I could talk about the subjects of golf and business for the rest of my life…it’s easy when you are passionate about them, but there is a lot of crossovers when it comes down to having success in both.
Just to set the scene, I began my business and entrepreneurial career when I was nineteen and took up golf properly when I was thirty-nine!
I’m not counting the times I messed about as a kid playing on those “pitch and putt” courses or crazy golf, but when I really took up the sport seriously and became just as obsessed with it as I am about business.
The perfect match
“You’ve been Franklined,” came the response from one of my clients when I was living in the US when another contact from the same company was complaining about having a monumental hangover from a recent round of golf with me and was then quickly followed up with:
“I hope you didn’t let him increase his prices”
Now, the prospect of four hours with yours truly, beginning with a little “swing oil” to loosen the joints (a healthy combination of your choice of fruit juice, with just a touch of Russian mineral water), a nice breakfast or lunch, a round of golf where the joint lubrication will continue throughout the round and then a few drinks in the customary 19th hole and maybe a continuation into the evening or the even small hours of the next morning is something not to be sneezed at — it does wonders for your complexion!
In between trying to mess up my opponent’s head with various comments such as “ignore the lake on the left,” “you looked a little tense on that last shot” and “that was an unfortunate bounce,” there is a lot of business talk…I promise you.
My Golfing & Business Strategy
During your business career, it is inevitable to get invited to several golfing events and these can range from corporate events that are hosted by your clients, charity golf days, where you will mix with a ton of businesspeople, right down to my favorite, which is where you plan your own event and invite a selected client(s).
It is, however, vital to have a clear strategy and I am going to outline mine:
I love to mix business and pleasure, so I am looking for the right type of client to invite and it will be someone who I am already doing business with, but where I sense there are bigger opportunities.
You can scale my approach up or down for first-time business guests, but do so at your own risk!
I want to choose my business and golfing partners carefully — they must be an executive leader and have a passion for golf, that’s pretty much it…plus a healthy capacity for the odd drink or three.
I am also probably already doing business with the company and I want to grow the account or talk about something new and exciting, but in any case, there will be a serious business reason for the game and I am going to invest to give the client the best experience possible.
When I was living in Dallas, I would always try to use these two lovely courses to give the best experience I could:
These two courses provided excellent hospitality and a very nice but challenging golf course.
Now, I must be totally upfront with my strategy and explain to you that there is absolutely no way I am going to do what many entrepreneurs, sales, and business people do when playing/entertaining their clients and let the client win.
I am going all out for victory and if that means annihilating my client in the process, then so be it!
So I will be devoting a lot of time to practice on the pre-game days.
On The Day
I will have organized transport for my client as there is no way you want to be drinking and driving and getting taxis in the part of Dallas I lived in was virtually impossible — Uber was just starting.
I will usually try to get a tee-time of around mid-morning, to allow for some breakfast and a little practice session on the range — I can start my client off with a good meal and a little bloody mary or whatever the drink is. On the practice range, I will compliment the shots that my client makes, no matter how good or bad he is.
If he is a great player, then it’s time for a little handicap adjustment for yours truly, which will be confirmed by the club pro (he will have been forewarned and rewarded accordingly)!
If he is not so good, then we may agree to just play the round and look at the lowest scores, which is how many of the games were played.
Finally, it’s time to get the golf cart loaded up with a few interim beverages, such as some cold beers for hydration purposes and they will purely serve to keep us going until the cart girls come around to provide the real drinks!
The Big Game
Off to the first tee — everyone is nervous about that first golf shot that seems to set the tone for the entire round and I am no exception.
Even knowing the courses as well as I do, I still get those butterflies when it comes down to the first shot and so do many of my clients. I will usually give the client the “honor” of going first and I will politely ask them where they would like me to stand when taking shots off the tee.
Everyone is different and some don’t care, but there was one guy who literally wanted me right out of his sight and if I strayed into his vision in any way, then he would have a meltdown.
As if he thought I did it deliberately!
First shots are out of the way and if my client should completely mess up the shot, I will generously allow them a free ball to try again (this is a vital step to build trust and goodwill).
As we are driving to the next shot, I will make small talk about anything other than business, unless something has happened affecting us both beforehand.
Too many salespeople dive straight into a business conversation and what you have to realize is your clients are there for enjoyment and it’s really a time to get to know your client personally, rather than give them a business presentation, which I have seen during many a game.
In my industry, which was in telecommunications, clients were time-starved and mega stressed — keeping a network running 24/7 is no easy task and it requires a constant coordinated effort from everyone in the supply chain, so when clients have a chance to take a day off, they have certainly earned it.
Drive For Show…Putt For Dough
As the saying goes.
For all of you nongolfers, it means that in professional golf, serious money is made when it comes down to making those final shots to get the ball in the hole on the putting green.
