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Much more than just a good walk spoiled; golf is a £30 billion industry with 30,730 courses worldwide and 57 million golfers. Europe’s 5,896 courses represent 47% of all courses outside North America. And European golf is growing fast. The number of courses on the mainland has increased 80% in just ten years, WHILE golfer numbers are growing at 5% annually.  

Hub meets a company aiming to put itself on the golf map.     Simon Roper claims it wasn’t just the numbers that led his partner Stephen Mair and himself to form Sports Analysis four years ago.  

“Doing this has allowed us to mix our two passions: business and sport. The company started with the two of us bouncing ideas off each other, as to which leading edge technologies could bring benefit to sports people and sports operators.”  

What evolved first was a mapping system capable of building a virtual model of a golf course accurate to three inches.  

The system works like this: PinPoint take an aerial photo of the golf club they are mapping. The photographs are taken in stereo, which allows topographical information to be captured. This information is converted into a geo-referenced model through a process of triangulation, so that the final digital model is an enormous grid of geographically accurate three inch squares. As Simon says, “all of our products spin out of this base mapping, so we take great care that it’s absolutely accurate.”  

There’s a lot riding on its accuracy, as Simon explains, “our desire is to generate as much recurring revenue as possible rather than one-off capital repayments. So we have a number of products that we sweat out of the central mapping asset. Our advantage is that if you have had our aerial mapping done then buying a course guide from us together with a course management package and, for example, a 3D fly-through would be far cheaper than buying all three separately, because you’d be paying for some kind of mapping three times.”  

The most obvious use of the technology is knowing how far it is to the pin. If you are a golfer on the fairway it’s obviously quite important to know how far you’re going to need to hit the ball. Golf clubs produce guides which show the distance to the front of the green from wherever you are on the course, and sometimes if you’re lucky they put yardage on sprinkler heads, but the one distance that they don’t give is the distance to the flag from the front of the green. That’s because the flag position is changed almost daily, both to avoid wear and tear on the green and to stop the course getting too easy if you play it regularly. The difference on a particular green can be as much as 40 yards, or four clubs difference, when you are standing at the tee.  

The PinPoint system changes all that by allowing the green keeper to map the hole as they change it using a sophisticated handheld GPS unit. Once the hole position is logged, staff can download all the hole positions on the course computer, and these can then be printed onto scorecards showing all the greens each morning, giving the exact yardages from the sides and the front of the green.  

It’s a clever system and, if you’re a golfer, an exciting one, but although he’s enthusiastic about the potential, Simon tells me golf isn’t the centre of the company’s long term plans.

“Where our service differs dramatically is the degree of detail it allows you to capture. For example, in the golf industry for a course manager to be able to know where all of their drainage systems are, where their piping is, to help them calculate the amount of sand that’s required to replenish a particular bunker, or exactly how much fertilizer a given fairway needs.”  

It’s a point well made, if golf courses are big business (and they are) then the challenges are big too. Simon is convinced that this technology can give course managers a competitive advantage, “we’ve been astonished, across the globe, how little mapping there is on golf courses, because it supplies a huge benefit in terms of building and managing their biggest asset, which is the course.  

“Our ambition within the golf marketplace is to make PinPoint a profitable and significant global business. As soon as we have self-generated funds available then we have other marketplaces that we know our technology is available to be used in and where we know we have some potential customers. But because our overheads are tight we don’t have spare capacity, which slows the development of software for new industries down somewhat.

“We’ve worked on a shoestring for three years, and we’ve raised money through equity as well as through loans.”  

Marilyn Huckerby from the Surrey Enterprise Hub remembers the route the company took to funding, “Sports Analysis was referred to us by Finance South East who had agreed a loan from the Accelerator Fund. Funds never go as far as the businesses would like – so connecting Simon to the Enterprise Hub Network has provided them with access to additional support including working with a Merlin Mentor on issues like opening up international sales channels; being put in touch with UK Trade and Invest for support on sales and marketing in the US; help with Intellectual Property issues and networking with other entrepreneurs.”

When I ask him about the future, Simon smiles and leans back in his chair on the terrace of the Wentworth Golf Club, “I hope to be sitting here in five years’ time, but with my money working hard for me rather than me working hard for my money.”  

A good walk spoiled? The serious business of golf   Golf is a £30 billion industry with 30,730 courses worldwide and 57 million golfers.  

There are now 5,896 courses in Europe: 47% of all courses not in North America. The European market has demonstrated amazing growth, with 1,738 new courses in ten years, an 80% increase. Over this period 110% more Europeans are now playing golf, with similar growth predicted during the next decade.  

6.3 million people play golf in Europe.  

But the popularity of golf varies enormously. Europe is not one golf market – it is a collection of different countries, all with their own unique golf market, added together.  

The problem for new golf markets, such as Eastern Europe, is that the popularity of golf is unknown. For example, no-one currently plays golf in Bucharest, Romania because there are no courses there. There is no demand because there is no supply.  

All is not uniformly rosy: there has been a 6.2% reduction in US golfers in the past two years.            

European golfers (millions)     30,000 courses worldwide     Courses in 119 countries – 59% in USA – 56m now play golf

Worldwide 7,000+ new courses in 10 yrs (30% increase)

1991 – Over 900 new courses

International trade in golf goods – $2bn pa

Exports: 1. USA $610m pa, 2. China $590m pa

Imports: Japan is the largest $328m pa   Source: The Golf Research Group 2006  


Contact: Ally Charles


Published: 07th November 2006

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