The Golf Course a Perfect Business Office
From the executive offices to the mailroom, anyone in charge of anything dealing with business transactions, with either rivals or collaborators, knows that the golf course is the most perfectly designed and formatted office on the planet. No man-made structure can match it, no matter the degree of luxury.
Business and golf have so many parallels that it’s difficult to list them all, but more importantly, the game and its landscape provide the perfect atmosphere for hosting any business relationship.
On the golf course, a mix of collaboration and competition is created. The parties are out in nature, swinging, walking, and talking. They are both competing with each shot, and at the same time, sharing the game and its experience. Unlike some other sports, there is no net to divide them. Executives playing tennis could bring out the bloodthirsty like nothing else, and good deals don’t come out of being bloodthirsty, unless you’re in a clearly dominant position, or unless you’re a pirate.
Like a good deal, the game clarifies and narrows from tee to green. You’re hitting big, wide-open shots out into the fairway, a more generalized shot, at least for amateurs. As you near the green, the shots become more surgical, and by the time you’re standing over a putt, you’re in the fine points of the closing, and able to speak intimately without shouting across acres of fairway and rough.
In the office, you might get or give a ten minute interview. If it’s a deal between equals, you’ll run the risk of a million other interruptions. On the golf course, there might be an occasional “fore” or “all right if we play through?”, but nothing approaching, “Mr. X, it’s the President of France on line 3.”
The normal ten-minute meeting can turn into five or six hours in a day of golf. There is ample time to observe your collaborator’s (or your enemy’s) personal traits – integrity, and his or her natural responses to adversity – is it moping, raging, sulking, despairing, giving up, or responding proactively? This is sometimes easier to test on the golf course, because executives who are accustomed to winning and being brilliant often can’t understand why they aren’t as good at this infernal game as they are at everything else.
Arnold Palmer, as advanced in business as he was in golf, cautions us to prepare for these meetings like professionals, not just show up and hope something good happens. He also teaches us to forget yesterday. Still competitive in spirit, he only grants himself the status of the guy who missed the cut last week – keeps him sharp and hungry.
There is a cherished and much-recommended rule about business on the golf course, and that is “Don’t discuss business before the 5th hole, or after the 15th. The first holes are for acknowledging the beauty of the day and the course. It’s a “glad to meet you” time. After the 15th, you’ve stood and discussed this deal on ten or more greens, bunkers, under trees and in the bushes. Now, it’s time to let it cool off, and remind your collaborator that it was good to spend the day with him, and that “we’ll get ’em next time.”
If you’ve ever done business in Italy, you’ll remember that an Italian businessman will often sit for an hour casting about for something the two of you have in common, and he’ll find it, no matter how loose the connection. As soon as that commonality is established, they’ll go ahead with the discussion full-bore, but you must establish an official connection. The golf course has provided you both with this connection automatically. You share the connection of nature, and while competing, you can commiserate together on the difficulty of the game. And, chances are, the President of France will never, ever interrupt you there. Thinking back to all the decades in which I’ve played golf, he’s never bothered me once.