Golf and business

The number of golf rounds played has tapered off by roughly a fourth from the high in 1988 due to the Great Recession and a variety of other reasons, but don’t tell that to business people. Golf remains an excellent way to foster business relationships.

“Golf absolutely fits into my business strategy, but it doesn’t feel like work, which is what makes it so successful,” said Russ Petrin, first vice president-wealth management with Morgan Stanley in the Tech Center. “I’ve met new clients and enhanced existing relationships doing many activities I enjoy, like pheasant hunting, hockey and tennis, so my advice is to do what you enjoy.”

Golf is different from those other client relationship-building activities because it provides an opportunity to get to know someone’s personality over a four-hour timeframe and through potentially frustrating circumstances, Petrin said.

“There’s a big difference between the client who shrugs off the missed putt versus the ‘gentleman’ who gets so furious he throws the flagstick like a javelin off the green and into a bunker. I’ve seen this and wisely didn’t pursue him as a client.”

For Debbie Waitkus, golf is not only a tool for business; making golf a business is also a business for her. She operates a corporate meeting and development business in  Arizona called Golf for Cause (golfforcause.com). The company’s philosophy is to turn “golf into gold by driving better business opportunities through the world’s most popular game.”

“It doesn’t matter how well someone plays or if he or she plays at all,” Waitkus said. “What’s the best way to use golf to do business? Sharing it with others to forward a relationship.

Shared experiences are key, whether it’s playing with someone or talking about a golf experience. Golf is the bond that creates common ground and breaks down barriers.”

Waitkus also believes that you can use golf metaphorically to achieve results in your business. The metaphor goes like this: Everything you do has a before, during and after, such as a backswing, contact and follow-through during the golf swing. This involves preparation, impact and learning from the result. With everything that you do, prepare, make an impact and follow through for results.

“If you don’t follow through, what was the point?” she said. “How can you expect results? Keeping a golf swing mentality helps you succeed in business.”

For Petrin, golfing with clients or prospects is a way of spending enough time together to get past the normal small talk and start understanding a person’s background and family situation. It makes all the difference in meeting a client’s needs and finding commonalities that build relationships.

It’s a tool best left for golfers. If you take a non-golfer golfing, he or she can feel uncomfortable for many reasons. Perhaps he isn’t very good, or only plays at the corporate scramble once a year. She may not know the rules, or the all-important etiquette of the game: where to stand when someone else is hitting; whether he should help to search for another player’s lost ball, or even who pays for the 19th hole tab.

“Taking non-golfers to play golf can be a miserable death march for everyone, including the groups behind you,” Petrin said. “I’d rather find a hobby the client excels at and get to know them better where they are more comfortable.”

Golf may be even good for how an executive is compensated, according to a study cited by The Economist that showed golfing CEOs of public companies earn 17 percent more than their non-golfing counterparts. It’s probably a statistical aberration rather than the result of CEOs using golf to butter up the compensation committee.