The Business Side of Golf - Networking and Building Relationships on the Course

Golf events are excellent venues for promoting your business.
Louise Armstrong
by Louise Armstrong on November 19, 2014 in Business
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golf meetingsQuite a bit of business is conducted on the golf course. It’s the perfect place; you are together with a group of others for hours at a time, perfect for getting to know them. It’s easier to get people to play a game than attend a meeting. Golf events are also excellent venues for promoting your business besides playing the links yourself. And it’s actually OK to be a duffer (not very good at it) if you handle yourself well.

Golfing is also a good way to have some relaxed face time with those you mainly interact with on LinkedIn or through email. It provides enough time to really get a bead on someone past a quick first impression.

Here are some tips about networking on the course without making the rest of the foursome fume. Don’t golf? Not to fear; there are other ways to take advantage of the game to build important relationships and promote your business.

Mind Your Manners and Be Prepared

Whether you are accepting or extending an invitation to a client or prospect for a round of golf you need to be on your best behavior on the course. This should go without saying but keeping this at the front of your mind can keep you from making a fatal gaffe in front of a customer or other valued relationship.

Begin by being polite. If you are the host, get to the course early so you can greet your guests. Select a tee time that will allow you to offer them lunch or drinks at happy hour afterwards. Compliment others on good shots. If you are the guest, be on time.

And remember: you have one mouth but two ears. Be sure to listen more than you speak. Don’t dive right into talking business; find out the client’s needs and be ready to offer contacts, resources, or find other ways to help. Keep the conversation light and diverse.

You should also be prepared. Make sure you and your group have access to sunscreen, plenty of water and shade along the course. And have the club phone number ready in case of emergency or other need for pickup.

Have the basics of the game down and be honest about your playing ability. Explain at the outset that you have little experience and welcome helpful tips about keeping the game moving. However, do not apologize at every hole or stroke - it will get old.

Don’t forget your business cards and a small notebook to use for notes on follow-up later. Business cards are also good to have on hand if there is a raffle at a tournament.

Be a Good Sport

Nothing ruins a good game faster than:

  • Cheating
  • Anger
  • Hyper-competitiveness

Not surprisingly, these are also bad for relationship building.

Cheating has no place in a business event. When you get caught (note it says “when”) you will lose all trust and be blackballed for referrals. Is that worth the subtracted strokes?

A golfing stereotype is that of the player who becomes so frustrated he or she throws, bends, or breaks the golf clubs and angrily stomps off. Don’t be this stereotype. It’s supposed to be a friendly game so you get to know each other. Do you want to leave this type of impression?

The same goes for hyper-competitiveness. The key word is “friendly.” This is a friendly game not a high stakes, winner-takes-all competition. In fact, if you are the host you will want to play at a level comfortable for your guests, not show off your inner Tiger Woods. Allow them to choose which tees to use and be respectful of others.

Treat everyone with respect from the course to the workers to other players.

  • Remain silent during swings
  • Stay out of the player’s sight-lines
  • Replace/repair divots
  • Rake bunkers
  • Repair ball marks on the green

If someone upsets you, be a grown up. Respond with a low voice and a smile.  

A Quick Word about Alcohol and Betting

Keep the alcohol to a minimum. You don’t want to ruin your chances with sloppy behavior or by saying something you shouldn’t. And if your guest doesn’t drink, you don’t drink.

Wagering, if all are amenable, is OK. Just keep it small – agree to low stakes and a friendly settlement at the end of the round.

Golf Tournaments

A golf tournament may be a multi-day affair or a single day but there are many opportunities to conduct business. Most industries and associations hold golf tournaments, which means you can select one that aligns best with your business aims. Alternatively, you can invite a new client to be on your team (do limit the number of people from your company to two per team).

A round of golf lasts around 6 hours so you will have plenty of time to show your competence, intelligence and likeability. If you are fielding multiple teams you can ask the organizer to put your teams back-to-back, giving everyone a chance to meet during the course of play.

What if you don’t play? You still have opportunities to promote your business through tournament and hole sponsorships, or providing quick, quiet games for those waiting to tee off at a hole. Come prepared with sleeves of balls, water bottles, snacks or other tokens with your business logo.  Promote your sponsorship on your blog. Many tournament organizers also show sponsors in pre-event content, on the event website and during the event.

Golf has long been known as a game of business. As you can see, you don’t have to be an expert player to take advantage of the benefits of walking a course with clients. You simply need to know the etiquette and rules of the game while keeping things professional yet friendly.

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Louise Armstrong

Louise Armstrong

Louise is a Senior Digital Strategist at Bonafide. A pop-culture addict with a passion for all things digital. She's Scottish by birth, but don't ask if she likes haggis...