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Golf-business combo works great – with the correct etiquette

If you’re looking to score a big account, it doesn`t hurt to invite the potential customer out for a round of golf.

“There is an old adage that 90% of business deals are done on golf course,” says John Shoemaker, golf professional at Patrick Farms Golf Club in Brandon. “Everybody likes to get outside. You have a lot of interaction between people walking or riding in the golf cart, driving a ball or putting on the golf green. There is a lot of time for conversation. It is a little more relaxed atmosphere than the office. People seem to be more at ease on the golf course. A bad day at the golf course is better than a good day at work.”

But what is the etiquette of business and golf? When do you bring up business? And what about losing to your boss or client?

While there may be no hard and fast rules about when to bring up business, the main thing is to not be in a rush. There is usually still time to talk later over dinner or cocktails. As for being careful not to beat the boss or client, Shoemaker said that shouldn`t be an overriding issue.

“Play the best you can,” Shoemaker said. “You don`t want to give anyone a false sense of security by playing badly. You just go out and play golf. When you entertain a guest, you are out to have a good time. Golf is a leisure sport. The average golfer in America can`t break 90. You are out there to entertain your guest or potential customer or boss, so you want to be as honest and forthcoming as you can. Just be yourself.”

But being extremely competitive isn`t a good idea, either. The idea is to have fun. Not to show your superiority.

Jim Rose, golf professional for the Tupelo Country Club, thinks a lot of the hype about competitiveness on the golf course is a myth. He doesn`t believe the final scores are what are the most important.

“Golf is a way to build relationships and bond with potential customers or take care of current customers that you have,” Rose said. “A lot of the customers you bring out don`t have access to the kind of facilities you are taking them to, a private club resort atmosphere. Most of the customers are just appreciative of the opportunity to play at a good golf course at no cost to them. Golf scores aren`t the thing. What you are after is just enjoyment of a good golf course and afternoon while conducting some business. You are able to enjoy yourself away from the office in a relaxed atmosphere.”

Rose believes a person`s true nature tends to reveal itself on the golf course. A type A personality will tend to still be a type A personality while playing golf. A type B person will be more laid back on the course.

“People who are pretty intense at business are pretty intense about golf,” Rose said. “It doesn`t change the type of person they are.

“The main thing is to be aware of what kind of golfer you are bringing out and the type of facility you are taking them to. You don`t want to take a best customer who is a novice golfer, who can`t break 100, to a course that is so difficult he can`t finish a hole. You want to match the facility and golf course to the customer you are entertaining.”

It has often been said that business is best on the golf course. Kenny Hughes, general manager of Shell Landing Golf Club in Gautier, says from what he sees of business being conducted on the links, people benefit from what is called “the country club effect.”

“We have many corporate outings here. You can see people are mingling together talking about business, but also doing it in a friendly, very relaxed environment,” said Hughes. “I also see from another standpoint of golf and business companies taking their customers to the golf course to show appreciation for their business. There is a lot of that. That way they can talk about the positives, and how they can do business better with those customers and clients.”

Regarding competitiveness during a business game of golf, Hughes says common sense should prevail. If you are playing with customers, you want it to be very relaxed. You aren`t betting or challenging your customers because you don`t want to make them feel bad.

“Too, if you are playing with your own circle, your manager or boss, you don`t want to go out and try to beat their brains out on the golf course showing them up,” Hughes said. “But people appreciate good golf. Often the boss will try to get the best player as a partner on his team. The situation dictates itself when you are playing. I see it myself playing with vice presidents of some the casino properties down here. Business is competitive. They appreciate seeing people play well. It is okay to play well, but there are times you don`t want to challenge them too much.”

Hughes said what happens after the game is also important as business groups often have lunch, dinner or a couple of cocktails to finish the business discussion. After all, one of the points of golf etiquette is that you don`t want to hold up the play while standing on a green to talk business. Leaving the details to the after dinner meal is something that occurs naturally.

Business women have sometimes felt left out of important business decisions because they weren`t invited on the golf trips. But Hughes said he has seen a big change in recent years. More women are being included in business golf.

“I have seen that more at Shell Landing than other facilities I have run,” Hughes said. “I think it is a combination of things. Women are moving up the corporate ladder, and just like their male counterparts realize that golf is a big part of corporate business activities. Women do want to play and participate.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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