Pitch and putt virtually on the world’s best fairways

Best Approach's yardage book, rated by Golf Digest as the fourth greatest in America in 2015. Photo: Special Arrangement.

Best Approach's yardage book, rated by Golf Digest as the fourth greatest in America in 2015. Photo: Special Arrangement.  


A media company devises software that offers overviews in close-up of elevation, terrain and hazards on golf courses.

The ‘swinging sixties’ saw a golfer in his twenties take the sport by storm. The secret to some of his success lay in his use of yardage guides; the accurate distances contained therein proving to be an advantage. His 312-metre hit in 1963 stayed a hit for over two decades as the longest drive, firmly planting Jack Nicklaus in the pantheon of golfing greats.

The game’s growth — to become a paradise for professionals — was swift, the quest for perfection never ending. Against a rapidly changing landscape, Best Approach, a pioneer in the field, integrated yardage books and cards with digital platforms in 1994. These further helped golfers make club selection decisions and chart course-specific strategies.

“Migrating from the two dimensional to 3D was the toughest task we faced,” Brian Gammill, Director, International Operations, told The Hindu. From the firm’s Hyderabad office, its staffers visited, mapped and measured (up to sub-foot accuracy) more than 1,400 golf courses worldwide, including the Shinnecock Hills course in Southampton, New York, which has been rated the fourth greatest in the U.S. by Golf Digest.

Sanath Kumar, one of Gammill’s graphic designers, was at Datai Bay on Malaysia’s Langkawi island two years ago. When carrying out measurements, he sought help from a man in a floppy hat, taking the latter to be one of the ground staff. Sanath didn’t get the hint when he saw the hangers-on behind. The man turned out to be the legendary Ernie Els, after whom the course, ranked 2013’s best new facility, is named.

Bhupesh Kanaparthi, from a coastal Andhra Pradesh village, was course-marking near Sao Paulo in Brazil. The vast stretch was deserted till a stranger invited him for a round of golf. Only later did he know that his anonymous partner was the billionaire who owned the course, so exclusive that he would invite only 20 guests a week to play there. Two firsts to Kanapaarthi’s credit are the opening round at Azerbaijan’s brand new, and only, course.

Besides the booklets and cards, the golf course media company devised CourseFlight, a three-dimensional online tour that offers overviews in close-up of elevation, terrain changes and hazards on the course.

CourseApp came next, combining earlier features with animated flyovers to benefit GPS-enabled smart phone users, apart from a tee-time booking engine, event calendars, photo galleries etc. Indian clients include Prestige Golfshire Club in Bangalore, Bombay Presidency Golf Club and the Gary Player Course at the DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon. The most prestigious customer could be U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who personally perused the finer points of a project. Such is golf’s grip on America that courses in Phoenix, Arizona, alone outnumber those in all of India.

“Of the 18,000 across the U.S., we are aiming at the top 3,000 high-end daily fee, resort and Tournament Players Club (TPC) courses, the last named a chain of private and public facilities operated by the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour. The biggest challenge before us will be Whistling Straits in Wisconsin that boasts over a 1,000 bunkers. Since it’s designed by Pete Dye, even the pros will find it punishing” said Gammill.

‘Not smooth sailing’

It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the Mesa, Arizona-headquartered company. The globalisation of the golf industry went hand in hand with escalating real estate prices, especially as elite housing developments and vacation resorts sprung up at the end of the last millennium.

Even when Best Approach went strong with about 50 courses a year in 2004, its President Michael Howell saw the need to reach out to a larger portion of the market and therefore lower cost structures. He researched profitability of outsourcing graphic design to China or India before opting for the latter.

The move proved productive, the number of projects doubling after it hired and trained its own graphic designers. The 2008 global financial crisis hit golf hard — despite the game’s higher profile in the Tiger Woods era — as several related businesses folded up. Many of its competitors crumbled. “Austerity helped us weather hard times until 2012 when things took a turn for the better,” concluded Gammill.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 1:42:30 PM |

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