EA Sports’ lifelike Augusta National replication praised by club’s caddies
According to the official Masters media guide, there are approximately 1,600 azaleas adorning Augusta National’s iconic par-5 13th hole.
When EA Sports releases its new EA Sports PGA Tour video game next month, its first golf release in eight years, each bush will show up in the game exactly where it is in real life. Same goes for the magnolias on No. 5 and lining the clubhouse’s namesake driveway, and the yellow golden bell shrubs behind the 12th green. All were replicated in meticulous detail by EA’s producers to make the game as lifelike as possible.
Even the tree Bubba Watson hooked his pitching wedge around in the playoff at the 2012 Masters is in the exact same spot in the video game as it is on the fabled Georgia grounds.
“We spent a lot of time actually looking for that tree for Bubba, so we can make a challenge where you’re hitting it out of the woods,” EA Sports producer Ben Ramsour told GOLF.com in an interview last week. “That was really challenging. So to do something like that, it’s getting on the ground. And normally a lot of our panoramics are coming right down the middle of the fairway at Augusta. We took a lot of panoramics out in the woods essentially to try to see details like that.”
This isn’t the first time EA has put Augusta National into its video games, first scanning the course for 2011’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12. But with the technology developed since the studio last released a game, EA essentially started over.
“We used some of our photo reference from [the previous games], but we’ve got a whole new pass of photo reference and then photogrammetry and obviously the terrain map,” Ramsour said. “We were there just before the ’21 Masters for the first time.”
The game’s producers used technology such as LiDAR scanning and photogrammetry (the science of extracting 3D information from photos) to create 28 real-life courses (there are two fantasy courses) that will be released when the game comes out on March 24.
A few extra steps were taken at Augusta National.
EA was given access to the club’s tree health software, used by Augusta’s arborists to care for the thousands of trees and flowering bushes on the property, to help track the constant changes to the course’s greenery.
“Things are always changing there,” Ramsour said. “So if a tree moves, we could see exactly where the tree moved. That’s how we utilize that specific resource.”
Ramsour said they spent more time on the grounds at Augusta National than any other course in the game to meet with the superintendents, merchandise and business officials, as well as caddies.
In fact, Augusta National caddies were among the first to try out the new simulation of the iconic club. They also played the game without any of the user interface features, such as the green grid that makes it easier to read the greens, to see how well they could play just on their memories of the course.
“I make the game, so I’d like to consider myself pretty good at it,” Ramsour said. “The best I’ve ever done on that level of difficulty was 20 over. They shot even par and it was because the caddies were pointing, hit it here, hit it here. They walked out and their quote was, ‘This is absolutely perfect.’
“It’s from how we’ve been able to scan the courses … literally using something designed to find gold mines and oil reserves. If Shell Oil is using this thing, you can imagine the level of detail that we’re getting to.”
To Ramsour, getting the caddies’ validation on the authenticity of the course was all the EA team needed.
“As a golf junkie, getting a caddie to say, ‘You did it right,’ like to me that means more — unless if Scottie Scheffler came in and said that — that’s about as good as I can get,” he said.
If you’re wondering about changes to the 13th hole — a new back tee on 13 is the only course change listed by the club for the 2023 Masters — Ramsour could not say yet if the hole’s new back tee would be in the game at launch. But he did confirm the team has mapped all changes to the course since the 2022 Masters.
You can pre-order the game, which is available only on Playstation 5, Xbox Series X | S and PC, now while the launch date is set for March 24. The standard edition will go for $69.99, while the Digital Deluxe Edition is $84.99.