Is golf still the essential business tool?

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A week doesn’t go by in which I don’t get an email about some golf scramble that a client, vendor or partner is either hosting or sponsoring at some level. One just landed in my inbox a few minutes ago and it got me thinking – is golf still essential as a means of networking in today’s business world?

For many yes, though an interesting study was released from researchers at the University of Tennessee and University of Alabama that recognized a direct link between executives spending a lot of time on the course and their diminishing performance. As noted, the research indicated that “executives who use their time to lower their handicaps also often lower their firms' returns.”

While most of us can’t relate to this study as we don’t fall into the Fortune 500 CEO category, there is still a lesson to be learned here. Is it really about golf, and being good at golf, or is the draw really about bonding with others over a shared passion? Fortunately, golf is still a very valuable tool, and I am confident a lot of networking and deals occur on the course. However, I don’t think being an avid golfer is essential. Before I proceed any farther, I should disclose that I am not a golfer, so my opinions on this subject may be a bit biased, though my perspective offers some value as I have managed to build a business without utilizing golf as a tool.

In my early 20s, I actually felt compelled to learn the game and even took lessons. But, around that same time, I discovered my love for running, and my clubs got pushed farther and farther in the back of the garage. Marathon training requires some pretty long training runs – about the same time it takes to play a round of golf – and my passion for running won out.

Although golf has yet to make it on my list of activities, I often wondered during the early years of owning a business if my lack of interest in the sport would hinder our success. In my humble opinion, it has not, though I believe that is because I have shown passion for other activities. The secret here is showing passion for something besides work. Passion, and sharing of that passion with others, is where the magic occurs. For example, when chatting with a client about running or cycling, I’ve been able to bond about training plans, the race that didn’t go well, as well as general stuff only another runner or cyclist would understand. These bonding moments help us understand and appreciate another layer of someone we do business with. Same goes for hockey. Bonding occurs while chatting about that puck hog (every team has one) and how your legs were burning because two members of your line didn’t show up that night so you had to skate extra shifts. This sharing even extends to yoga. A client joined me for yoga last week and it was a great experience to share some mindfulness with him.

As Arnold Palmer once said, “golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” So goes all good things in life. But through shared passion for something, we are able to better understand one another and connect on a human level so things aren’t all business.

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