A lot of the side features are also available without paying, and it's here that the game gets really quite clever. EA Sports has obviously done its homework, and has incorporated numerous ideas drawn from MMORPGs and games like FarmVille to make sure those addictive hooks sink in. Most obviously, the game can automatically link to your Facebook account, assuming you use the same email address on both sites. This lets you import friends from Facebook and also post updates on your performance. You can earn bonus XP by bringing new players into the game, but the online features go deeper than that.
Central to the Tiger Woods online experience is The Cut. This is a passive daily challenge based around your current skill level. The game works out the average score based on players of your level, and if you play any 18 hole round and beat that score then you've "made the cut". You get bonus XP for this, but here's where it gets really fiendish. If you beat the target score the next day, you're on a streak and will earn even more XP. In other words, regular play of a better than average standard results in ever-increasing XP boosts.
But wait. It gets even more ruthlessly addictive. You can also add other players to your watch list, which in turn grants them more XP for every new follower they pick up. If you find someone who is really good, you can sponsor them so that each time they make the cut you earn a cash bonus based on their performance. The result is an online multiplayer game where success comes from networking and supporting each other more than mere competitive rivalry. Players forming groups, watching and sponsoring each other, chatting during the match and setting up their own tournaments – this is the heart of the game's community, and it's also wisely available to all.
Crucially, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online plays a good game of golf - though experienced players may bump up against the edges of the relatively crude engine more frequently than others - but what impresses most is how scalable it is. For the office-bound golfer who wants nothing more than to play a few holes during a coffee break, it's welcoming, intuitive and absolutely free. For the more dedicated player who wants access to every course and tournament, it's an almost fully-featured Tiger Woods game that, over a year, probably costs slightly less than the traditional standalone disc updates. And for the sociable types, it's all built on a web of shrewdly designed interactions that benefit the individual while strengthening the community.
There's some room for improvement of course, and no doubt the customisation options will expand over time and the engine will get tweaked along the way, but as a signpost for the future of how sports games can fit into the new gaming landscape, Tiger's online debut is extremely promising.
8 / 10