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It’s been eight years since EA Sports, the behemoth behind sports video games such as FIFA and Madden, has published a golf game – the release of EA Sports PGA Tour on April 7, 2023, finally marks the publisher’s grand return to the green. It’s a comeback that’s been a long time in the making, and I had the chance to speak about it in-depth with gameplay designer Craig Penner and producer Ben Ramsour before the title’s launch.

In technology and video games, eight years is a very long time. A lot can change very quickly. On the other hand, most sports don’t change all too much in such a short period of time, at least on the outside. However, behind the scenes a few changes have taken place on the highest level of golf, which combined with developments in the gaming industry have made the sport a treasure trove of innovation.

See, pro golfers are a bunch of perfectionists, so they use all sorts of tracking software to collect data about how they play in a bid to improve their performance and practice specific shots. This data is collected by apps like Shotlink and TrackMan and was made available to EA Sports – a development that opened completely new ways for the team to make its game authentic and add a deeper connection to the actual sport.

“TrackMan was just small the last time we made a game, and now it’s used by every pro to finetune their shots. We’ve been able to take that data and update our physics so that the balls roll like they do in real life and the courses react like they do in real life,” Ramsour says.

That, in itself, is nothing new for EA Sports: Thanks to its licensing deals and connections it has access to lots of interesting data from many sports, be it football, ice hockey, or soccer. What’s cool about EA Sports’ cooperation with PGA, however, is that this data link is not just historical. The developers will have access to data almost immediately as it’s generated, enabling them to craft some really cool content around the major competitions on the PGA calendar in a timely manner.

“We’re tapped into the data sources that Augusta has provided us that will help us create [content in] real time. Right when the tournament ends, almost within a day, we’ll have the top five shots from the day before, as an example,” Ramsour explains. “So we’re leaning into the real world of golf and allowing users to recreate these awesome rounds.”

He names Tyrrell Hatton’s performance at the Players Championship 2023 as an example: “We could have – using Shotlink – looked at every single shot that he took and recreate that challenge so that users can come in and be just like Tyrrell.”

These challenges will be key parts of the content drops EA Sports has planned out to accompany all the major PGA Tour stations throughout the year in addition to new courses – including the Los Angeles Country Club, which is usually a very exclusive place to golf at – and other content pieces such as fresh gear, online tournaments, and new pro players.

PGA Tour

EA Sports PGA Tour features some impressive technology under the hood.

Even as someone not usually into sports games, I have to admit that this feature is pretty neat and has the potential to really change the way players experience this genre. Imagine you could jump right into last weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix with the actual race order and pace, trying to repeat a driver’s feat or change the outcome.

Could you have caught Lewis Hamilton in Melbourne last Sunday as Fernando Alonso? Could you have held off Lando Norris’s McLaren until the end of the race as Nico Hülkenberg in the Haas, securing even more crucial points? Jump in and try it – no need to go through an entire race weekend, just use this challenge mode that takes a few minutes.

I chose F1 as an example here, because I imagine it would be the easiest sport to repeat this kind of integration with – after all, that race data is being collected and available to look up. It’s one of the most data-driven sports with each car being tracked precisely, similar to how all that software keeps track of what the golf pros are doing.

EA Sports PGA Tour is out on April 7, 2023, for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S.