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Going back in time with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14's Legends of the Majors mode

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

While golf is a centuries-old sport, the modern game dates back to the mid-19th century; the first major tournament, the Open Championship (or British Open), debuted in 1860. Of course, the sport has changed significantly since then.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 players will be able to engage with golf history in Legends of the Majors, a new single-player mode. It begins in the late 1800s and runs to the present, letting players relive classic moments from major tournaments and experience the transformation of the sport — fashion, equipment, broadcast styles and more — over that span.

"It's pretty much like stepping in a time machine," said Mike DeVault, PGA Tour 14's lead designer, in a recent interview with Polygon.

Like the Tiger Legacy Challenge in PGA Tour 13, Legends of the Majors consists of dozens of challenges through six eras of golf. With 10 to 15 in each era, there's a total of about 90. Some offer sequences of a few holes and ask you to achieve a particular score; others task you with recreating a spectacular shot or getting as close to the pin as you can. In certain events, you'll play as your created golfer, and in others, you'll step into the shoes of legends like Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros.

The visuals in Legends of the Majors convey the "time machine" aspect in the most apparent way. In accordance with their stronger focus on presentation this year, the game's developers at EA Tiburon tried to differentiate the mode's eras with unique visual treatments and other aesthetic touches. Challenges in the 1920s have a sepia-toned appearance and screen transitions reminiscent of dialogue cards in silent films. When you get to the 1960s, everything is draped in a warm, Kodachrome-like tint. Golfers and spectators wear period-appropriate clothing, too.

Golf was also played differently back in the day, and PGA Tour 14 accounts for that. In the sport's early days, all the clubs had names that illustrated the sport's origins in Scotland — monikers like "niblick," "brassie" and "jigger." And the clubs now known as "irons" were actually made of wrought iron, not steel or graphite. That had a material effect on the game, as did course conditions, and EA Tiburon did its best to accurately portray those elements.

DeVault called Legends of the Majors' development "a research project by our design team and our development team on trying to faithfully recreate those eras." We played some older challenges from the mode last week, and noticed details like the particular sounds of the club hitting the ball — more of a ping instead of a thwack — as well as the ball's increased roll distance on the greens of old. And without the benefit of modern manufacturing, the ball doesn't travel as far in events from the first half of the 20th century.

Tiburon was "painstakingly going through and tuning each set of physics" to make that happen, said DeVault.

clubs had Scottish names like 'niblick,' 'brassie' and 'jigger'

We also checked out the Masters Historic Edition of PGA Tour 14, which includes the Augusta National Golf Club as it existed in 1934. Back then, the course's first and 10th holes were flipped. John Coleman, the game's community manager, told us that the sand in the bunkers was darker and more gritty, and the rough was rougher, than it is today. The game includes those period-accurate details, and also accounts for nature's course over the past 79 years: Augusta's trees, so towering today, appear in PGA Tour 14 as mere saplings.

Coleman explained that Tiburon was given "full access" to Augusta National's archives, and said the studio also spoke to some golf historians to get the particulars right. In many cases, the developers went off of text descriptions to recreate certain elements of the course as they existed in 1934, since photos were often unavailable.

"No one has really done anything like this," he told us.

Once you complete the Legends of the Majors mode, you unlock the ability to play any course in any era. Augusta National in 1934 is the only instance in which parts of the course are actually different from the modern version, but elements like physics and visuals will remain true to the time period.

Since we only played a few different challenges from Legends of the Majors, it's impossible to know at this point if the mode will have the kinds of difficulty spikes that made last year's Tiger Legacy Challenge so frustrating. But as a history lesson for the entire sport of golf as opposed to one man's career, it already has our attention.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 launches March 26 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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