There haven’t been many golf video games released on the current generation of consoles, but developer HB Studios’ The Golf Club series has emerged as the best option on the market – though gamers who grew up on the more arcade-style Tiger Woods games may have struggled with TGC’s more demanding controls. The Golf Club has been reborn as PGA Tour 2K21 – set to release August 21st on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch – and HB Studios has taken several welcome steps to make video game golf much more accessible to everyone, while also preserving a serious challenge for the hardcore crowd.
FTW got the chance to play a preview version of PGA Tour 2K21 before its release later this month (on PC), and I’ll cut to the chase. PGA Tour 2K21 is good. It’s really good. It’s a major step up from The Golf Club 2019 in several areas, and it’s the type of jump gamers are hoping for whenever they buy a new Madden or FIFA game.
The awkwardly-named The Golf Club 2019 featuring PGA Tour did just that with regards to its PGA Tour license. You could play through a PGA Tour career – but the PGA Tour didn’t feel fully integrated into the game. PGA Tour 2K21 has raised the bar for presentation and implementation of actual PGA Tour players, and it has kept me invested into playing through the career mode this time around. As in previous games, you create your own player to compete against the best golfers in the world, and can choose to start your career either on the Korn Ferry Tour or the PGA Tour.
In 2K21, 12 actual PGA Tour pros – including cover star Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay – have been scanned and are represented in the game. During your rounds on Tour, you’ll periodically be shown a highlight reel shot from one of the 12 pros in between holes, which adds to the feel that you’re following an actual broadcast. If anything, these cutaways happen too frequently, but they’re a nice touch. The leaderboard will be filled with other PGA Tour pros, including the ones who aren’t officially on the game’s roster of pros.
The gameplay has gone through some huge changes to make the game more accessible, and fans of the old Tiger Woods games – or even Everybody’s Golf – should feel more at home. By default, there is a power meter at the bottom of the screen that guides you on how far you should pull the club back, which makes choosing your club and executing much more straightforward than it used to be. The power meter is also present on the green, which means you won’t have to rely entirely on feel as you did in previous entries of The Golf Club. There’s also a comprehensive tutorial at the start to get you up to speed. If you want more of a challenge, though, you can opt to turn all of the power meters off for a more traditional experience.
PGA Tour 2K21 welcomes new commentators to the series, Luke Elvy and Rich Beem, who do a fine job calling your career mode rounds. Commentary has always been a weak point of The Golf Club series, but Elvy and Beem are a big upgrade. Strangely, though, Elvy and Beem only appear in the career mode, but do not call any one-off rounds you set up, or rounds that will be played in societies mode. For those rounds, PGA Tour 2K21 relies on John McCarthy, who returns from previous games, but has a style that is far too casual for my taste. Apart from some event-specific lines Elvy and Beem recite at the start or the end of rounds in career mode, they seemingly should be able to serve as default commentators in every mode, and it’d be great to see HB Studios allow players to toggle between commentators outside of career mode.
A major strength of PGA Tour 2K21 is its course creator, which has been improved with hundreds of new assets you can use to turn your course design into a Tour-quality track. Even if you don’t have the desire to make your own course, you can play any published course from other creators (on any system), and within a few weeks, there will surely be hundreds of amazing player-created courses to play, in addition to the 15 licensed courses in the game.