To some, golf is just a boring waste of time. To others, it's an expensive hobby masquerading as a sport. Mark Twain called it "a good walk spoiled." But whatever your attitude towards golf, this is one endeavor that may have the power to multiply your business success. Not only is golf an excellent place to network and to build relationships with clients and prospects, some fans view a round of golf as a window into the soul of a fellow player, both in business and in life.
In the words of sportswriter Grantland Rice, "Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across a desk."
Debbie Waitkus, is a consultant and business golf-coach who teaches clients how to Turn Golf into Gold®. "It's no secret that golf is a widely accepted venue for conducting business and forwarding relationships," says Waitkus. In fact, a large number of her clients are accountants, and many of them were told after passing the CPA exams that they needed to go out and buy golf clubs.
The Starwood Hotel chain conducted an extensive survey of executives who golf, in which just about every respondent named this sport as an essential tool of business. They also said that the way a person behaves on the golf course is a good indicator of how he or she will behave in business dealings. So if demonstrating your good character to would-be clients is your goal, you might want to polish up the clubs and clean those golf shoes.
Here are some of the key findings of the survey, From The Boardroom to the Back Nine: The Importance of Golf in Business (Conducted by Guideline Research & Consulting for Starwood Hotels) which may surprise those who underestimate the importance of golf.
- 97% of executives view golf with a business associate as a way to establish a close relationship
- 92% use golf as a way to make business contacts.
- More than 50 % say there is no better way, to get to know associates and clients. The second best way is a business meal.
- 45 % say clients are more likely to give you their business if you golf together.
- 43% of executives say some of their biggest deals have been made or started on the golf course.
- 59 % believe that the way a person plays golf is the way he or she behaves in business.
- 67 % of respondents say that a person who cheats at golf would probably cheat in business.
- 57 % say a hothead on the golf course is probably bad tempered at work.
- 92 % say people stressed at work would get more relief if they golfed.
- 82% of executives admit to cheating in a golf game, and 86% admit to cheating in business.
Should You Hit the Golf Course Pitching?
So now that you know the value of a round of golf to the success of your career and you've scheduled a round with a prospect or client, when is the best time to bring up business? About half of the respondents to the Starwood survey said you should wait till after the game, at the 19th hole. Of those, the vast majority warned that the time spent over food and drink, talking about the highlights of the game and mixing in business discussion is crucial, so don't skip it.
Taking a different approach, about one quarter of respondents said they bring business up on the back nine holes… provided the client doesn't seem to mind.
Whatever happens out there on the course or at the 19th hole, don't forget the all-important follow through. When you return to your office, make the promised phone call or visit and close the deal.
One caveat: you've heard the saying, "Fake it till you make it." But golf may be one of the exceptions. If you truly hate the game, pretending to have a good time probably won't work. The investment of time, money and energy is significant, so if that's your situation, the best golf advice might be… sell the clubs and use the money to take prospects out for a hearty meal instead.
Before you step foot on the golf course…
Serious golfers will tell you, golf is rich with traditions that should be respected. Waitkus says, "It's is a wonderful game loaded with rules and etiquette - which can make the game very intimidating. But don't worry - most of us learn something new every time we play. Knowing etiquette and the Rules gives us confidence. Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power!"
Here are a few tips Waitkus gives to new golfers to help them succeed on the course:
- Learn the rules.
- Respect the pace of the play. Always be ready when it's your turn to hit. Picking up your ball is always an option - just remember to drop it down on/near the green and finish the hole with everyone else so that you're part of the group.
- Don't prevent another player from having his or her best game. In other words, learn to know where you should stand and walk. And don't make noise. The sound of cell phones is ubiquitous these days, and though we all have them, most of us find them annoying when others use them in our presence, especially when concentration is key.
"Client golf is about building and forwarding relationships," says Waitkus. "Don't get lost in your score. You can be a terrible golfer but a great person to be with on the course. Focus more on how you handle yourself. It's attitude not aptitude."
You can learn more about golf and its connection to the business world by visiting Waitkus's Web site, Golf for Cause