November 26, 2020

New Golf Training Platform Ikonik Lets Students Control the Process

The Shalhoup siblings, Kristina and James, were both talented competitive golfers at an early age and continued playing through college (NYU for Kristina, Johnson & Wales for James). But even for skilled youngsters, lesson retention and focused development proved elusive, says their father, Jim. 

This experience prompted Jim Shalhoup, a former executive in the golf industry, to develop a digital training platform called Ikonik to distill insights, consolidate communication and offer an archive of video instruction for a student to learn the sport with the guidance of a coach.

“My first thought was, why don’t we flip the classroom and put all the learning materials up front, and let the student own the process rather than the coach own the process?” says Ikonik CEO Jim Shalhoup, who previously was a regional sales manager for Callaway Golf and the CEO of golf business platform Back9Links. “And I thought that would be a more pertinent way, you to get to what they’re trying to get to, which is the learning.”

Ikonik formally launched this week with Elysian Park Ventures as an investor, the LPGA as a strategic partner, and the PGA as a collaborative partner, with 14 of its 41 regions signed on. Ikonik’s Smart Chat facilitates the sharing of comments and videos between player and coach by tying each to a particular lesson or practice session. The app contains more than 300 lesson modules, each with a preloaded video tutorial and the flexibility for a coach to customize by adding his or her own. And it collects all of a student’s diagnostic test and scoring data for easy reference.

Shalhoup designed Ikonik as a B2B2C app. Coaches, he believes, are necessary gatekeepers for which module is accessed and when, as they need to guide players through the material. That’s reflected in the business model, too, as coaches pay $20 per month per student using the platform. (There is also a $250 certification course to train coaches on the platform and other digital resources.)

“Most of the applications that we’ve seen that go direct to consumers generally fall short, because the consumer doesn’t necessarily know how to teach themselves,” Shalhoup says. “So the interaction from a coach to the student, we think, is valuable. So this is really giving the tools to the coach to more effectively teach and train students.”

One of the coaches to contribute videos to that platform is Brian Jacobs, an instructor near Rochester, N.Y., who has won several teaching awards and is a lead instructor in the Golf Channel Academy network. He generally maintains a roster of 60 students at a time but has added 10 remote clients through beta testing of Ikonik—working with skill levels ranging from raw beginners to a former NFL player (Eric Wood) who owns a GCQuad simulator and shaved his handicap down to five.

Jacobs says he especially appreciates Ikonik’s data-driven approach to instruction with an emphasis on regular assessments. “I love the ability of the diagnostic tests,” he says. “I’m a big data collector. You have to with your upper-level players, especially. So when they do a diagnostic test that helps me develop their plan, so that we can stay on point. Their model is to test, teach, train and then retest.” 

“You are spending less time actually turning the wrench,” adds Jacobs, who trained under renowned instructor Hank Haney. “So it’s more streamlined. In a way, you’re replacing yourself. But that’s a good thing because you want to empower the student to be able to think on their own, act on their own, play on their own.”

Ikonik promises to provide even more information in the future. Shalhoup says the app has an AI engine and, once it ingests a critical mass of player data, it will apply machine learning to help guide pertinent lesson modules based on a user’s playing style and preferences. The CEO also plans to incorporate more objective sources to guide the player experience.

“We want to use some of that data coming from biomechanics, launch monitors, force plates, stats training—all of those things to help feed the data to help create more programs for coaches,” Shalhoup says. “At the moment, we’re going to remain agnostic there and do it through API.”

Jacobs is one of the featured instructors who provided videos to Ikonik. He says he has filmed 16 training videos for the Golf Channel and recorded 40 to 50 of his own, all of which can be entered into the platform thanks to its customization.

Some of the other coaches include LPGA Tour player Tina Tombs and PGA pro Brendon Elliott, who is the founder of the youth program Little Linksters. Earlier in the development process, Shalhoup says he had conversations with well-known instructors David Leadbetter, Jim McLean and Michael Breed at which point a consultant on the project joked about the potential involvement from these “icons of the game”—a quip that ultimately led to the app name, Ikonik.

Most established instructors made their names at physical locations—Ledbetter operates his own academy in Orlando, McLean runs a golf school at The Biltmore Miami—but Jacobs believes the business models will change, especially considering that some clubs ask for up to 50% of a coach’s fee for use of the course. Ikonik is a platform that could accelerate that new trend.

“You’re going to see more and more teachers moving towards an on-demand platform,” Jacobs says. “And you know, there are guys and girls in this business already that that’s all they do. They only do on-demand teaching or virtual teaching because it doesn’t cost them anything for overhead for grass, for carts, to use the golf course. And then they put the onus back on the student, which is where it should be.”

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