Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Mixing Business & Golf

It's not whether you win or lose but how you mind your manners
By Paul Rogers

It's no secret in corporate circles that golf and business offer a near-perfect match.  Where else but on a course can executives spend a leisurely four hours in such a private, sociable setting?  What better way to cement a relationship with a client than by lifting a glass together after a round?

For all of the game's popularity, though, there's an art to blending business and golf.  How well you comport yourself over those 18 holes-- balancing business and friendship, dealing with competition and success-- suggests to others how you might behave in the boardroom or around the bargaining table.  "If you're out playing golf with your buddies, hey, have at it," says John Hansen, a former software-company CEO who now heads the Colorado Institure of Technology.  "But when you're playing golf in a business setting-- whether with employees, partners, or customers-- man, you'd better be hypersensitive" about how you act.

For starters, learn the etiquette.  There's a protocol in golf that includes not talking when someone is hitting, not stepping in the line of a putt, and treating the course with respect.  Many new golfers seem to feel that they're above raking bunkers or replacing divorts, says David Glenz, head pro at Crystal Springs Golf & Spa Resort in northwestern New Jersey (Glenz was named on of America's 50 Greatest Teachers by Golf Digest). "If you carry that attitude, especially to a nice private club, it would be easy for the person who has brought you to lose respect," he says.

Another key to success is engaging your playing partners but avoiding the hard sell.  Less-experienced business golfers, says Hansen, think they need to come back to the office with something to show for all their time spent away.  Just focus on the personal side, he says: "I am expecting that, by the 18th hole, you know their spouse, you know their children, you know the church they go to, you know everything about them."

Regardless of how serious your partners take the game, don't try to impress.  The golf swing is difficult enough when you're relaxed.  Add a degree of tension, and it becomes even harder.  As CEO of RDA Corp., a software development outfit outside Baltimore, Don Awalt plays a lot of business golf.  "I've seen cases where people get so intimidated," he says "You know, they're whiffing or hitting the ball three feet."  Actually, most people pay scant attention to what you shoot; they're too busy focusing on their own game.  What people will remember is how enjoyable it was to play with you.

Dealing with setbacks may be the biggest challenge of all.  Given the nature of the game, everyone is bound to struggle.  "There are days that course is going to kick you in the teeth, and seeing how someone reacts is very revealing," says Awalt.  Short of cheating, the worst thing to do is lose your temper.  Nothing wrecks the flow of a convivial round more than someone screaming in anger or throwing a club.

If your partner is struggling, avoid giving unsolicited advice.  If the golf swing were so simple that a single adjustment in grip or setup were the answer to a player's ills, we'd all be pros.  So much for a casual stroll on the course.