When I started my business journey in Australia, my wife Sue said to me; "if you want to get ahead in business learn how to play golf"; I thought she just wanted to get me out of the house on weekends! Nevertheless, I followed her advice and within three years my business was sponsoring the IBM Classic Golf Tournament with annual events that attracted more than 150 ardent golfers from all walks of the business world.
“Golf has been an amazing business tool for me. I was able to build countless invaluable business and personal relationships that shaped my life and helped me make my business ventures extremely successful” – Michael Yacoub
It’s no wonder that golf has long been associated with the business world! There are dozens of different sports available for business professionals to choose from, so why has golf become the favourite sport for business professionals?
- Golf as a game is generally considered distinctive, in the sense that it has the unique characteristic to bring people of all ages and golfing abilities together.
Corporate golf events in particular, allow business professionals to better connect and network with work colleagues, customers and clients alike. For example, at the Foretune Group it doesn’t matter whether you are a top golfer or a novice, corporate golf games are typically team effort oriented and based on a fair handicap system allowing everyone to enjoy the day. The after-game gathering with meals and drinks is the best part where all members gather in the clubhouse to celebrate and share fun stories about what transpired on the golf course.
2. The golf course provides a natural, relaxed and unstructured environment for individuals to integrate freely without the continual pressures of the professional work environment.
At a recent Foretune Group golf event I came across a business associate that I’ve known for a little while. My previous impression of him was tipped upside down. In the office environment, he came across as a shy, reserved and introverted person, however, on the golf course his demeanour changed entirely and he was the life of the party. Golf has the ability to break barriers between people as they spend a small portion of a four-hour game actually hitting the ball and the rest of the time is spent supporting each other and connecting at a higher level.
3. With golf, business professionals do not have to be self-conscious of their golfing ability due to the exceptional handicap system. The handicap system effectively enables individuals of varying abilities to compete fairly against one another. I think this is the secret for the love of the golf game because business people perceive it as an equal opportunity transaction and a win/win deal rather than a fierce competition with unfair advantage.
“One thing for sure, playing eighteen holes of golf with a business associate will teach you more about people than knowing them for eighteen years” - anonymous
4. Golf is a fine test of character, It provides invaluable business intelligence on the ethics and integrity of colleagues, customers and clients.
If you want to discover the true ethics and integrity of colleagues, customers and clients, play a game of golf with them. Things to watch out for;
- Do they play by the rules?
- Are they able to control their emotions?
- Do they display a sense of comradery towards their fellow team players?
- Do they cheat?
The influence of golf goes beyond just being a mere form of corporate entertainment. A recent study has found that CEO’s who don’t play golf are paid 17% less on average than those who do. Golf is a true business which is not only easily accessible but also has the fantastic ability to foresight potential business relationships.
5. The qualities a golfer displays on the golf course correlates to their professional business attitude, behaviour and decision-making, in other words business and golf have a lot in common, in particular in management and decision making such as:
- Keeping Your Eye on the Ball
If you lift your head and lose sight of the ball during the golf swing your bound to slice it (drive it to the left with a dreadful curve), or hook it (drive it to the left). The same principal applies in business; if you don’t keep your eye on making a profitable strategic move in your business you will definitely cause a huge slice of profits to go down the drain, or you might hook up with the wrong partnership and end up in the rough!
- Pre-Shot Routine
It’s a cardinal rule in golf that you should adopt a proper pre-shot routine which you go through every single time before swinging the club; i.e. you stand behind the ball, you imagine where your ball is going to land, you breathe, relax, address the ball, waggle the club and execute the shot. Similar process applies to astute business people’s decision making and management process; you set your business goals, you imagine yourself have already achieved these goals complete with feelings and emotions, you then execute the strategies that will result in success. The key is to focus on profitable tactical moves along your business journey to get you to your destination.
- Decision making
When you play golf, you are confronted with decision making on every single hole on how to play the next shot; If you have water around or before the green you have two decisions to make; 1) do you lay up – hit a short shot to get the ball close to the hole to guarantee a safe position, or 2) be more aggressive and attack the hole in one shot to get it on the green. Of course, from experience and depending on the score card I would lay up and therefore avoid huge risks. But I will not do this every time.
Similarly, the decision whether to lay up arises in business every day; for instance, when businesses compete on price to win customers because it’s sometimes the guaranteed way to get the work. The catch here is like in golf if you do it more often you end up with a very expensive lay up that eats into your profits and may render your business to become mediocre!
Like the great game of golf, there is the great game of business! In my business coaching, I use the golf game’s principles to develop a framework for business leaders to understand what they need to consider in determining whether or when to take the aggressive shot (action) or to lay up. For example, making the competition irrelevant by finding new uncontested market space is a strategic move and could be labelled aggressive, whilst considering what the competition is doing could force you take a conservative action (lay up) and therefore compete on price in existing markets. Timing is also important; early in the golf game you might take aggressive approach, but later in the game you might want to keep the numbers closer to your chest and play conservatively. In business as well, you must pay attention to timing and the prevailing economic conditions when making key business decisions.
This is my take on the subject of golf and business and the eternal love affair between business people and their favourite game. It comes not from reading about it, but from experiencing it and living it every day. Some people think that golf is a hard game yet they fail to give it a chance and end up being spectators rather than players! As one of the golfing greats once said:
“Golf is a matter of confidence. If you think you cannot do it, there is no chance you will”. This echoes Henry Ford’s quote about business leadership; “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right”.