Golf has long been deemed the sport for business. A favorite pastime of the world’s elite, today it remains the top-cited hobby among senior executives. In fact, a recent study found that CEOs who regularly play golf are paid 17 percent more on average than those who do not.
It’s not solely ability that allows players to get ahead. “Golf provides a unique opportunity to bond with individuals for a significant amount of time,” says Accounting@Syracuse professor Bill Walsh. “If you have lunch with someone, that might be for an hour or so. In golf, you get to know the person much better since you’re battling the course together. In an age of teleconferencing, golf may be one of the last venues where you can maintain that personal contact.”
While the general popularity of the sport may be sliding, the appeal of golf to top businesspeople remains strong.
Donald Trump has famously credited golf with helping him gain access to important professionals early in his career. While his golf game has been scrutinized, Trump says that you can develop relationships and make deals on the golf course.
Echoing that sentiment, more than a third of surveyed executives reported that some of their biggest business deals were made on a golf course.
An average round of golf takes four hours; only a small portion of that time is spent in active play. Savvy businesspeople take advantage of the downtime to really get to know their opponents, asking questions that demonstrate genuine personal and professional interest. Etiquette suggests that conversation specific to business should take place between the fifth and 15th holes and that following up after the round to close any deals is best practice.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or a true beginner, the value of golf extends well beyond the realm of networking. Famed English author P. G. Wodehouse once said, “To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.”Some of the traits required to succeed on the green are also required to seal a deal:
- Honesty: In golf, there are many opportunities to cheat and get ahead. True golfers understand that the game must be played with honor, and they expect their business partners to follow the same moral code.
- Opinions: Between holes, conversation is critical. As your relationship develops with your fellow players, it’s OK to leave your cards on the table.
- Strategy: What’s your plan? How you play, which clubs you use, and your attention to your swing demonstrate your dedication to the game and a commitment to performing well.
- Temperament: Sportsmanship can be telling about the way you handle bad news or human error in business.
It is estimated that in the United States alone, there are 29 million golfers playing at almost 16,000 courses. As the face of the business world has changed, so too has that of golf. In recent years, officials have been concentrating on making the sport more approachable through specific policy changes.
For example, thanks to the handicap system, novices and veterans can play in matched competition. Patricia Woertz, chairman of the board at Archer Daniels Midland, plays with a handicap of 15. However, her advantage ends there: She insists on driving from the men’s tee.
As more female professionals are exposed to the game, many are discovering the business benefits of golf. More than a third of women who play golf with clients have said that the game resulted in additional business. Businesswomen who play particularly well actually tend to earn more than their male equivalents: Women with handicaps under 10 have an average income of $146,900, compared with $118,400 for men who have the same handicap.
The golf course is meant for more than fun — it is a breeding ground for new ideas, transactions, and debate among a diverse crowd of businesspeople.