Sometimes the best rule about doing business on the golf course is not to.
The average business lunch lasts about an hour, but 18 holes of golf get you four to five hours of undivided attention from prospective clients. You won't get that kind of time any other way. But it's easy to blow it out there by being unaware of etiquette or talking business when it's not appropriate. Learn what not to do on the course to make your time there productive. Here are some tips:
Don't come unprepared — Poor planning is easy to recognize, hard to recover from, and simple to avoid. It tells your playing partner that you're unprepared and disorganized in other areas, which will probably kill any chance of doing business together.
A few pointers: Anticipate questions about your company and be ready with sound answers; Bring the proper gear and equipment, such as bug repellent, sunscreen, and aspirin; Have several one-dollar bills on hand for tipping; Call ahead for your tee time, and if you're hosting the round, show up at least an hour early to take care of fees and tips.
Don't talk business, unless it's appropriate — Let your partner take the lead when it comes to talking business. You can discuss business in general — market trends, local economic conditions — without giving a sales pitch. Focus instead on building a personal relationship.
The driving range, the locker room, long waits on golf holes, and time at “the turn” (after nine holes) and in the 19th hole (after the round) all lend themselves to business discussions. On the other hand, if you start a conversation on a tee box and have to interrupt it to proceed down the fairway to locate your shot, you'll have disjointed discussions that don't go anywhere.
Don't ignore conversational cues — Let's say your golf partner mentions that he or she was able to play a few rounds of golf at Pebble Beach while traveling in California on business. This is a good time to ask about the course — not to ask if he does a lot of business in California. If you do the latter, he'll get the idea that either you weren't really listening or that you're only interested in doing business — or talking about what you want to talk about.
Don't mishandle sticky situations — Among the trickiest situations that can arise are cheating, chronic complaining, giving unsolicited advice, or nonstop talking. Keep your objectives in mind as you decide how to deal with behavior you don't agree with. Stay emotionally detached if you can. Don't attack your partner, even if his or her behavior offends you. Use humor as long as it's not sarcastic. Keep your voice and body language friendly.
Don't chatter — Silence is a normal part of a healthy conversation. It's also essential on the golf course. Occasional lulls in the conversation are normal, and they give everyone time to think about what has been said and to focus on their beautiful surroundings. There are other times to keep quiet as well, such as when your partner hits a bad shot. These moments are frustrating, and often people just want to be left alone.
Other don'ts — Don't disclose personal information, such as family problems; talk about other clients; say anything negative about the course; or give unsolicited golf advice.
Dan Sueltz and Shelly Rule, LPGA, own Sell Thru Golf, a company that specializes in teaching businesses to use golf to increase their bottom line. For more information, call them at (303) 405-8333.