Over at Ford Harding's excellent blog, one of his guest bloggers, Gary Pines, recently posted something I think is absolutely, dead wrong. The post was terrific, if you buy into the premise, which is that the golf course is a good place to network and develop relationships with potential clients.
No, it isn't. I look forward to the debate.
I have not played golf much lately, but in the past, I played a lot. I took many, many lessons, and spent more than my share of time hitting a hundred six-irons in a row for practice. I know what I'm talking about, and in my opinion, Pines overlooks three things:
- Golf is hard.
- Bad golf is embarrassing.
- Most golfers are bad.
A golf course is designed to be played a certain way. For example, on a par 4, there is a section of fairway that, if a golfer is good, is where he will land his tee shot. A good golfer will do that. He'll hit his shot 250 yards, or whatever, and place it right where he needs to to position himself for the next shot, and so on.
A golf swing is a patently unnatural motion. It's very hard to do correctly. If you do it right, the result is magic. An unbelievable amount of power is released, and good golf swing is really beautiful. Look at the illustration of Tiger Woods above. He is in complete control of his swing -- it's balanced, graceful -- perfect, really. He can put the golf ball anywhere he wants. That's why he's Tiger Woods.
Most golfers aren't anything like this. They miss shots -- they hook, slice, shank and so on. It's not much fun. And any decent golf course is designed to punish shots like this. If you slice a drive, you are going to spend some time in the rough, or the woods, or the water, or the sand, and you will hole out with an 8 on a par 4, or something like it. This is not the best environment for discussing business. A client who sets up for a pitching wedge shot, shanks it into the woods, and then yells out "Shit!" and pounds his club is not going to want to talk. Trust me on this. And with bad, or even mediocre golfers, this happens a lot.
Golf is also physical work. Even if you're using a cart, you still are going to be doing a lot of walking, in the sun, up and down hills, for 4 hours or so. You're going to be sweaty and tired. You're also going to spend a lot of time physically away from your client, as you hit your shot in one place and they hit theirs in another.
Finally, and I guess this is my real point, and kind of grumpy-old-mannish, golf is a very mental game, and requires a lot of mental and emotional discipline, and intense concentration. The absolute last thing I want to be doing on a golf course is chatting with someone.
The ideal networking environment is one in which there is a diversion, but not a distraction, if you understand my meaning. There is some interesting other activity going on, but it's something that isn't too intense, and makes conversation easy. A baseball game, say. A meal. An art exhibit. Not, however, a rock concert. Skiing. Or golf.
My father, who played golf for sixty years, used to have this theory about the ideal versus the real. He believed that when thinking about how well they played -- how far they would hit, say, a four-iron -- golfers always instinctively think of the best shot they ever hit, and then assume that's their normal shot. If just once, you manage to loft a flawless wedge over trees, drop it right onto the green, and then have enough backspin to stop the ball right next to the hole for an easy putt, you will believe you always hit wedges like that. You don't.
Similarly, the ideal golf round with a client is one in which the course is beautiful, you are both relaxed and having fun, the weather is beautiful, and there is time for lots of relationship-building chatting between holes, on the green, and so on.
Realty is different. Very, very different. And because of that, I would reduce Gary's ten tips to one: "Don't."