Golf game not just for fans

As coronavirus lockdown restrictions came into force the world was full of worry.

Workers worried they could lose their jobs (many did), parents worried their children would miss out on education, and healthcare workers worried they would contract the deadly virus as they tried to save lives (many of them have).

At the same time many of the past times we used to help reduce stress were off the agenda because of lockdown restrictions.

In Victoria, former AFL Footy Show host Sam Newman at one stage even protested outside Parliament House, angrily demanding the state’s golf courses be reopened immediately.

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Golf is once again banned under Victoria’s stage four lockdown but thankfully, there’s a new option for Sam and other golf-starved Aussies: PGA 2K21.

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Video games based on sport face the common challenge of only being able to approximate the real world action of exciting games like basketball and football, where anything can happen in the moment.

So you can imagine how hard it is when you’re trying to create a video game version of a “sport” where there is no action.

With all this said you’d think PGA 2K21 wouldn’t work, but it does.

The first appeal is obviously to fans of the game, who have been starved of a decent profile golf game since Tiger Woods crashed his Cadillac in 2009, triggering the slow death of EA Sports’ previously popular PGA Tour games.

Those games themselves continued until 2015, even changing its endorsement from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy.

In the past five years since the last EA Sports game the market has been largely bare, aside from an indie title called The Golf Club, a hardcore simulator that can be a little too challenging for some.

That game has since been picked up by 2K, publishers of the hugely popular NBA 2K games among others, which has given the game a bit of a polish and released it to the market as PGA 2K21.

Some of that polish has been in the form of making the game more approachable, meaning it’s no longer just golf tragics who can get a kick out of it.

Real-world golf is frustrating enough without directly porting it to a computer game, so the developers at HB Studios have dialled the more hardcore Golf Club down a bit.

While PGA 2K21 isn’t exactly easy, it provides more of a fun challenge than a frustrating grind.

It’s a hard game, even on lower difficulties, but it never feels unplayable and rarely feels unbeatable, even when you’re hooking your tee shot into the water for the fourth time in a row or putting from the other side of the green.

There’s also a reward to persisting in the game beyond the initial learning curve, the more you start to understand how it works the more fun you have playing.

The main thing people will struggle with is the swing, which is all about rhythm and accuracy.

This can take a few hours to master (it took this reviewer an embarrassingly long time), but once you do, it opens up a whole new approach to the game as you figure out how to apply spin to make your shot drop on the green or artfully draw or fade around doglegs or into the wind.

In terms of content there are a number of officially licensed courses from the PGA tour that have been digitally-scanned for accuracy, and you can also create your own for an extra challenge.

You get to compete against 12 real-world pro golfers (including Australia’s own Adam Scott) as well as dozens of fake ones, and that’s just in the career mode, other gamers can compete in multiplayer.

The career mode also let’s you create your own pro golfer.

The game is also quite meditative: not just because of the soothing commentary from 2002 tour champion Rich Beem and Australia’s own Luke Elvy.

Of course it’s not the exact same as playing real world golf, but it will challenge you for a while and then reward you for persevering (this, we’re told, is also the point of golf).

While its IRL iteration remains an expensive game that‘s largely the domain of a privileged few (you might even suggest that’s the point), PGA 2K21 is available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox, starting at the considerably cheaper price of $79.

This is still … pretty expensive for a game where not much happens, but it’s cheaper than actually playing golf and more fun too.

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