Making Business Golf Work for You

By: Michael Andrew Smith
Posted: 02/10/2008

The ever popular game of golf is a sport filled with fun, competitiveness, and business.  


In the United States alone, there are over 26 million golfers.  In addition, the men’s Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour (LPGA) account for over 80 tournaments with a total combined purse of approximately one-third of a billion dollars in 2008.  The funds for these events are primarily the result of many American and foreign corporations.  They take this initiative to sponsor Tour events with many of the proceeds going to non-for-profits organizations.  


People of many diverse age groups and backgrounds play golf.  The fastest growing group in the sport, according to the National Golf Foundation, is women. It is not the alleged “good ol’ boys” sport any more. Both women and men enjoy the sport to watch and play and many companies, whether private or public, large and small, encourage golf as a natural side for networking; helping needy organizations; and, the development of contacts and relationships with prospective customers and established clients.


Playing golf with friends, family or on your own is one thing.  To play with clients and prospects can be totally different. There can be stress and pressure in mixing golf and business.  Too often, business people may not be quite up to the task, or, may ask themselves what should they say or do if they have need to invite a client to play a round of golf.  A few common concerns are:

  1. Who do you invite and who brings up the subject of business?
  2. How do you find out information about your guest and start building a business relationship through a round of golf?
  3. What are some tips to keep in mind throughout the business day of golf?

Let’s address these important questions through the following key points as we mix golf and business: 

 ·        Set the Stage.  Who would you invite to play a round of golf with?  Why do you want to invite the guest?  The invitees can either be very good clients to show appreciation for their business and ask for referrals; clients that you feel can became a more important source of business but have displayed some or total resistance or someone completely new but you feel merit potential.  Saying that, resist the temptation in getting caught up in the sales cycle of trying to make a sale. Don’t force it. Realize you will have several hours of time to engage in a meaningful conversation.  Sell by not selling. Yes, do your homework, prepare and review any information you have on the businessperson and know your stuff.  But just don’t talk about business so fast unless you are asked.  Instead, enjoy the day of golf and focus your attention on the client and give them the special attention they deserve.  This will help create a good atmosphere to encourage your invitee to discuss business first. ·        Bonding.  Build a bond with your guest, you can initiate conversation by asking probing questions and encouraging conversation and is a good way to help you develop a relationship and to find our more about their business.  The several hours of time you have with your guest at the golf course is certainly a good opportunity to get to know your customer and show that that you are sincerely interested rather than trying to push for an obvious sale.  You prospect or client know why they are there.  Encourage your guest to ask you questions by talking to them about their world and asking questions and build credibility.  Remember - their interest is first, not yours. ·        Know a short speech about your business.  When you are asked about your business, avoid the long and winding speech.  This tip can help shorten the sales cycle and please do not use acronyms!  If you do, explain them.  You may not have a lot of time while waiting in-between golf shots, so, shorten your talk!  Can you describe your role, your company mission in thirty seconds or less?  Try it now. The point is to keep things simple, clear, concise and to the point.  It is like playing golf – do not waste a lot of time on what club to hit on a shot or lining up your putt.  Golf rules encourage not taking a lot of time to play each shot.  The same principal applies here – do not talk incessantly about your work      ·        A Little Less Practice.  Just like knowing a short and effective talk about your work, keep your golf practice, on the day you play, short, too.  Golf, like business, can be hard and difficult, but it is not necessary to hit hundreds of practice balls just prior to your golf date.  It does not matter if it is your top customer, CEO or the like.  Do the opposite.  Loosen up by hitting only a few warm up shots at the practice area so you can spend the quality time with your guests. All of your practice should have been completed days and weeks in advance. If you feel your game needs work, get a lesson from your local golf professional, weeks prior to your round.  This will give you time to re-enforce and practice what you have learned – a much more preferable option than experimenting on the course - especially with a customer.  ·        Worried About Your Golf Score?   Realize the following:  According to handicap statistics, you have about a one in four chance to play to your handicap on any given round.  For business golf purposes, do not pressure yourself to score fantastic – you will have a better chance of playing to your handicap by not thinking of your own score!  The average score in America is 97. ·        Replace Ball Marks & Divots.  A simple rule to follow and basic etiquette that is often overlooked.  When putting on the green, repair ball marks regardless if it’s yours, the guest or others, and automatically replace divots.  Just do it.  This not only helps to take good care of the course but shows that you are responsible.   ·        USGA Rule Book.  Keep a current copy not only in your bag but in your office.  Read a few pages during the week in your office or at home.  It may help you out!  Obtain copies from your local golf professional or visit the United States Golf Association website ( ·        Business Cards in Your Golf Bag.  By having a few in your bag ready for an exchange but also doubles as a note taker for any business topics, names, addresses, etc. that may be discussed. ·        Integrity, Competency and Trust.  Client will do business with professionals she or he can trust, who are competent and are trustworthy.  This applies for golf. Never cheat or mislead.  For example, if you inadvertently moved a golf ball, take the penalty and tell your guest.  This can speak volumes about you.  Remember, golf is, first and foremost, a game of integrity, and does brings out a person’s character.  Be yourself. 

There are many more tips, rules and etiquette that apply.  Keep in mind that the focus needs to be on your customer and not you; be a good listener; and develop an understanding attitude.  With this, along with being informed about the latest professional tour news, and news about your or your clients’ business, all adds up to a winning combination!

 Michael Andrew Smith has been a partner and chief operating officer for a defense manufacturing business; President of a senior adult home and is currently a corporate Vice President of a large regional healthcare and housing organization.  He is the author of the #1 rated book under the category of business golf, “Business-to-Business Golf: How to Swing Your Way to Business Success.” Ó 2008 Michael Andrew Smith    


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