And there is no better place to get your client onside and into your way of thinking on the putting green, but this is again a very strategic maneuver!
For the first nine holes, I will be extremely lenient with clients when it comes down to putts that are a certain distance from the hole.
Known as “gimmes,” these putts are the ones that are close enough to the hole for you to say “you can have that” and this never happens in professional golf, but it is a great gesture to offer your client.
Now, on the first nine holes, I will be extra generous and give putts that are three or four feet from the hole, with the client thanking me in amazement and saying “are you sure.”
“Absolutely,” I will reply.
I will not take this option if offered to me, because I want to get the feel of having to make those putts under pressure, which means going for each putt — I will be getting extra practice, where my client will not!
This will prove to be a tremendous benefit when we get to the second half of the game, the final nine holes!
During the first half of the game, I will be making sure that my client is well-fed and watered, which, depending on the client can have good or disastrous consequences — playing golf and drinking doesn’t usually mix, except for one client, who I will talk about later and this is where the game descends into a “friendly” rather than a seriously competitive one, the scene that is usually set from the beginning.
When all is said and done, it is all about having a good time, bantering with your client, and getting to know them, which is what business is really all about…for me anyway.
From the ultra-competitiveness of the first few holes and when the alcohol has not really taken effect, you can see the enjoyment of most clients hugely increase during the second half of the round.
But that doesn’t mean that a little gamesmanship cannot continue — remember the generosity I showed when it came down to putting on the first nine holes?
That goes completely out of the window on the second — I will now insist that my clients make every shot into the hole and because they have not had to do so before, it is hilarious to see them miss shots that are even just a few inches away and their hands quivering like jelly!
Overall I want to have fun, get to know my client, and make sure they have a good time away from the stresses and strains of their jobs — there is so much more to business and selling than simply trying to pitch, present, and close deals…it’s about offering a real and compelling value proposition and building long-term relationships.
Once the game is over, it’s back to the clubhouse to enjoy more drinks, another meal, and talk about the shots we both made…and lost.
Then it’s time for business!
Golf And Business
Many business deals are done on the golf course and it is a great way to conduct business simply because of the amount of face-time you get with your client.
What many people also fail to realize is that you can actually build a solid client base just from playing golf — that’s why I advised one of the co-founders of a business we started to join his local golf club — you never know who you might meet.
Many CEOs, executive leaders, and even Presidents of countries love to play golf, so if you are a golfing entrepreneur, invest the money to join a good golf club — it certainly paid dividends for me!
You can also make the search for that club work for you and get out to as many trial rounds with the different clubs as you can, hang out in the bar afterward, and simply try to meet as many people as you can.
If you are cash-strapped and don’t want to shell out the joining fees, then you can make the public courses work for you as well, especially in the US.
Go and book a tee-time for the course and as a single player, you will certainly get paired up with another and on some courses, they like to encourage you to play in groups of four — that’s three people you will meet that you didn’t know.
Golf is a game of etiquette and character — you can really find out who a person is when you play golf with them.
I was once playing a game with a supplier who wanted my business and we had planned a game of golf for months, which came to fruition on a Saturday when I was living in the UK.
Golf in the UK is different from the US and many clubs don’t have the food and beverage services that are common in the US, which makes for a different type of game — one I still enjoy however and this was the case with this game.
We started off well and then I noticed that my supplier’s scores were not adding up to his standard of golf and the shots he had taken.
This came to a head when I counted his shots on one particular hole, where he lost his ball and claimed to have found it.
It is customary to declare your ball before you play, simply because it is easier to identify it on the course, and if you change it, then you will simply tell your partner.
On this hole, my supplier had thought he lost his ball and then “found” it, which was a different ball to the one he started with…but he was insistent and also in writing down the incorrect score (in his favor) on the scorecard.
We were playing for money — a small sum just to create some competitiveness, which is usual and the amounts can range from a dollar per hole, to whatever you want, but they are usually token amounts.
So now I knew this guy was cheating and he had no chance whatsoever to become a supplier of mine!
Health & Meetings
You cannot overlook the benefits of getting out in the fresh air and even if you have a golf cart as I do, because of a damaged left hip, you will get to do some walking — living in Texas also gave me the opportunity to play golf in the sun for a lot longer than most places.
There is one caveat to this — don’t follow my dietary program when it comes to being healthy and playing golf!
Many clients like to trade their office space for a game of golf and if you encounter a golf fanatic as a client, which I did on several occasions, you can actually have your meetings on the course.
One of my clients was a talented golfer in high school, but never made the cut to be a pro — but he still loved the game and ensured that we played regularly and that meant coming to the course with a meeting agenda!
How To Conduct Business On The Golf Course
As I have said, I have seen many salespeople in action on the golf course, and most are too focused on business to allow their clients (or victims) to enjoy the game — this is a huge mistake.
