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! http://​www​.smpssd​.org/​g​o​l​f​-​t​o​u​r​n​a​m​ent

One comment on “Off Course: Ramblings on keeping your golf ball, and networking opportunity, out of the hazard
  1. Vikki says:

    Great arti­cle, Ev! Now I wish I knew how to golf. 🙂

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