The company’s EA Sports unit is giving many players virtually their only chance to play the lush fairways and putt on the hallowed greens at Augusta National Golf Club. They’ll be competing to win the storied Masters Tournament and of course, to don the victor’s famed green jacket.
It’s the first time the uber-exclusive Augusta National will be in the best-selling golf game. Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’12: The Masters goes on sale the week before the real-life tournament tees off. It’s scheduled to hit store shelves on March 29th in the U.S. and April 1st elsewhere around the globe.
EA Sports President Peter Moore says the Augusta course has been the most requested by fans for more than a decade. He also says technological breakthroughs and several meetings over a three-year period helped win the approval of Augusta’s caretakers.
The company used state-of-the art laser scanning technology to meticulously re-create the course down to the blooms on the Azalea bushes.
“Golf courses have undulations. That was one of the things we always had difficulty with,” Moore explained to reporters on a conference call. “Our teams had to walk fairways and make notes on depressions and bunkers. This technology lets us be precise almost to the millimeter.”
This technological breakthrough and three years of negotiations helped in gaining the approval of Augusta’s notorious micro-managing wardens. The private golf club counts Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and T. Boone Pickens among its members.
Augusta National announced plans to recycle its proceeds from sales of the video game back into the game of golf through the newly-created Masters Tournament Foundation. Augusta Chairman Billy Payne said in a statement: “We hope our inclusion will foster an appreciation for the history and tradition of the Masters and inspire the next generation of golfers.”
It’s clear from the game’s packaging to the promo material that the course is the main draw. Tiger’s name may be on the box but his mug is conspicuously absent from the cover of the game except for a special edition on Sony’s PlayStation 3.
Moore says this is not a move to distance the company from Woods, who famously suffered through his toughest year as a pro both on and off the course in 2010. Woods admitted to a number of extramarital affairs, went through a very public divorce, and failed to win a tournament for the first time.
He also lost many lucrative endorsements from the likes of Accenture (NYSE:ACN), AT&T NYSE:T), and Gatorade.
“You shouldn’t read anything into it,” Moore said emphatically. “Tiger’s been very supportive and is excited to share the stage with Augusta National. He’s a past champion and we hope he’ll have the opportunity to do it again.”
Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter is not surprised by EA pushing Augusta more than Tiger. “The focus is shifting more toward courses and away from the player,” Pachter explains. “Tiger’s name is what gets people to remember the game, but it’s really the courses that keep people buying it year after year, and the opportunity to play Augusta is pretty cool.”
EA Sports is leveraging the Augusta experience exclusively for its pricier console games. Moore says the Masters will not be a tour stop for its less expensive or free versions of the game. They are available on other platforms including web browsers, iPhone, or Facebook.
Pachter sees sales of the console game bouncing back from a down year, along with Tiger’s golf game.
There’s little doubt EA Sports would enjoy seeing Tiger fitted for a fifth green jacket at Augusta. After all, that would help the company see a little more green.