Derek Levine was only six years old when he was introduced to the family avocation: He got his first set of golf equipment.
“My dad bought me a Ben Hogan junior set (of clubs) and an old Ben Hogan golf bag. I used to carry it everywhere,” Levine says.
Levine’s family is full of weekend golfers and he grew up learning to make chip shots in the backyard. “It was more about being able to hang out with my parents and grandfather and my brother,” he said.
Levine, 32, has continued playing golf, using weekend games as a way to relieve stress from his day job as a sales account executive in Austin at the database company MongoDB. A year ago, fed up with all the politics on his Facebook feed, Levine started following many golf instructors and created a group to share fairway tips, “ProSwingTips.”
That group grew quickly (it now has more than 2,500 members) and began to attract some professional instructors. Levine began hustling, working to attract amateur golfers who might have an interest in joining the community. Then he realized there wasn’t an app on the market geared toward the kind of casual golfers unwilling to pay $140 an hour for private golf lessons but who still wanted to work on their game.
“Golf courses are closing and golf instruction is dying out a little bit,” Levine said. “Lessons are either too expensive or people don’t have time to work on their game. They only have time to go out and play with their buddies.
Earlier this month, Levine launched “ProSwingTips,” an iOS and Android app based on the Facebook group with some of its members serving as beta testers. He currently has about 17 instructors with profiles in the app with a goal of reaching about 30, including some from the LPGA tour.
Golf enthusiasts can choose an instructor, sign up for lesson plans that start at about $30 (or $120 for month of unlimited lessons), and upload a clip of their swing or video of other golf troubles. The instructor can message back and forth with the golfer and even send back their own video messages.
Instructors get an 80 percent cut of the lesson fee and the videos stay in a golfer’s profile. They can view them at any time, even while out golfing. In less than a month, the app has been downloaded more than 800 times, according to Levine.
The app also offers a few free tips as well as articles from some of the golf instructors and links to buy equipment and apparel. Levine says he hopes to partner with golf courses and gear makers to offer discounts to his app users.
Levine said he’s working with the instructors to make sure their lessons are as accessible as possible. He doesn’t want to scare off golfers who are just learning the game.
“The game is already hard as hell,” he said. “You don’t need to make learning the game more difficult than it needs to be.”
The app can help instructors, who often have lots of downtime at courses, to build their brand and make more connections with new clients, he said.
Levine said there’s a culture shift in golf and that if it’s going to grow, it needs to do a better job attracting amateur golfers who are millennials and women, in particular. “There are 25 million golfers in the U.S. Women are going to be a really big part of the growth of the golf industry.”