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The Rise of Golf as a Relationship Builder

Q. I am an OK golfer (informal 30 handicap) and I am relatively new to a company where golf is a part of many business functions. I have never been at a level where I was invited to participate in golf events until now. My male colleagues attend charity events, accept invitations from clients, and initiate outings as well. I haven’t seen this from my women colleagues yet, and I’m not sure how to approach anyone with how this works. Do I tell people I golf? How good do I really need to be to golf for work? What are the rules around golf as a work day, and how can I make sure I don’t lose credibility or clients?

A. Your question is important in today's business world. Golf has become a global relationship builder in business settings where social activity is added. Company outings, and professional associations offer great chances to network, and you want to make sure you take these opportunities. Companies do have corporate customs for golf as a business event, and how expenses are handled. You need to consult your manager about accepting invitations, and inviting guests to golf as well.

To gain expert insight, I consulted Maria Marino, a Class A Member of the LPGA, a teacher of LPGA Golf Clinics for Women, and a golf columnist. Maria counsels, “Establishing a handicap is a great start to incorporating golf into business. It is a great equalizer giving you the opportunity to play with any other skill level of golfer. This will give you the credibility you may feel you lack. Once you do that, accept every invitation that comes your way.

As a new ‘business’ golfer, pay attention to speed of play. No matter your skill level, if you do not hold up play, you will be welcome to play with anyone. When playing for fun, if you find you are taking too many strokes on a hole, just pick up the ball and cheer on your playing partners.”

Your knowledge of the rules of golf, and etiquette is an important part of play, just as it is in business. Be aware of, and follow the many details of golf etiquette and the rules. Every golfer will tell you they learn a great deal about people from their experience golfing with them. Make sure the message you deliver is one you would choose.

Marino suggests you also attend charitable events as a great way hone your social golf skills. Your local paper will most often have listings of community golf events. Your company may even have a cause they are committed to, which can benefit from a golf outing, or sponsorship.

“Golf as a business tool is indispensable”, Marino notes. “I have often said that business may not be conducted on the golf course but the relationships needed to make good business partners are.”

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