One of the more exciting aspects of modern sports gaming is how online communities can organically form through sheer enthusiasm and dedication, offer their own improvements or expansions upon the features of a game by optimizing the competitive experience. When it comes to The Golf Club 2019, for instance, the website TGC Tours has become the most popular and respected place to go for anyone looking to see how their skills measure up against everyone else who’s playing the game. As the site finishes up overseeing the first rounds of qualification for their upcoming fifth season, I had the opportunity to conduct a Q&A via e-mail with the team behind the site to find out all about how the site got started, how it gained popularity and what the future of TGC Tours looks like.
Operation Sports: Who are the creators of TGC Tours of you and what are your individual roles within TGC Tours?
TGC Tours: Tim, Jeff, and Scott are the three original creators and site owners of TGCTours.com.
- Tim Owens (smallz0307) – Founder/Developer/Programmer – Responsible for all back-end (logic) code
- Jeff Reese (SmilingGoats) – Web Design and Admin – Handles web design and development, support tickets, and general administration
- Scott Doyley (Doyley) – Tournament Director – Handles competition oversight, support tickets, and general administration
How and when did TGC Tours first get started? What was the inspiration to create the website?
TGC Tours started with a message from Tim to Jeff and Scott in August of 2014 with the proposal of running a set of tours that mimic the real world tours. Tim wanted to use real names, not gamertags, and have the tournaments run the same weeks as the real-life tours to capture as much realism as possible in a virtual environment. Tim would code the back-end of the site, Jeff would handle design and front-end development, and Scott would run the day-to-day tours.
The main inspiration was to fill a void in the game with regards to an online career mode (the first TGC game did not have one). All three founders love golf and wanted a bit more out of the game. Between August and December 2014, we developed and promoted TGC Tours. Come mid-December we were ready to kick off our first ever Q-School which had just shy of 200 people competing. Our first official regular season events started the first week of January 2015 — we’ve been going ever since.
When did you first start to feel like you’d created something that people were really responding to?
The buzz came pretty quick once we put the site online and had a countdown clock for Q-School. We knew early on that we had assembled the right team to produce a top quality site and experience for our users. Our first Q-School was a marquee event in TGC1 — it brought a new element to the online game, pressure! All of a sudden you were playing for something — and your competition was not AI — but other golfers under the same pressure as you! The buzz around that first Q-School confirmed what we were feeling those initial months creating TGCT — we were onto something special.
How has TGC Tours progressed from its initial genesis to where it is now?
Initially, we had four tours (PGA, European, Web.com and Champions) but soon realized we needed to expand as we had over 300 people competing in some events. We then added some flights to the Web.com Tour and the Champions Tour, which lasted a couple of months before they were full as well. At that point, we pivoted to a more scalable model — one that is pretty close to what we still use today. We dropped the Champions Tour and added the Challenge Circuit. The PGA, European and Web.com tours became our official pro tours while the Challenge Circuit became our amateur tour. Over time, we realized that even the Challenge Circuit had a big skill gap from the top to the bottom. With that in mind, we split it into CC-Pro and CC-Am with the intention of giving easier courses/conditions to the CC-Am flights while stepping up the difficulty for CC-Pro. As the site continues to grow, we’ve continued to add flights to the Challenge Circuit to accommodate additional members.
In the very early days, users would submit their scores after playing, and we would manually verify them by comparing the in-game leaderboards. As the success of the game and our site grew, we were able to work with HB Studios (creators of The Golf Club) to pull data directly from their game servers via a data API. The data receive now auto-registers members into events, populates their scores and hole-by-hole scorecards, provides data to generate statistics and allows us to monitor participant for Fair Play.
As the site continued to grow, we have been fortunate to be able to rely on many volunteers to run different facets of TGC Tours. We have a course photographer (that has taken virtually every single course pic in our database), Rangers and Schedulers to review test and select courses for Tour events, Reviewers to approve courses submitted to our database, Twitter managers, and many more dedicated volunteers. Our community is very involved. We have people that run Course Design contests, a section where people run community events, and a lively forum that keeps us all busy. There is also a full stable of streamers that are active all season long on Twitch. We run Ryder Cups, President’s Cups, and charity events (TGCT Gives Back) through which we have supported different charities.
TGC Tours also has a curated course database that is home to some of the game’s best courses. It was important for us to create a place where designers can show off their creations. One of the great features of TGC Tours is the variety of courses you can play on from week to week — and this is all thanks to our community of designers that keep publishing high-quality golf courses. Through three versions of the game, we’ve had over 4,000 courses published to our database.
What were some of the biggest growing pains along the way?
