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Mixing Business and Golf: Etiquette and Common Sense for Executive Coaches

Part of the "Art of Coaching" is changing up the business setting. Mixing Golf and Business successfully is an art form. The Masters' Tournament is the premier business golf event, where the business is not necessarily discussed but relationships are forged through business access, experience, and conversation, which later can provide invaluable intangibles and stickiness for clients. At businesses like GE, golf is a means to facilitate relationships that promote business and there is an expectation of competency. You can truly win and lose business on the golf course by your behavior. Consider this... "Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across the desk." (Grantland Rice)

Congressional Country Club, Blue Course, 10th Hole

In my executive coaching practice, I use golf strategically to improve client relations, to have coaching talks outside of the office, and to introduce clients to resources that might be of great value to them. I'll share with my clients, that my typical executive coaching session is 90 minutes, however, if they want to play nine holes of golf, we will go out for two hours and play a round of golf together for no additional coaching cost; except of course greens fees that are paid individually by the parties.

I remind executives when mixing business and golf, that it's not about golf, nor your handicap or index... it's about your client, and making sure that you maximize the opportunity to communicate, build a relationship, show good judgment, and don't violate sage principles of prosocial behavior on the course. Here are some sage rules to live by to get more fun and results from your business golf experiences.

1. Know the rules. Get a copy of the golf rules and learn them. Kicking your ball down the fairway, 'improving your lie', grounding your club in a sand trap, or moving your ball when in play is against the rules, and can risk you getting labeled as a rule breaker.

2. Don't cheat. Mark your score and all of your penalty shots. Few things are worse than a cheater on a golf course, and just imagine what your invoices will look like with the same individual as a client or vendor.

3. Remember it's all about your client having a good time. Don't focus on posting your score from the round; focus on your client. Be pleasant. When you lose a ball in the rough, look only for a few minutes and if you don't find one, toss out another ball, and take a penalty stroke. Balls are cheap; relationships are not. Don't spoil the round by being overly obsessed with your score.

4. Golf is social, be social. Catch up on conversation with your business partner socially at first, and then ease into business. Get to you know the client and demonstrate that you are smart, competent, and likable. An article in Bloomberg News said that it would be a good idea if the business was not discussed until after the 3rd hole, and that business was wrapped up by the 15th hole, thereby not spoiling the beginning or completion of the game.

5. Be respectful and polite. Golf is a game of courtesies, and show courtesy to all around you by being pleasant, not demanding or in too much of a rush.

6. Don't be an idiot on the golf course. Don't have temper tantrums, throw clubs, break clubs, swear obsessively, or otherwise be an out of control person on a golf course. You

7. Keep your wits about you, and don't say anything that could sabotage you or your company's reputation, and to be most wise, don't consider drinking alcohol until after your round at the 19th hole. Or in the words of the famous Dean Martin, "if you drink, don't drive; don't even putt."

8. Observe golf etiquette and dress code. Be appropriate. Call ahead to the clubhouse and determine if there are any special dress codes to abide.

9. Play fair, be merciful. Unless you are in match play, consider granting a putt that is close to the hole; it speeds play and is a good reflection on you.

10. Take lessons. Don't make excuses for how you play. Learn to play better. You will enjoy the game more, be less stressed, and have more fun.

Congressional Country Club, Gold Course, 12th Hole

Lastly, in addition to coaching while on the course, I use golf strategically in my executive coaching practice to build relationships and grow my clientele. My use cases for golf executive coaching practice include simple rounds of golf with clients when coaching-one-to-one or in triads. Or I'll host a gathering of golfers at a beautiful golf course and invite executives and clients to drive or fly in from all over, where we mix, match, and muse together building relationships. I also sponsor golf tournaments from time to time, seeking to host the hole where we can have fun with them, with goofy and sometimes challenging games of skill at the hole. And for those who don't play golf, I often take them to Top Golf where they can have fun, learn to swing a few clubs and hit some golf balls, and we laugh, talk, and get to know each other better.

So my concluding remark is this... just as in the short film, 'It's Not About the Nail," in business golf, it's not about your golf, it's about your client. Learn this and you can mix a wonderful lifestyle of incorporating golf into your business practice, find yourself enjoying much healthier and wealthier walks in the park.

Copyright © 2021 by Arete Coach LLC. All rights reserved.


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