It’s been a long time since EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour dominated dorm rooms in the early noughties, but although that series has since faded harder than a crooked tee shot — perhaps taking the mainstream popularity of the virtual sport with it — golf games have never completely gone away. Developer HB Studios has been quietly cultivating a loyal following of diehard links lovers with its series of The Golf Club games in recent years, and by rebranding its latest release to PGA Tour 2K21 it’s throwing open its clubhouse doors to both armchair amateurs and would-be pros alike.
Since I hadn’t played a serious golf simulation since Rory McIlroy PGA Tour back in 2015, I was certainly appreciative of the comprehensive training mode that greeted me when I first teed up PGA Tour 2K21. It swiftly got me to grips with a control system that’s intuitive enough to easily shape your shots and make micro adjustments to ball spin, but still quick to punish you with a hooked stroke into the long grass should you rush your swing, which is exactly as it should be.Whether you’re new to golf games or a lapsed fan like myself, it’s clear that PGA Tour 2K21 is eager to get your ball rolling as easily as possible. I opted for the second of the three difficulty modes on offer and managed to fumble my way through my first PGA tournament before a miraculous eagle on the final hole allowed me to edge out Sergio Garcia at the top of the leaderboard by a single stroke. Yet by just the second tournament of the tour I was already birdying holes with some regularity, thanks in part to a dynamic tips system that identifies errors you make and suggests the ways you can improve on the fly. More hardcore players shouldn’t feel too concerned, though, since all of these tips and assists can be toggled off if you want to play as a purist. But since my virtual game was rustier than your grandfather’s 7-iron, I certainly found the advice to be beneficial in getting back up to speed.
The early signs would indicate that PGA Tour 2K21 doesn’t just do a good job of getting you on the hook, but keeping you there too. I found the hole-specific challenges that popped up throughout each tournament round helped keep me focussed on each individual stroke in order to earn extra XP. Meanwhile the Rivals mode, which tasks you with outplaying a string of real-life pros over the course of the PGA Tour culminating in world-number-one Justin Thomas, seems like it might well make the career mode more compelling over its lengthy duration. It was definitely satisfying when I knocked off my first rival, Cameron Champ. Who’s the Champ now, Cameron? I bet he gets that a lot.
There are some nice presentational touches that add to the spectacle of PGA Tour 2K21 as well. The breezy back and forth between commentators Luke Elvy and Rich Beem serves to both entertain and offer valuable insight into each shot, and I appreciate how the broadcast occasionally checks in with other golfers during the round as they seek to nail tournament-turning chips and putts. Having said that, there were some occasionally wobbly physics present in the near-final preview build of the game — particularly on the occasions my wayward drives rebounded off trees — that will hopefully be ironed out before launch day.
There’s still more to uncover in PGA Tour 2K21 including the full extent of the career mode, a powerful course creator, and a multitude of multiplayer modes, and I look forward to driving deeper into its fairway once the finished game arrives. But for now, I’m very much pleased that just getting onto PGA Tour 2K21’s dance floor feels like a very easy approach.Tristan Ogilvie is the video producer in the IGN AU office, and if he’d spent any more time playing golf this past week he’d be the President of the United States. He almost never tweets here.