There's no formal dress code for Augusta National Golf Club as it appears in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, but all created golfers must wear the same thing when they play it this year. This is unintentional, but admittedly a goof-up, two of the game's designers told me on Friday.
Granted, I play a lot of this game, and nitpick it the more I play. (You may see my review of it here; it's still a resounding yes, for both enjoyability and value.) But I thought I'd seen something stereotypical of the conservative, decorum-conscious Augusta National Golf Club when, after playing a round with a friend online, I saw that we were both wearing the same attire, branded with the EA Sports logo.
White cap. Blue shirt. White pants. White shoes with two stripes. Fore!
The game does control your appearance options at Augusta, but no new restrictions have been put in place since the course's introduction two years ago. This takes a little bit of explaining. In the beginning, Craig Evans, the game's chief marketer, told me the club's management "were concerned with players wearing something like a bunny suit when you play Augusta National. They were more concerned with fanciful gear."
"They just wanted [created golfers] to be dressed professionally," he said, in response to a question I had about women playing in The Masters. (The licensed tour professionals all have appropriate outfits that are not modifiable. Playing the course in its 1934 layout gives you one of four period-accurate getups, male or female.)
Most of the apparel you unlock is licensed stuff, from dozens of real-world brands. Still, the series has featured several weird appearance options long before Augusta National's inclusion. Women can put on some really short shorts. Men can sport a wild-ass spiked mohawk or wear a kilt. Hair color can be a variety of strange shades.
"When we started this relationship, they weren't too keen on green mohawks and feather boas appearing on their course," said Sean Wilson, the game's lead producer. "There are some plain T-shirts that wouldn't be OK. Anything that is like a polo shirt and pants would, of course, be approved, even if it had someone else's logo on it. That wasn't a problem for them.
"But it was too daunting of a task for us to tag every individual item in the pro shop that would or would not be OK, especially when the pro shop changes so much," Wilson said.
The Tiger Woods PGA Tour team found a liveable solution within the sponsorship system introduced in 2011 and included last year. Under it, your created golfer would have a tour sponsor and an accompanying uniform, starting with EA Sports and leveling up through the likes of Callaway Golf, Ping, and Nike. Winning major tournaments also delivered a custom uniform, often with an attribute boost. Last year, with the introduction of country clubs, you could design a club uniform.
They all had a cap to hide your ugly magenta mohawk, and they were all approved for wear at Augusta National. If you weren't already wearing it, the game forced you into your best sponsor's uniform, or your club uniform. Problem solved. But this year, the game got rid of the sponsorship system, taking a new approach to ranking up your golfer.
"We did have the old sponsor outfits in the pro shop," Justin Patel, a designer for the game, told me, "but we ran into memory issues with the pro shop, loading too many textures and crashing. The suits take up more memory than any other item in the pro shop." So out they went.
Except now the game had no good options for dressing you at Augusta. When the team realized this, the most workable solution was to force a player into the generic EA Sports suit. (Its components are available in the pro shop, but equipping it as a uniform option is not.)
"It's something we let get by us," Wilson said. But he was adamant that Augusta National hadn't developed some aversion to any sponsor other than EA Sports on its course.
Remember, under the sponsor system, you got a bag tag at your loading screen showing who you were hooked up with. If you were playing The Masters or Augusta National in a practice round, that tag was removed. The club tolerates some commercialism—you'll see golfers on Thursday wearing prominent brands at The Masters, because it's a fact of life in professional golf—but not direct associations with the club, like someone else's logo on their bag tag.
There are other quirks and exclusions of playing Augusta National, or its Par 3 Course, Practice Facility, or its 1934 layout, in Tiger Woods PGA Tour. You can putt with a driver (or any other club) on any course in the game except for this one, where the game restricts you to a putter. Augusta doesn't want you scuffing up the dance floor. (It's why the minimum number of clubs you must carry in the game is two. So you can't go all Roy McAvoy and discard everything but your 7-iron.) Night golf was included as a tee-time option this year. Not at Augusta, it ain't. Probably because, if you select Scott Ratchman, he turns into a werewolf under the full moon. Augusta may have just admitted its first two women as members, but I doubt it is progressive on the matter of lycanthropes.
It's disappointing that I look exactly like my playing partner if we're playing as ourselves in a round at Augusta online. I won't enjoy playing all four rounds (hell yes, I play four-round events in my career mode) looking like a pizza delivery guy every time I go to The Masters but, hey, video games and golf, as a venn diagram, are the intersection of first-world problems. So far, Wilson and Patel say they have yet to hear an outraged clamor from the fanbase.
"I've been all over the boards dealing with issues, and I've seen maybe two or three things about it," Wilson said. "In hindsight, I really wish we would have done something about it, like pick one of the five or six uniform options. It was really our fault, we were focused on getting other things done in the game on time." Wilson said if fan pushback mounted to the point that everyone was complaining about it, they'd consider a patch, but cannot make any promises because "a patch could also introduce issues that would be more problematic."
I think he's going to hear more about it this week, as The Masters begins, and as created golfers begin to play the tournament in their careers. Unless you start on the Asia-Pacific amateur circuit and win its championship, you cannot qualify for Augusta National until the second year of your career (after Amateur, and your Web.com/rookie season), and that, too, is new in this year's game.
I'd love for the uniforms to be reintroduced next year, if not also the means of designating four outfits and saving them in slots. Hey, I'm obsessive about this stuff. I like to swap my look from Thursday to Sunday.
But if nothing else, EA Sports should tactfully inform its customers what's going on, because they'll otherwise assume this is something heavy-handed on the part of its licensing partner. I'd have no problem with the game telling me something like, "Augusta National has standards of professional appearance when you play its courses. If your attire does not meet them, you'll be changed into something more suitable."
I'd expect to be told that if I was ever lucky enough to play Augusta National in real life. So, yes, if it's in the game, you can justify putting it in the game. Even if it's a dress code.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.