An Ode to Golf Games

Even though I only play golf infrequently (and I’m not particularly good at it), I had this deep urge to want to go and play after that privilege was taken away from me due to lockdown. In lieu of the real thing I took up playing Golf With Your Friends again with my girlfriend. Even after restrictions have eased regarding golf, I’ve had a rekindled interest in golf games, especially with the impending release of PGA 2k21. Here’s a look back at a selection of golf games I’ve played in my lifetime.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004

I’d played golf games prior to Tiger Woods 2004, but it was this game that I remember being the first good golf game I’d played. A lot of aspects of the game just felt right – the game modes available, the courses to choose from, the gameplay mechanics – it was all very well put together. Revisiting it recently, my only major issues were that it feels pretty easy, and that there’s an excess of cutscenes and slow motion after taking shots.

A rather heinous example of the "shot cutscenes" from the game.

I was only young when I first played this, and hadn’t played much golf in real life – the feeling of actually doing well at golf (albeit in a video game) felt more gratifying compared the present-day realisation that I’m pretty terrible at the sport. I played a couple of Tiger Woods games after this one – 05 and 06 – but they never really captured the same magic that the first one I played did.

Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort

Wii Sports (and Wii Sports Resort) golf is the pinnacle of casual golf games. Golf and video games has always been a relatively niche pairing, but with the Wii’s motion controls it was an extremely natural combination. For some people this might be their first and only exposure to golf – plenty of courses are expensive and people may just not have the inclination to play. But if it’s in a bundle with a bunch of other sports and with motion controls to boot, it was inevitable that people would play this. With the age of motion controls now quite far behind us, will a golf game as successful as the one on Wii Sports ever come to VR? I look forward to seeing what developers have to offer in the future – if I can ever afford a nice VR kit, that is.

Golf With Your Friends and Golf It

Golf With Your Friends was the first golf game I picked up during lockdown, having previously played it with some friends on Discord a couple of years ago. I noticed games like this and Golf It after a slew of Youtube Let’s Play videos and Twitch streams. They are pretty good, simple games to play online with people you know. Both have features that make them unique - Golf With Your Friends has interesting game modes such as enabling a hockey puck/goal or gaining access to powerups, as well as courses based on games by the same publisher, Team 17, with a Worms course and an Escapists course. Golf It, on the other hand, is a bit more basic, currently only having simple options to change such as bounciness and friction, along with a toggleable 3-club system rather than just a putter. With custom course creators on both games there’s endless possibilities, including one bizarre custom course I’ve played on Golf It based on the film Inception, of all things.

What The Golf?

After an incredibly simple first level on What The Golf, I was shocked to see my golfer’s body ragdoll on the floor towards the hole in the next level. This, however, is the running theme of What The Golf – a golf game that subverts your expectations of what a golf game is, a game that tries to inject the DNA of golf into every possible scenario. Levels include piloting a wheelie office chair through an obstacle course, controlling a crab scaling a perilous cliff and driving a train with a giant novelty golf ball in the carriage into the flag.

What The Golf also features scenarios based around other gaming IPs such as Portal, Donkey Kong, and SUPERHOT.

I know it sounds like I've spoiled a lot but the variation and layers of levels in this game is huge, I have just scraped the surface of what there is to offer in this short game. The game was great to play but doesn’t really have any single player replay value aside from the typical “daily challenges”, which consist of rehashed levels within the main game. Included in the Nintendo Switch version however is a two player party mode, which greatly adds to the value of the game in my opinion.

Golf Story

Golf Story is a Golf RPG, which is something I wouldn’t really expect to work at all. There’s been role-playing elements of sorts in other golf games – creating a golfer in the Tiger Woods games comes to mind. Golf Story has all the elements of an RPG: a leveling system, clubs providing different stats, an overworld to explore, missions to complete, and more.

My main gripe with the game was that the actual story and dialogue were quite simple – possibly more suited for children. If the game was meant for children, however, it seems odd that there were a few very sharp and sudden difficulty spikes in what was typically a very easy game (particularly with the optional missions). I still enjoyed it nevertheless, and I’m looking forward to the developer’s sequel, Sports Story. It's coming out sometime this year on the Switch and I hope to review it.

The Golf Club Series and PGA 2k21

I’ve tried to play the more recent Golf Club series of games but they didn’t really feel right in any way – the controls were clunky and difficult to get to grips with, there was no crowd or course atmosphere or real progression in the game and the only real saving feature was the extensive course creator the games had. I’m hoping that PGA 2k21, coming out on the 21st of August by the same developer but with backing by 2K Sports, may bring back regular simulation golf games into the fold. It already looks promising with licensed players, courses, equipment, and smoother looking gameplay, but I’ll have to wait to play it to give final judgement.

Closing Thoughts

I'm enjoying the spot golf games are in, at least on both PC and Switch. Whether you're looking for a casual or simulation experience I feel like there's probably something for you. Even people who dislike the idea of golf would probably enjoy some of the more casual experiences that have been on offer recently. Golf works just as well as both a solo sport and as a group sport, and that really translates well into the world of golf games. If you honestly like the idea of one of the games I've mentioned above, you should definitely try it out!

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