The Tiger Woods PGA Tour video game series is legendary, an opportunity for everyone from half-drunk college kids to grandmothers to tee it up at Pebble Beach, Sawgrass, St. Andrews and so many of golf's other green cathedrals. (For most of us, it's the closest we'll ever get.) But for all the years, all the millions of copies sold, there was always one white whale lurking out there: Augusta National. What would it be like to play Augusta in April, challenging Amen Corner or approaching the green at 18, the famed clubhouse in the background?
Friends, it's now here, and it's awesome.
Let's get this out of the way first. There's something inherently geeky about getting jazzed to play a pixilated version of the world's most famous golf course. It's just colors on a screen; you're just working a piece of plastic. It's no more like "real" golf than Guitar Hero is like playing a real guitar. We all know this, we all go in with this awareness ahead of time. We're all fine with it.
Now, to the game. EA's developers undertook a covert mission last summer to film every square inch of Augusta's pristine grounds, and it shows. Every fairway, every green, every bunker, every bend in Rae's Creek is exactly as you've seen it your whole life. Say what you will, but standing on the tee at 12 and trying to drop your ball onto the green without sending it into the azaleas or the water is a video game experience unlike any other, to coin a phrase.
EA tapped into this feeling with one of its ads, and the fact that the actors here got to play the real Augusta only makes me slightly want to throw up with jealousy:
(Full disclosure: EA provided us a Wii copy of the game in advance for review purposes, but alas, did not throw in a trip to Augusta to compare it with the real thing.)
As for the gameplay itself, if you've played a Tiger Woods game at all in the last decade-plus, you know the basics, so we won't bother with that. Swing at ball, hit ball. You can club up or down, you can choose from a bunch of different swing patterns that range from arcade-easy to real-world impossible. You can outfit your golfer however you'd like, you can play a career that takes you from a hometown tourney all the way to the majors. It's all as you remember it.
What separates TW12 is, of course, Augusta, and it begins with the gentle tinkling piano music on the game's splash screen. You can play Augusta right off the bat, and of course that's what I did, heading straight to 13 to replicate Phil Mickelson's miracle shot out of the trees. (After a couple attempts, I did ... and I didn't miss the ensuing eagle putt.)
One of the sweeter features of the game is "Masters Moments," where you get your chance to replicate some of the greatest Masters moments in history. Can you chip in on 16, like Tiger did in 2005? Can you eagle 13, like Arnold Palmer did in 1958? Can you chip in from off the green at 11, like Larry Mize did in 1987? Here, you get your chance at those and six more.
But it's not just Augusta in the game; there's a phenomenal variety of courses, depending on your operating system, including Augusta's par-3, Bethpage, Celtic Manor, East Lake, Harbour Town, Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2, Sawgrass, St. Andrews and oh so many more. Some are on the disc itself, others are available as downloadable content from various gaming networks. You can play mini-golf on some tiny courses, you can play disc golf at many of the big ones (but not Augusta, oh no), and you can hone your skills on practice ranges or duel your fellow Augusta devotees online.
Bottom line: Now that Augusta is on board, this is as perfect as a golf video game can get. Save one afternoon's greens fees and grab this one. You won't regret it, though your spouse/significant other/children/friends/boss certainly will. And who knows, maybe a certain well-known golfer will be able to use it to improve his game. Swing away, friends!