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Off Course: Ramblings on keeping your golf ball, and networking opportunity, out of the hazard

By Evan Ross, SMPS San Diego Past President

Golf and business. As synonymous as Caddyshack and…gopher hunting. Like a well-worn Tam o’ Shanter, the golf course continues to provide business professionals the perfect balance between the serious and delirious; a place for movers and shakers to let it fly (subsequently sigh or cry), and perhaps sign, ideally, on the dotted line (as opposed to the scorecard, which rarely pencils out). Each month, more deals are done on the fairways of the world than there are sandbaggers in all of this summers’ A/E/C tourneys.

Indeed, the links provide a lovely foil to the staid conference room or impersonal conference call. A place to connect, face to face, with those souls kindly giving you work and a chance to truly get sense of the value you bring to them as a trusted consultant. Or an earful about non-responsiveness. Either way, it’s a potential learning experience and quite possibly the only device to get any single person to hang out with you for four-plus hours, particularly a client who, under normal circumstances (and minus greens fees), might give you four-plus minutes.

So, here you are, on a brilliant sunny day, nice light-hearted energy among your group, and the potential of developing some strong relations with a client you’ve been trying to chat up for months. Things are looking good, like a wide open, gently curving fairway that plays perfectly for your draw. This is your moment. You tee it up, square up…and then look up and immediately duck hook it into that pond you couldn’t see from the tee.

This being as much a metaphor for addressing your client as your ball, it’s relatively easy to avoid shanking your otherwise solid performance out of bounds by heeding a few key, if obvious, offenses to fairway decorum:

Talk about golf, life, the weather, the latest Tiger Woods fail – anything you can think of before you resort to talking about business. At least serious business, and particularly in a first-time round with a client. That is the stuff of the stuffy conference room. While you are indeed playing 18 “for business”, and some day might roll out your development plans over the ball washer, make those initial interactions more about business-relationship building than business besieging. Because nothing may prove more damaging to your potential good will than interrupting your client’s perfectly serene day (admittedly, this is a phrase rarely applied to golf) on the course with something like business chatter. Remember: the worst day golfing is still better than the best day working.

Leave Crazed Competitor alter ego in the bag. Or at least measure your competitiveness with that of your playing partners before you: 1) issue a warning to your opponents that you are prepared to crush them each like your average 300-yard drive (even if that’s true); 2) laugh hysterically and offer a “nice shot” when your opponents launches aforementioned duck hook into Devlin’s Billabong; 3) even refer to your group members as opponents. This may set some to wondering what, exactly, a design-build effort would be like with you on board. And on that note…

Leave the obsequious bootlicking to groupies and political climbers. Nobody (the relatively normal among us anyway) likes to be fawned over. And they especially don’t like to be patronized. Even if you have the best of intentions, and you really did think your client’s pulled 3 iron into a squirrel’s nest atop the only pine tree on the hole was astonishing in its accuracy, perhaps you just enjoy that phenomenon internally. Of course, if your client says, “Did you see that? Amazing!,” instead of burying his club head into the ground up to the hosel, maybe your ensuing relationship will be fruitful indeed.

Let the course pro be the course pro and you be the average duffer. Author, John Gray, had this to say about unsolicited advice: To offer a man unsolicited advice is to presume that he doesn’t know what to do or that he can’t do it on his own. This is basically what you are telling your client when you start breaking down his takeaway, letting him know his head is up during his swing, or suggesting that he supinate his grip more in the sand bunker (even if that may help). No one likes having unsolicited advice foisted on them, especially by someone who is not getting paid to ply that trade by either them or that industry. Which begs one other nugget from Jack Adams: If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle.

Pretend the golf course is a golf course and not a bar. The nineteenth hole. The roving beverage cart. The cart-mounted cooler. Al Czervik’s famous golf-bag tap handle. Imbibing is almost as much a part of casual golfing as swearing – both should be partaken of in small doses; both seem to help ease the pain of yet another bladed wedge; and both should be equally treated with a level of prudence. There are, as with everything, a couple of exceptions to this. The first is that your client is W.C. Fields and has actually appropriated the beverage cart and is doing donuts in the ground-under-repair. The second is that you are playing in the annual SMPS San Diego Golf Classic

And that’s where we’ll be on June 1st. Coronado Golf Course. 11:30 am. Come out, connect, and break all the rules.

Visit the Golf Tournament website and register today!

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