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A big pro sports license changes hands, turning the challenger into a leader

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The Golf Club 2019 gets PGA Tour backing, courses and more

HB Studios

Last month, Electronic Arts announced that it was pulling 2015’s Rory McIlroy PGA Tour from its EA Access vault and all online marketplaces on May 22. Then, earlier this week, we found out what the upshot of that is: PGA Tour golf is coming to HB Games’ rival The Golf Club 2019, which launches later this year. The news was announced May 21.

It’s a remarkable handoff of a big sports license, evidently vacated by the biggest name in sports video gaming and snapped up by an independent studio that got started out as a contractor for the company.

In addition to a vast library of user-created courses and a huge toolkit to build them, The Golf Club 2019 will offer a multi-stage PGA Tour career mode, the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs (and the trophy itself) and six licensed real-world courses, with the potential for more to be added in later.

The Tour career mode will thread in features like rivalries against other players and sponsorship goals to help the player progress through their career and rank up.

The six courses coming to the game are all TPC locations: Boston, Deere Run, Sawgrass, Scottsdale, Southwind and Summerlin. There will be 32 events on the career mode schedule, which also includes Qualifying School and the up-and-comers’ Web.com Tour as players get their start.

In a statement announcing the PGA Tour license this week, Alan Bunker, HB Studios’ chief executive, said his team was “absolutely ecstatic. ... This further validates that HB Studios has the number one golf video game on console and PC platforms.” The news release said the deal was brokered by CAA Sports Licensing. The launch date for now is August 2018.

Big name or no, it’s not hard to guess why EA Sports walked away from the Rory McIlroy PGA Tour series, which had only one version in 2015. Though I was happy with a year of robust post-release support adding in several courses and events, the series had a hard time living up to the features offered in past versions, particularly the three years in which Augusta National Golf Club and The Masters appeared in the game.

The loss of The Masters (which presaged the breakup with longtime cover star Tiger Woods) sapped a lot of enthusiasm from audiences that may not be hardcore professional golf fans, and sales and playership afterward probably weren’t impressive enough for a hits-driven publisher like EA. The company has since done well with a UFC license, and its NBA Live project, made at EA Tiburon like the golf series, has mostly recovered.

the golf club 2019 HB Studios

The original The Golf Club, which was released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC, began when HB Studios assembled a team in anticipation of making the final PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the old Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, as EA Tiburon’s PGA team focused on the new consoles. Those plans abruptly ended when EA Sports and Woods parted ways after more than 15 years.

HB Studios continued with its project, eventually building 2014’s The Golf Club. Though it didn’t have licensing, it did have an enormous custom course development suite and a devoted community sharing around thousands of them. It became the game’s distinguishing trait. Now it has the PGA Tour’s backing.