I can also say the same about any social setting where you are with your clients, such as lunches and dinners.
You have to remember that you are mixing business with pleasure and this is where you have to be able to draw the line and understand that of course, there is a business reason for the game…but it is how you conduct that business that’s important.
Don’t Talk Business From The Outset
The first thing to understand is that you want to ensure your client has a great overall experience and you both know that business will be part of it, but from the outset, focus on golf.
Whether you want to employ a strategy like mine, is entirely up to you and some people (clients and salespeople) like to keep things very much confined to the game because they are serious golfers — it all comes down to the type of client and golfer you are dealing with.
If this is the case, then put the focus firmly on golf and make sure you are familiar with golf etiquette and whatever you do, don’t cheat!
Your client will want to keep an accurate score and will take the game seriously, so you will have to put the business on the back-burner for the game (at least that is the thought you must have in your head).
Let your client bring the subject up if this is the case and I have had many games where this has occurred, leaving the client to talk when they want to talk, which more often than not, will be frequent.
It really comes down to being able to read your client, understand their personality and be patient and let them make the moves.
I have had games of this nature where absolutely no business was discussed — during or after the game and then a few weeks later I would get a call, asking for some help!
You have to trust the occasion.
Just because you are going out to play your favorite game and get the benefit of doing some business doesn’t mean you can relax.
I have had some games of golf that would rival any question and answer sessions in a formal meeting, with one client literally grilling me on my financials during the game.
I cannot stress this enough — you must know your value proposition inside out, you must have the answers to the usual questions you would expect to answer after giving a full presentation and you must be prepared for financial questions, so make sure you have a meeting with your CFO/ finance department to get the latest version.
Make sure you have done your homework on the business of your client — get the latest facts and figures of their business, understand the problems and challenges they are facing and are likely to face, and show them that you know what you are talking about.
It is far better to come prepared and not have to use the information, than not have it.
You are representing your company and yourself — remember that you are mixing business with pleasure and you are an ambassador.
I’ve seen salespeople turn up scruffily dressed for golf games and my first thought is “why”?
Why would you not make the effort to show that you care?
Just like knowing the basics of golf etiquette, you should also understand that some clubs have much stricter dress codes than others, especially the higher-end ones and you should always dress for that type of club.
It doesn’t matter how your client dresses or acts, only how you do, so please bear this in mind.
I have seen deals lost over salespeople not handling themselves well during client dinners and you must remember that you are going to be on show for a lot longer when it comes down to playing golf.
A little goes a long way and remember that it’s always the thought that counts!
For one game with a client, I bought them a very nice box of golf balls with their initials printed on each ball and the look on the client’s face said it all.
You must decide if a gift is appropriate but for me and even though I am picking up the tab for everything, it always pays to go the extra mile and put a little extra thought into the event.
It’s that little extra attention to detail that can win clients over…remember they are judging you how you will act when doing business with them, or upgrading you to doing more business with their company.
Here are some great golf gift ideas to give you inspiration.
After The Game
No matter what type of game you have had — one like mine where you will probably end up out into the early hours of the next morning or a real, focussed, and competitive golf game, you absolutely must follow up with your client.
You will have probably invited your client to play again during the game, but it is essential that you take control and follow up on any discussion points/actions/issues that you have discussed during the game.
So many opportunities are lost because some salespeople unbelievably forget that you are also doing business. I had one guy in my office focus too much on the golf and ignore the fact that it was the twentieth game of golf he had with a client and business had not progressed!
Even if no business is discussed during the game and believe me, it can happen, it always pays to round off the game with a simple phrase such as:
‘I really enjoyed the game today and you made some great shots, but I need to address a couple of key points with you, relating to XXX, so I will call you tomorrow to arrange a meeting.”
Make sure you finish the day properly.
Golf and business are like a perfect marriage, so make sure you find those golf-crazy clients that you can get out to the course often.
Make sure you are golfing with the right clients — executive leaders who can appreciate listening to your “no brainer”value proposition while enjoying their favorite pastime.
Treat the game as an event and give your client the best customer experience.
Some clients will enjoy a few drinks, banter, and a fun game of golf, so give it to them! Others will want to take the occasion far more seriously and you must cater to them as well.
Make sure you are familiar with golf etiquette and dress as you would for a high-end golf course.
Make sure you are prepared — you must know your value proposition, anticipate questions, and have up-to-date financial information about your company. You never know what questions you may be asked.
Make sure you are also up-to-date on the business of your client. You must have a clear picture of their business, the problems, and challenges they are facing and likely to face, plus the usual facts and figures about their company.
Don’t make business conversation the focus of the day and you have to be prepared to have zero business discussions during the game…it’s part of the process.
Let your client bring up business issues and always remember to follow up after the game to keep momentum.
Let me know how your golf and business games go as I am passionate about both.
Here’s to your success!
Last modified: September 2, 2021