For two years now, golf fans have been able to create a female professional and play the men's PGA Tour with her. The creation of an LPGA Tour mode in this year's game is another step forward. It's the tour's first appearance ever in a console video game, and the first time gamers may play a career mode associated with a real-life women's professional league.
I'm enjoying the time I've spent so far with the game's demo, which released a week ago, and playing as Lexi Thompson, a newcomer to the game's roster of real-world golfers. But the introduction of the LPGA mode will also present golfers with a choice: Play on the men's tour exclusively, and only a handful of female golfers have ever played in individual men's tour events, or forever forego a trip to Augusta National, the centrepiece of the series for the past three years.
This is a more important choice than you might think. Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a game in which most golfers create a pro rather than use one of the two dozen real-world pros on the roster -- and you can't use the licensed pros in the career mode anyway. EA Sports' own figures, related to me, say 50 per cent of created golfers are female, despite a predominantly male user base. I've created and played as a woman and loved the experience.
Because, as I wrote last year, the game constructed a realistic path through which a female golfer could, in fact, play The Masters, whose host club just last year admitted its first two female members. In real life the Masters awards bids for champions from amateur championships that are not gender restricted, two of which are represented in the career's amateur stages. (Michelle Wie, notably, qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship in 2005, whose champion is also invited to The Masters, though she did not win.)
You may win the US Amateur or the Asia-Pacific Amateur in that stage of your career and be invited to Augusta. But whether you return depends not on your performance, but on what tour you choose after it. That's even if you go on to win The Masters as an amateur -- a feat that was given its own achievement/trophy in the game last year.
As any golfer knows, you win The Masters, you are invited back forever.
Unfortunately, in Tiger 14, you'd give that up if your woman golfer then chose to play the game's new LPGA mode. There game's designers couldn't construct a career mode letting female created golfers -- again, no small constituency among gamers -- double-dip from both tour events
"If you choose to play the LPGA Tour, you can only play the Majors that exist on that tour; i.e. the Kraft Nabisco Championship, U.S. Women's Open, etc.," producer Sean Wilson told me. "You cannot jump back and forth."
(For those wondering, male golfers, as in real life, are ineligible from competing on the game's LPGA Tour in the first place.)
And, just to be clear, there are no LPGA events or statuses (rankings, money leaders, etc.) that qualify a golfer for The Masters in real life. So it's one or the other once you turn pro.
The upside is, as a women's professional, you can play the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first time an LPGA event, much less one of its Majors, has been licensed for inclusion in the game. EA Sports travelled to Mission Hills Country Club and gave it the full scanning treatment, as one of this year's new courses available in every version. But the Kraft Nabisco and that course appear to be the only LPGA-exclusive event in the tour mode. You may play an LPGA major at Royal Birkdale, scene of this year's Women's British Open, but it's called the "Women's UK Open" in the game, absent licensing.
Sure, right, you're rolling your eyes and probably haven't read this far before commenting. This isn't some tokenist gender-equality issue, it's a gameplay decision a lot of golf fans -- many of them men, regardless of the gender of their avatar -- need to know of before they get the game, given the primacy of The Masters in this series.
And it presents a little bit of irony too. If this year's game denies enough men membership in that tournament, maybe the rules change next year.