Three Great Ways to use Golf for Business Networking

Business is all about connections and while virtual connections continue to grow, their value pales in comparison to a real conversation. Having the opportunity to chat and get to know a person is the first step towards building a working relationship. Business is, after all, often about investing in relationships rather than just products or services, and spending time with key people will reveal a great deal and provide opportunities. But connecting on a business level isn’t always easy. It takes time to commit to networking.  If you have tried networking groups, you know they meet for a couple hours over breakfast or lunch and match professionals looking to make connections in their various fields, but over the course of those hours you will meet many people and rarely get any quality time to chat. Really getting to know someone takes more than a few minutes at a time. That’s where golf can help.

Why golf is such a great networking opportunity.

If you called someone on the phone and asked them for a four-hour meeting to get to know them, they would probably laugh and hang up; but if they accept an invitation to a round of golf, that’s exactly what you will get. A golf outing provides a casual environment where you and the other members of your foursome can relax and spend some time together away from the office. 

Do I have to be an experienced golfer?

Many people believe that only low handicap players network on the golf course, but that is not the case. Everyone from casual to seasoned players can enjoy a round of golf while networking, as long as you maintain the rules of etiquette while doing so. Golf is steeped in rules that dictate how play proceeds and how to interact with other players. For example, who takes the first shot at each tee, marking your ball on the green or simply remembering to rake the sand trap after your shot are all important to the game, as well as demonstrating that you care about the game and the other players’ enjoyment of the game. 

Etiquette will also indicate character traits that go well beyond the course. How you handle disappointments on the golf course will demonstrate how you react to stress on other levels, since people tend to react the same way to strong emotions in business and in life. Networking while golfing provides your prospective business with an excellent idea of your adaptability, generosity, patience, and sense of humor — all traits that are highly valued in business.

“Golf has a way of returning favors,” pro-golfer Arnold Palmer noted in a story about golf etiquette, “and every piece of etiquette you practice will be repaid tenfold.”

That includes putting on your best face each tee time. Though golf is a casual sport, your appearance shouldn’t be. Respect the sport, and your golf companions will respect you as well. After all, you’re hoping they will make you part of their permanent team or recommend you to their friends and colleagues. Show them you mean business.

How do I connect with other golfers to network?

Being able to play and knowing proper etiquette is a great start, but identifying opportunities that allow you to play with the people you would like to forge relationships with is the most important step towards networking. Here are three great ways to start networking on the golf course.

1. Build a Foursome Outing – Invite a prospect on a foursome that includes one other colleague and an existing customer to build a foursome that will be comfortable and fun. If your fourth member will be a sales prospect, is there someone else in your business he or she would be working with after the sale? Invite that person so the two can get to know each other. Also invite a customer that had similar needs but one that is not a competitor. Make it formal by sending an invitation, and if you plan to use it as a business expense, make sure your boss gives the okay to pay for your guest.

2. Charity Tournaments – Sign up for charity tournaments. These feel-good events are fun and provide a means of raising money for nonprofits in your area. Usually you sign up a foursome, so use the same methodology as described above. There is frequently a banquet or reception that follows, offering more opportunities to get to know people. The experiences of the day provide a great context to start conversations. 

3. Just Show Up – Show up at a local course as a single and you will be paired with three strangers. This is more of a random chance, but it is a good opportunity to tune your approach to the course and your conversational skills. You never know who you might end up networking with in a random foursome. 

Since your goal is connecting beyond the course, make sure you are prepared. The course is a good place to get to know each other, but serious business talk should be reserved for after round discussions. Have plenty of business cards ready and try to plan time for a lunch or an after round happy hour. Other ideas to incorporate are custom logo golf balls, ball marks, or other paraphernalia that you could offer to other players as a way of keeping your name and business with them…Be creative. 

Don’t lose sight of the fact that people play golf to have fun. While it is a good opportunity to connect with people in different businesses, it is, first and foremost, a chance to get outside and enjoy a casual sport. Don’t be too competitive. Let everyone enjoy the round and the benefits will follow. Exercise, stress relief and even a little networking, all add up to make a golf a great addition to your life. Get out there and play.