You don’t have to be Rory McIlroy or Phil Mickelson to make big bucks on the golf course, but before you go looking to strike a deal on the links, keep in mind a few simple tips for proper business golf etiquette.
1. Play fair. Don’t cheat. Yes, this means no mulligans. It also means being honest about your handicap and not “sandbagging” your opponent. Likewise, don’t pull a “tank job” and allow your potential business partner to win. Play up to your ability, whatever that might be. Remember: sports and games, even in a casual setting, can reveal character flaws. Dishonesty on the golf course can lead to mistrust in the boardroom.
2. Lay off the booze. Nobody likes a stick-in-the-mud in their golf group, but there are other ways to “loosen up” and show off your lighter side. Wear some wacky Payne Stewart-style knickers. Tell some killer jokes. Make a friendly wager or two. Whatever you do, stay in control, even if the rest of the group are drinking.
3. Keep your cool. Sure, it’s funny when Adam Sandler does it, but don’t throw a Happy Gilmore-style temper tantrum on the course, no matter how badly your round is going. The price is always wrong, if you get our drift.
4. Pick up the check. If you’re the inviter, insist on paying for your guests’ green fees, as well as the meal and/or drinks that follow your round.
5. Observe the basics. Golf is a complicated sport with many traditions and customs — written and unwritten. Some important ones to keep in mind: If your partner shot a lower score on the previous hole, he or she has “honours” and tees off first on the next one; on the green, repair marks left by your chip shots, and don’t walk between the cup and your partner’s ball; also during the short game, allow gimmes or tap-ins, within reason (the general rule is that if the putt is shorter than the rubberized grip of the putter, it’s a gimme); when you’re hitting from the fairway, always replace your divot.
6. Avoid the “hard sell.” This is especially important if you are meeting potential clients for the first time. After the round, offer your business card and suggest a follow-up meeting. If you are playing with someone with whom you have an established relationship, don’t launch into a sales pitch right away. Play a few holes, be patient — but don’t wind up the round with a lot of business talk, either. Ultimately, you’re there to have fun, establish or strengthen relationships, and learn more about the people and companies with whom you want to do business.
7. Choose the right partner. Possibly the most important tip of all. If you’re playing in a foursome, make sure the person you bring along is a trusted friend or colleague — someone who won’t embarrass you, hog the spotlight, or otherwise jeopardize your potential business deal. You could do everything right, but it could all be for naught if Bubba from the mailroom behaves like a jackass.
8. Gender equality. Ladies, if you’re playing in a mixed-gender group, hit your drives from the men’s tees. You don’t want to isolate yourself from the conversations happening around the tee box as your group is waiting to hit.
9. No search parties. If you hit a shot that appears to have gone out of bounds or into a water hazard, hit a second, provisional shot from the same location, in case you can’t find your first ball. While it can be jolly good fun to find what once was lost, thrashing around in the woods and ponds is an egregious timewaster; it makes you look at best amateurish, at worst, a cheapskate. If finding golf balls sates your sense of accomplishment, you might want to forget about the business deal and apply for a job back at the pro shop.
10. Go offline. Leave the smartphone in your car or, if you must have it with you, set it to “silent” inside your golf bag. Gadgets and gizmos on the course not only distract other players, but can make potential clients assume your priorities lie elsewhere — a true deal-killer.