Keeping up with the growing member base — we initially thought we could get up to 500 members by the end of season 1. We were past that before the Masters in April of 2015. As word got out, our member base kept growing so we had to be quick to adapt. Since we launched, we’ve had over 8,000 participants in tour events, amassing more than 700,000 tournament rounds.
Other challenges include ensuring fair play — with anything online you will get a small portion of people that will bend/break any rules they can to get an edge. A large portion of our time that is invested is in ensuring our tours are as fair as can be.
Could you talk a little about what goes into that process? Is it completely foolproof or do you have some instances where maybe it’s difficult to tell for sure if any funny business was involved?
It is no secret that different controllers offer different gameplay experiences in a number of games. With a golf game where the movement of the stick is everything, there needs to be some ability to monitor that there is at least some minimum amount of difficulty for all players when they are participating in a competitive environment.
We do that by taking swing accuracy data, looking at what is normal for the overwhelming majority of our players, and then setting standards by which extreme outliers are recognized.
While we certainly do catch people who are up to, as you put it, “funny business”, the majority of people who get flagged are people whose input devices just aren’t up to standard. This could be because they are old and worn or because they are a third-party controllers which do not operate with the same sensitivity as a stock Microsoft or Sony controller.
What sort of relationship has TGC Tours developed with HB Studios over the years?
We have a good relationship with many of the staff at HB Studios. They are always quick to answer any of our questions and are open to feedback that we have the unique ability to provide. It started back when Anthony Kyne was the lead producer and continues to this day with Shaun West. In addition to providing us with the API, they added in a custom TGC Tours flag to TGC1 events in the game. In TGC 2019, they have our logo available in-game — you can put it on clothing or use as your society logo. It’s a little thing but one that we really appreciate.
I know that you were waiting on an important patch before starting Q-School. Are they usually pretty receptive to the feedback you guys provide?
They are always receptive to feedback from us — as they are from all of their customers. We’re trying to provide the best golf environment possible, so if there ever is a serious issue they are always quick to fix as it usually affects everyone. The majority of the feedback we provide is mainly centered around the API or the online societies. Those are the two key cogs that we depend on when running a season. HB has been nothing short of amazing with what they have provided us.
Are there things missing from the game that you’d like to see in the future?
We’d love to have drivable golf carts! Some courses are so well made that it would be a blast to hit your ball and drive to it. Each new version of The Golf Club moves the needle forward. Improvements to the Course Designer always result in better courses so we’re always happy to hear when designers have a new feature to play with. More animated objects couldn’t hurt either (cars, boats, windmills, crowds that walk around). Oh, and let’s not forget Dynamic Time of Day — tee off in the morning and finish your round after lunch. Or tee off in the afternoon and finish at dusk. Anything that brings the course to life!
What are you most excited about with this upcoming 5th season?
The focus on slowing down movement between tours/flights for Season 5 is something we’re looking forward to. The goal is to develop deeper rivalries and friendships within your tour. The previous seasons were great for quick progression up and down the tours but were lacking when it came to stability — each week you were playing against many new players — and it made forming rivalries difficult. We’re excited that Season 5 should provide more camaraderie within each tour while still providing opportunity to move up the career ladder.
Anything new that people can expect?
New this season is a slower promotion system combined with the removal of sponsor exemptions. Now you need to earn five promotion marks to move up to the next tour and vice versa with demotion marks. Earning and keeping promotion marks (or losing demotion marks) will be a big part of the challenge in Season 5. There will always be motivation to shoot your best each and every round.
Also new this season will be quarterly Promotion Events. These events will have a Q-School vibe and will be used to top off tours should activity start to decline. This will be a good opportunity to fast track your career as you can skip multiple tours or flights with good play during these exclusive events.
Since we’ve been growing in members every month, we’ve also added two new Challenge Circuit flights (CC-F and CC-G) to the Amateur circuit so that we can keep each field a realistic size.
How do you see TGC Tours evolving over time?
The growth of TGC 2019 with the addition of the PGA Tour licence has spilled over to TGC Tours. We’re at record numbers of active members, which is opening up some interesting options we could take going forward. We’re always looking for ways to improve our tour structure — it’s probably a safe bet that we’re not done tweaking. Making the Pro Tours more accessible is something we’re currently discussing for future seasons.
What would you like to do with the site that isn’t being done already?
We would like to expand on our course profile pages and add more detailed information. Things like scorecards, number of plays, and course records would be great additions.
We’re also in the early talks about creating a ladder system for community play. There is a lot of down time between tournaments and this would be a great way to keep everyone engaged during the week.
More stats! The PGA has an incredible amount of stats available — we’re hoping to add some of the more popular ones like Strokes Gained, Total Length of Putts Made, and Scrambling Percentage.