Business on the
It's hardly breaking news that golf
is a great way to build relationships with potential
business clients. Men have been doing it since the
days of hickory shafts and gutta perchas.
Few other outings give you the
chance to spend about five hours with someone in a
beautiful setting and play a sport that lends itself to
fun, interaction and camaraderie. Golf strips away our
facades, allowing strangers to really get to know each
other. And, if you can handle the game's challenges,
injustices and occasional rewards with humor and grace,
you'll impress someone in a way that a lunch, two
meetings and half a dozen phone calls could never do.
While the bottom line rules, at
the end of the day, most people do business with those
folks they enjoy and with whom they have shared a good
time. Golf provides that opportunity. Yet, despite
the dramatic increase in the number of women playing the
game, women have been slow to take advantage of the
opportunities golf offers for business.
"It's more of a comfort and
familiarity issue," says Linnea Turnquist,
executive director of the Canadian Golf Foundation in
Oakville, Ont. "Women new to golf are concerned
they will look out of place.
"Golf isn't the easiest
game to pick up. There's so many unwritten rules,"
says Turnquist, who ran the successful Par W program in
Calgary for new women golfers.
Indeed, before you venture on
to the course with clients, wait until you have a
thorough knowledge of golf etiquette and basic rules,
and that you can contact the ball on most every swing.
Otherwise, you'll be a nervous wreck and the outing will
likely turn into a black comedy beyond your worst
This doesn't mean you have to be
a great golfer. Not at all. You just have to feel
comfortable on a golf course and know what other golfers
expect. Business-golf is a great tool, but only in
the hands of people who know and play golf.
If you don't belong to a private
club, try to take your clients to a course they really
want to play or one where you feel confident they will
be treated with respect and courtesy. Fortunately, most
metropolitan areas now have at least one high-end public
facility, but by pulling strings you can sometimes
wrangle yourself on to a spiffy private club. Take your
client's skill level into consideration; don't take a
novice to a really tough layout.
Speaking of spiffy and tough, a
lot of business-golf gets done at Devil's Pulpit and
sister-course Devil's Paintbrush in Caledon, Ont. Ben
Kern, the director of golf, has done his share of
entertaining and watched masters of the practice at
work. "The first thing is to get a starting time
with everyone's name in the group given well in advance
so their arrival at the club is expected," Kern
Kern's mantra for game-day is
avoid hassles in advance. Be at the course at least 90
minutes before your tee time so you can greet your
clients and guests when they arrive. If the course
provides bag tags, ensure they are produced and all
names are spelled correctly. If it's not your own club,
being there early gives you time to scout the place, so
you know where the locker room is, where to pick up
carts and how to pay for green fees, food and drinks. (And,
yes, you pay for everything.) Being prepared and
familiar with the intricacies of the facility also makes
a good impression on the client.
Now a word on supplies. Do bring
plenty of golf balls so you don't have to routinely look
for lost balls. Do not bring a cellular phone. Your
guest may be offended, especially if he or she is a golf
Just because you still have
trouble getting the ball airborne on occasion, don't
fret. Announce on the first tee in a light way that
you're not going to keep score and you'll pick up when
you mess up. This goes a long way to loosening up
everyone. And that's the key right there: the objective
of the exercise is to have a relaxing, fun time.
"Use it as a vehicle to get to know someone, rather
than get involved in the game," Turnquist says.
Nothing ruins a golf day more
than plodding along at a funeral pace, so be ready to
hit when it's your turn. This doesn't mean you have
to rush or run--just that you keep pace with your
partners. That's why it's important to pick up if you've
foozled a bunch of shots. (When you get near the green,
you can drop a ball, chip on and putt so the group
shares in the rituals of the short game.)
Many women are surprised and
relieved to learn that most men are not great golfers.
After all, you can be a golfer, and not be a good
golfer. But at whatever level you play, never complain
or moan about your game. Take your lumps with dignity
And here's good news to women
worried about feeling intimidated: most golfers would
rather play with someone who hits the occasional
warm-burner and stays in good spirits than with a
skilled player who gripes all day. Bear in mind that
golf is a game of honor. If you are keeping score, and
you took an 8 on a hole, don't say you had a 6. The
majority of golfers believe that someone who cheats on
the golf course cannot be trusted off it.
Avoid talking business on the
course. It can turn some people off, make things
tense and ruin the round. This is the time to get to
know someone, have fun and build a relationship. However,
if the client initiates a discussion of business, then
follow his or her lead. Let the client guide you the
whole day through.
A good rule of thumb is that
after you've relaxed at the 19th hole for a spell, tell
the client you'd like to discuss some business and that
you'd like to set up an appointment in the coming weeks
to explore it further. If the client wants to talk right
there, fine. Go with the flow.
And, more times than not, you'll
find that those five hours spent together around golf
without discussing business will generate lots of it.
~ Tim O’Connor is a
Toronto-area freelance writer ~
Women Golfer, Spring 1999.