Virtual Augusta Just Like the Real Thing


ORLANDO, Fla. – The highlight of a 20-year journalism career came when I was picked to play Augusta National Golf Club three years ago. Yours truly won the lottery in 2008 and was one of a few media members chosen to play Monday morning following Trevor Immelman’s breakthrough victory.

Mementos of that day hang in my office now. It’s the only round of golf I’ve ever played where I can recall every shot as if it were yesterday.

While nothing beats walking the hallowed grounds in person, EA Sports’ new “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters” is as close as you can get without being there. The game, available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii consoles, is set to release March 29. To think, CBS first aired complete 18-hole coverage of the Masters in 2002. Now, nine years later, every nook and cranny of the treasure is available at your fingertips from the comfort of your living room.

This marks the first time EA Sports has used laser scanning which allowed developers an unparalleled level of detail. Last August, Shannon Yates, the lead scanning technician for EA Tiburon, traveled to Augusta, Ga., for 10 days to scan the course. On each hole, Yates and his crew set up three laser scanners to capture a 360-degree view that allowed Augusta National to be created with an accuracy of 6 millimeters. The green complexes are created with an accuracy of 1 millimeter.

“I’ve seen the course so much that I knew right where everything was when I got there for the first time,” said Yates, an admitted golf fanatic.

No detail went unnoticed in the game. The plaque to the right of the Hogan Bridge is there, as are the Eisenhower Tree on the 17th hole and the big oak tree behind the clubhouse. Since the azaleas were not in bloom in August when the course was lasered, the staff at EA Sports worked with Augusta National to assure that each individual azalea throughout the entire course was the proper color.

Key features of the game include the new Tiger at the Masters mode where gamers can relive each of Woods’ four Masters victories by attempting to equal or beat his scores in each round of each tournament. Another mode, called Masters Moments, allows users to recreate some of the most memorable shots in Masters history including Mickelson’s historic 6-iron blast through the trees on No. 13 last year. It’s also the first time that a caddie is on screen and it’s the first time there is 3D grass.

You can build your own likeness or select from a list of high-profile players that range from Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson to Paula Creamer and Suzann Pettersen. (Read Win McMurry's blog on playing the game with Fowler).

The game also has features unique to the Masters, including Jim Nantz and David Feherty calling the action. After each hole is complete the score is recorded on a trademark Masters scorecard and the lingo is spot on when referring to the first nine, the second nine and the second cut.

In all, 200,000 hours were devoted to this project. There are 8,760 hours in a year.

I was a hardcore gamer in a previous life but now only dabble on the Wii. The first pass around Augusta National on “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters” produced an 85 on easy mode, which was slightly fewer strokes than I made in my real life round on difficult mode. In the game I made birdie on No. 2, bogeyed Amen Corner and closed with a double bogey when I blew my tee shot into the right trees (Read Rex Hoggard's take).

Like Augusta National itself, the game is first class. It’s difficult to imagine what “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters” will do for an encore but when EA Sports and Augusta National put their collective heads together you can bet that they’ll think of something.