With more than 27 million golfers in the United States alone, it's no wonder that golf for business purposes is a hole-in-one opportunity. Whether you're opening doors or closing deals, golf can enhance almost any business relationship.
So why is golf on the upswing?
TV and Tiger Woods are factors of course, but there's another reason that doesn't get much notice, except from sharp businesspeople. Golf is a networking game par excellance. In what other environment can you see your customer for four to five hours straight, without interruption from phones, meetings or competitors, for that matter?
In the United States, an estimated $28 billion in annual sales is attributed to contracts and relationships initiated on the golf course. That's why more than 20 million rounds of business golf will be played this year.
Another reason for the explosion in golf is that women are taking up the game in droves. More than 25 percent of the golfers in this country are now women, up significantly since the early '90s. It's no coincidence that women are taking giant leaps in business by reaping the same benefits found on the green.
"Women are seeing golf as an informal network to advance their careers," said Carol Bresnicky, spokeswoman for the Executive Women's Golf Association. The EWGA's membership has soared to 20,000 from 1,500 in 1991.
This is why we encourage all our sales reps at MackayMitchell Envelope Company – women included – to play golf. You're shooting a bogey if you don't get out on a course. I can attest to that after witnessing the U.S. Women's Open a couple weeks ago at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota where there were record crowds and more than 10,000 were 17 and under.
With gas and other costs climbing, home prices plummeting and the economy struggling, I haven't seen a lot of budgets cut for customer golf. In fact, companies are checking out ways to get more bang for their golf buck. Companies realize that a lot of business happens on the golf course.
A recent survey of corporate meeting planners by a trade magazine revealed golf was more important to attendees than a beach, a spa, shopping, cultural attractions or other outdoor sports.
It's also important to note that golf tends to expose your real character. In one study I found, 47 percent of those surveyed believed that behavior on the golf course usually paralleled behavior in business. It tests your fortitude, your confidence and your humility. If you're making a key hire or closing a business deal, the golf course is an ideal test because you see how people act in all kinds of circumstances. You can take note of their appearance, how they carry themselves and how well they follow the etiquette and rules of the game – even if they know how to have fun. And remember, they can see how you handle yourself as well!
As golf legend Bobby Jones said: "You can learn more about a man (woman) in nine holes than a lifetime."
It's equally important to follow golf and have an interest in the sport. It helps to be knowledgeable about golf, not just for sales, but also for your career. After all, you can't talk about business all the time, so golf is a great icebreaker.
If you want to move up in some companies, it doesn't hurt to hang a golf picture or two or have a putter and some golf balls on display in your office. It helps build rapport and relationships, and it's a great – and safe – topic of conversation.
So why is golf so popular? A friend recently shared a clever email, which shed some light on the subject:
- Golf is an honorable game with the overwhelming majority of players being honorable people who don't need referees.
- Professional golfers are paid in direct proportion to how well they play.
- Golfers don't hold out for more money or demand new contracts because of another player's deal.
- When golfers make a mistake, no one is there to cover for them or back them.
- Golf doesn't change its rules to attract fans. Golfers have to adapt to an entirely new playing area each week.
- Tiger Woods hits a golf ball twice as far as the best home run hitters.
Mackay's Moral: Any way you slice it, golf suits business to a tee. Get out there and have a ball!