EA gets exclusive rights to the Masters for its golf game

Following last week’s surprise news that it was reviving its simulation golf franchise, publisher Electronic Arts has announced that it is also bringing back the flashiest feather in the video game series’ cap: the Masters Tournament.

The Masters and its home, Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, will be playable exclusively in EA Sports PGA Tour, EA announced Wednesday, one day ahead of the 2021 Masters. It will be Augusta National’s first appearance in a golf video game since 2013’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The Masters was playable in only three golf games — EA secured the rights starting with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12, but by the time the publisher brought the franchise to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour in 2015, the licensing deal had expired. Asked for information on the length of the new agreement, an EA Sports spokesperson declined comment.

EA also said Wednesday that in addition to the Masters, EA Sports PGA Tour will feature the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, and the British Open, making it the only video game that will offer all four major tournaments in men’s professional golf.

It’s something of a coup for EA Sports as the company reenters the golf market to compete with 2K Sports’ PGA Tour 2K franchise. 2020’s PGA Tour 2K21 offered 15 real-life courses, a few of which have previously hosted majors. But despite 2K’s own relationship with the PGA, it did not have the rights to the names of the actual major tournaments.

For golf fans looking to play along with the pros and strive for a grand slam, the presence of the majors in EA Sports PGA Tour is a key, authenticity-related selling point over PGA Tour 2K. Meanwhile, 2K Sports is trying to draw in golf fans with a different tactic: partnering with Tiger Woods, who had been the face of EA’s golf games from 1998 through 2013.

“We’re honored to partner with Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament, to feature the course and its traditions exclusively in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR,” Cam Weber, executive vice president and general manager of EA Sports, sin a news release. “EA SPORTS is committed to growing the love of sports for everyone, and through our partnerships with the PGA TOUR, Augusta National and the other majors, we will bring new and longtime fans closer to the biggest events in golf than ever before.”

the cover art for EA Sports PGA Tour, featuring an overhead photo of the clubhouse at Augusta National Golf Club and the words “Road to the Masters”
The cover art for EA Sports PGA Tour.
Image: EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts

EA said in its news release that it has “worked meticulously to capture the course and traditions of the Masters,” including “first of its kind aerial scanning to collect millions of data points, previously inaccessible in golf games, to recreate the unparalleled beauty of Augusta National authentically in the game.” (This is presumably an upgrade over the old technique — when EA announced in 2011 that it was bringing Augusta National to its game for the first time, its news release touted “state-of-the art laser scanning technology.”)

There’s no word yet on whether EA is using the same aerial scanning technology for other licensed courses in the game. EA has not yet announced any playable courses beyond Augusta National and Pebble Beach Golf Links. If EA Sports PGA Tour is going to feature the host courses for the 2021 majors, it will have to include Kiawah Island Golf Resort (PGA Championship), Torrey Pines Golf Course (U.S. Open), and Royal St. George’s Golf Club (British Open). In 2022, those same events are scheduled to take place at Southern Hills Country Club, The Country Club, and the Old Course at St. Andrews, respectively.

EA also said it will highlight the Masters in EA Sports PGA Tour with a package of content called Road to the Masters that will “deliver players the prestige of competing in the Masters Tournament, plus additional experiences exclusive to Augusta National.” Asked for clarification, an EA Sports representative told Polygon that EA Sports PGA Tour “will celebrate many of the biggest events in golf alongside the real-world events,” starting with the Masters at launch. This suggests that the game will contain a live-service element with in-game content that’s timed to the major tournaments and other PGA Tour events.

EA Sports PGA Tour is being made by EA Tiburon, the Maitland, Florida-based studio behind EA’s previous golf titles as well as the Madden NFL series (and, presumably, the revived EA Sports College Football). EA described it last week as a “next-gen golf video game,” suggesting that it is in development on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

The publisher has yet to announce a release window for EA Sports PGA Tour; it launched the last few Tiger Woods PGA Tour titles in the spring, and released Rory McIlroy PGA Tour in July 2015. If the tournament-aligned content such as Road to the Masters is any indication of the game’s launch timing, it could point to a release in early 2022, ahead of the next Masters Tournament.