The Insider’s Guide to Networking on the Golf Course

Posted on December 5, 2017 in Business Essentials

With the passing of Labor Day, the symbolic end of summer, I can finally stop feeling guilty for not airing my (forgiving) Callaway clubs more during the golf season.

I’ve been told that to build my business, I need to network on the golf course. Golf is touted as the crown jewel of business networking, enjoyed by power brokers and Presidents alike. But having dabbled, watched videos, and joined groups for over ten years, I can attest that golf networking is not exactly a magic bullet for riches. So here’s a candid look – for good and ill — at what awaits you on the golf course.

On the Downside . . .

  1. It takes time – and skill — to be really good No one gets any boost of confidence when seeing financial irregularities or problems. So do what you can to settle any claims, lawsuits, or debts. In particular, pay all back taxes and put the systems in place to make sure that you do not fall into arrears in the future. Do not play games with sales taxes, employee taxes or pension funds, as you will be inviting disaster.
  2. Bad attitudes are hard to disguise. Golf can easily turn a person into a foul-mouthed beast who hacks at the earth with a 4-iron in retaliation for a bad shot. If you’re on the links solely to get business but you hate the experience, your negativity will shine through all attempts to mask it.
  3. Dispense with the fantasy that you’ll meet the superstar client your first time out. Unless you’re at a high-profile, big-ticket golf outing (in which case you’ve probably already “made it”), you normally won’t meet titans of industry in your foursome. Multi-million dollar business gets exchanged on the course when one bigwig invites his (yes, usually “his”, not “her”) friends to the club. They made their connection though peer networking, for which golf was merely the vehicle to let that happen.
  4. Golf can be solitary. Although golf outings can feature methods of play that get all of the “foursome” involved, when you walk over to your ball, you’re by yourself. When you set up to hit the ball, you’re by yourself. When you’re waiting for others to hit, you’re usually not talking. And for most of the day, you’re with the same three other people.

On the Upside . . .

Leaving aside the beauty of nature, the constant challenge and humility of play, the creativity to dig yourself out of a bad lie, and the bonding through commiseration over flubbed shots . . . networking is a process of getting to know people, with the goal of seeing whether there’s synergy for doing business together. As the adage goes, 18 holes of golf will teach you more about your foe than 18 years of business dealings. Almost always, how people react on the golf course is how they react in life. You can’t get this perspective over cocktails or coffee. You learn valuable lessons about your golf partners – and their business potential – such as:

  1. Do they cheat? In golf, all swings and movements of the ball count. Sometimes, people announce a lower score than they actually hit. They won’t count the whiffs, the lost balls, the hand tosses out of heavy brush. Are they failing to accept their shortcomings? Are they honest with themselves – and you? If not, they may cut corners to make themselves look good.
  2. What kind of disposition do they have? Golf is a long game, often played in scorching heat and unbreathable humidity. Do they control their temper when shots don’t go their way? Are able to congratulate you for your good shots when theirs just limped into the pond? If not, they may not work things out with you fairly if a business problem arises.
  3. Do they have realistic expectations? If they play once as year, do they talk big, expecting to play like the pros? And when they don’t, do they make excuses for their bad shots? If so, they may be the type of vendor to over-promise and under-deliver.
  4. Do they know the rules? The rules of golf are not just a method for counting strokes; they help ensure that players show consideration for others. Do your golf partners keep others waiting while they duff around? Do they talk loudly as you’re trying to concentrate? The level of respect they show you on the course is likely the same level of respect they’ll bring to your business.
  5. Do you like them?We are more inclined to do business with, and want to refer business to, people we like. Have you had fun with your golf partners? Have you enjoyed their company at the “19th hole” (the clubhouse, for a post-game drink)? Do you have the synergy to work together?.

For Mark Twain, golf was “a good walk spoiled”. I feel that way at times, too. But once you’re open to the many lessons golf has to teach, you’ll find, as Peter Jacobsen noted, that “golf reflects the cycle of life. No matter what you shoot, the next day you have to go back to the first tee and begin all over again and make yourself into something”.

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