you are clearly not the best golfer out there on the day, at least for your first season.  Practice makes perfect, and in this case, also awards XP and the ability to level up elements of your game.

Each increase in level awards a couple of stat points to use on the character that earned them.  That’s quite a specific thing to note as there can be up to four golfers stored each with their own progression and season status, and XP and rewards don’t carry between them.  Spending the points wisely to focus on the areas you’re weakest can deliver results quickly, and once you’re building confidence you find your approach starts to change.  It’s strange that these stat points aren’t tangible things, merely yellow blocks on a gauge, but they really do make a difference.  Whether it’s hitting the ball further or dialling out the risk of error in the swing so the ball lands more often than not where you want, the benefits are substantial.  Upgrading your skill set also opens up additional shot types which expand your repertoire and bring more options for reducing the shot count or getting out of trouble.  It can also make you a bit cocky when the run of the green starts to go your way, and that’s where keeping an eye on the ever present course info is crucial to success.

There’s a lot to be said in the way the HUD displays the details for ease of use.  The key piece is that all the clutter at the bottom left are purely meant as reminders, the core details are always front and centre – distance, elevation and wind speed.  The blue marker shows flight trajectory, including drift due to wind if you switch that option on, and the white band around the player is the swing.  Bottom right contains the shot, club and ball details, as well as the shot tracker which tells you how good your swing was.  In the early stages it’s going to flash red or become a squiggly line as you get to grips with the controls, though after an upgrade or two and some practice rounds it’ll calm down and be an actually useful feedback tool.  Focussing on all these elements, and interpreting them correctly, will net the most accurate shots and lowest hole score, just don’t forget to appreciate the scenery on display, there’s a lot of effort gone in to make EA SPORTS PGA Tour look pretty.

Looking good and being good are two entirely different concepts though, and the latter needs gameplay and longevity to bolster it.  It doesn’t seem like it when you first hit the main menu, but EA SPORTS PGA Tour has a lot of content.  The career mode will take a while to get through, and there are plenty of options to get some practice in – though disappointingly the coaching mode is just some silent target practice rather than tutelage on being a better player.  Adding to the roster are challenges which provide highlights of major real life exploits for you to replicate; online tournaments with daily, weekly and seasonal events; the ability to play a casual match against others, or more serious competition if you feel the need; and the simple option to quick play a round of golf where you like.  That final option is the only one available if the servers go down though… why this needed to be an online connected game at all times is baffling, in particular when your only option is to quit mid-single player game and lose all progress.

That’s not the only odd feature of EA SPORTS PGA Tour either, aside from the lack of alternate swing options.  Menus are really sluggish and annoying to navigate; the audio options don’t save your settings and return to default with each boot; shots can be obscured by on course objects so you can’t see what you’re doing; the presence of dual currencies to force microtransactions; and an interrupting splash screen of the game’s logo – at least 3 times per hole! – as if you can’t remember what you’re playing.  With such a confluence of strange design decisions and a late shipment to market, it smacks of internal turmoil for the direction of monetising the game.  It even has loot boxes, albeit stripped back to just being rewards so they can’t be criticised by any gambling commission.  Fortunately, the only things you can spend anything on are cosmetic, whether that’s clothing or equipment, and the variety is actually pretty impressive.  Who knew I’d spend time in a game deciding on what type of standard belt buckle my player would need?  There’s a nice touch with the caddy too where you can set up to four schemes for the bag that look different and contain alternate clubs depending on the conditions you’re about to play in.

There’s a dilemma in play for deciding on the final verdict of EA SPORTS PGA Tour: Road to the Masters in that it’s an extremely good golf game with excellent realisation of the courses, equipment and competition; and it’s one that demands focus and practice to become a true master.  Exactly what you want in a sports title, aside from the recognisable athletes, teams and gear (which goes without saying are all present).  What it has against is that it feels like it doesn’t really want you to play it.  From the overdone ULA, through the atrociously unresponsive menus and neediness of always online, across the lack of explanation on how the swing mechanics work, and even to the unreasonably harsh commentary – it’s not a welcoming title.  All the pieces of the puzzle are there to demonstrate why EA are the kings of these games, it’s such a shame that your initial reaction isn’t applause, but gasps of frustration because it feels like it’s all buried under noise and irrelevant guff.  However, block out that noise (or mute the commentary) and look past that flashy cash grabbing guff, and you’ll find the most sublime golfing experience in years that will hook you with its attention to detail and demanding gameplay.

A PS5 review copy of EA SPORTS PGA Tour was provided by EA’s PR team, and the game is out now on PC, Xbox X|S and PlayStation 5 for around £65, depending on platform.

The Verdict


The Good: Deep golfing game | Lots to master | Rewards practice

The Bad: Buggy and sluggish menus | Always online & monetisation | Easy to bounce off

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Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

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