Golf is Good for Business, but CEOs Should Tread Lightly When Wearing Those Spikes

There’s a lot of hand wringing in the golf business these days about the persistent slide in the number of golfers in America and the implications of the long-term financial descent of the game. But business can still be done on that increasingly lonely golf course, and many CEOs and business owners are using the green for leverage this summer.

June 26 2014 by Dale Buss


As business people and professional acquaintances tee up for 18 holes this season, it’s difficult to ignore the broader context of the travails of golf. The number of U.S. golfers has dropped 24% from its peak in 2002, according to Pellucid Analytics. In 2013 alone, the company says the game lost 1.1 million players. Courses are closing. Greens fees are softening. And tee times are more available today than they have been in many years.

That trend is not likely to rebound, either, because millennials—a generation raised on video games, Paintball and Frisbee—simply aren’t nearly as interested as previous generations in playing golf at all. Some view it as too time-intensive, while others consider it elitist.

But for the millions of golfers who still enjoy a round of the game more than anything else except perhaps a cold beer on the 19th hole, the game holds its allure. And for those players who are truly dedicated, it remains a fact that some of the most effective business deals they have transacted have been conducted while waiting to tee off.

Advice on exactly how to go about effectively conducting business on the course is prolific. For many business golfers, the biggest decision is whether to explicitly talk business while they’re golfing or to use the game mainly as a platform for relationship-building and to follow up on the shop talk later.

“CEOs who decide to
talk business in between swings should start conversations with innocuous topics and only get into the business conversation gradually.”

If they decide to talk business in between swings, CEOs and business owners might be advised to start conversations with innocuous topics and only get into the business conversation gradually. Tom Pavloff, a Detroit-area sales executive, handles the challenge this way: He finds out if his golfing companions are going to stick around for a beer in the clubhouse afterward, and if they are, he suggests they talk business at that point and, in the meantime, enjoy their round.

Writer and editor Kent Black recalls a deal that fell apart as quickly as it was brought up, due almost entirely to differences in the two golf partners’ styles. “He preferred to drive his cart at top speed between shots and holes, whereas I liked to walk the course and take my time lining up each shot. At the end of 18, we exchanged numbers, but we both knew we’d never collaborate,” Black wrote in a Bloomberg Businessweek article.

Some experienced golfers, however, say that talking actual business on the course should be avoided. “Remember that more often than not, people make investments in people. … You should use your time on the course to develop the relationship, not to sell the deal,” George Souri, owner of UltraPawn, told Forbes.com. “Being overly eager to ‘talk shop’ will likely annoy your guest, or worse, affect his focus and game. A day of bad play is not going to help your chances for closing a deal.”

Additional reading:

19 Tips For Closing A Deal On The Golf Course

The Ten Commandments of Business Golf

How Golf Got Stuck in the Rough

“Deal or No Deal” on the Golf Course?