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Video game golfers finally get The Masters

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The 12th Hole at Augusta - EA Sports

Over the years, gamers have swatted homers in every major league ballpark, dunked in every NBA arena, and rumbled downfield in every NFL stadium.

But one of the most revered spots in sports has yet to receive the game treatment...until now.

On Tuesday EA announced plans to bring Augusta National to the aptly-titled Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii), marking the very first appearance
of the hallowed golf course in a U.S. video game (its one other appearance was in a 1998 Japanese-only release for the Nintendo 64). To reflect the tie-in, the new
title will be pushed up from its typical release window in June to March 29 --
one week prior to the 2011 Masters tournament.

The inclusion of The Masters is the culmination of a
secretive, three-year collaboration between Augusta National and EA, a feat EA
Sports president Peter Moore is more than a little proud of.

"For more than a decade, the Masters Tournament has been the most requested and coveted feature for the Tiger Woods PGA TOUR franchise among our fans," he said in a release, adding that the pairing of Augusta and the Tiger Woods franchise is "a perfect marriage."

Uh, not the best choice of words, exactly, but his point is well taken. From its legendary Amen corner (the 11 - 13 holes) to the iconic Green Jacket awarded to winners, Augusta is considered golfing's crown jewel. The Tiger Woods franchise might not boast that kind of
mystique, but it's been the preeminent name in video game golf for the better
part of a decade and remains largely unrivaled in the space.

According to EA, the three-year development project has yielded some big returns for gamers. The entire course has been painstakingly laser-scanned -- a first for EA -- which reportedly captures every nuance of the course, right down to the specific placement of the famous azalea shrubs and the particular undulations of every green. It's packed with commentary from real-world Masters crew David Feherty and Jim Nantz, and even lets players relive famous moments from past events, dating back to its first televised
matches in the late 1950s. A virtual caddie will dole out advice, and should
gamers grow bored of Augusta (for shame!), they can hack through 15 other courses as well.

The most impressive accomplishment, however, was getting
past the red tape to bring The Masters to gamers in the first place. Licensing
issues have notoriously derailed the video game appearances of other sports
icons, including homerun king Barry Bonds and basketball bigwig/golfing catastrophe
Charles Barkley. Others, like rock legends Led Zeppelin, have taken the snooty
approach and simply refuse to play ball with game developers whatsoever. But with
the likes of The Beatles, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson and now Augusta
getting into the act, it seems only matter of time before other holdouts
finally see the value of video game appearances, financially or otherwise.

Despite the good vibes, the relationship between Augusta and Tiger Woods hasn't always been peachy. Back in April of 2010, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne lashed
out
at Woods over his infidelity scandal, saying that "he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids. Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."

Here's hoping his next game will do a bit better.

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