Business on the Course – Relax or Work?

Importance of Course Decisions Unknowable – Not All Relax There

The claim is everywhere that we take up the game of golf in order to relax.  We go to the course to chill out, only to agonize over what happens there. If I had stayed home, one might think, I wouldn’t have torn myself up over six drives into the rough, two shots into the lake, one four-putt, three three-putts, and at least one or two shanked wedges. I suppose that there’s an upside. I got to discharge some of that energy, and got a beautiful walk in the process. It is also true that the good or great shot is enormously satisfying on several levels.

Then there are the driven, no pun intended. They are seemingly preoccupied business people who make the same claim to a relaxed day, then spend it together making the most important decisions of their particular industry. Groups from the same business forge policy there, while those of competing interests work out deals standing on the tee box, walking down the fairway, or hovering over putts. It appears as though they both relax and stress out simultaneously.

On the golf course, there never needs to be a gap in the conversation. If things reach an impasse or get awkward, one can always turn to the ball, pick a club and study a shot to fill the void. In this case, the golf course is useful for averting one’s eyes or covering the lack of a good answer in a given situation. If money is at the root of the disagreement, the golf wager is standard operating procedure.

In the larger sweep of history, I would venture that empires have in part risen and fallen on golf courses, coups have been planned, treatises have been reworded, and elections won and lost. To the average citizen, this may not seem like a way to relax, but for the driven personality who loves the transactional life, it may be the definition of bliss, however addictive. Scoring a business victory on the golf course may be the perfect blend of happiness. The course serves as an office where one cannot be easily reached unless one wants to be, but the same fire is present.

Golf and its natural setting has always been a Garden of Eden for the political class. Politicians who are really committed to winning and holding office can go months or years without taking time to really relax. The mind is ceaselessly mulling over something, and swinging a golf club is so much better than staring at the wall. With the American election in its last stages, one can look back on presidential relationships with the game, and what it did for them.

Eisenhower played with Nixon from time to time. Ike didn’t really like Nixon that much, and it may be that conversation with the somewhat awkward VP was easier on the course.  Gerald Ford may have known more about how to relax than most chief executives, but his inattention to the game got several people bonked on the head. George Bush Jr., a sports guy, may have had more fun with golf than many. A baseball devotee, he didn’t seem to take his own golf inadequacies too seriously. The same goes for President Obama, who was more confident swishing three-pointers from half a county away at rallies. President Trump’s use of golf courses as offices might as well have included desks and lecterns on each tee box. He used the game to further his vicarious belief that he was good at it, cover the frequent cases of cheating, and to hit a ball instead of the people he would preferred to go after.

For the overly ambitious, the golf course is a place of beauty where one can remain limber and compete against a person or standard without giving up the daily business agenda. But relax? For many of them, I have to wonder.

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