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Business Points & Golf

Robert H. Miles talks about golf as an opportunity for business relationships. Learn how a handicap in golf can be a strong hand to play in golf.

Scoring Business Points on the Golf Course

Many people think that the business benefits of golf go primarily to the big hitters - the senior executives of household-name corporations. The AT&Ts, the J&Js and the P&Gs. After all, their flags fly highest at the major national and international golf tournaments for which they have the largest coffers to bankroll. Those corporations whose businesses are most intimately associated with the sport itself are even further privileged to have their logos emblazoned on everything from baseball caps (for some curious reason now the preferred adornment of golfers) to championship trophies. Without a doubt, many an important negotiation or big deal has been sealed with a firm handshake somewhere on or near an 18th whole.

But golf didn't begin in partnership with big business. Its origins may be traced back to groups of successful, small local entrepreneurs, in such off the beaten track places as St. Andrews, Wawashkamo, and Tuxedo Park, who gathered rain or shine to share a common experience, strengthen sometimes strained relationships, and get some fresh outdoor air. ...

Deep down, today's golfing world, when taken as a whole, has not changed that much. Business entrepreneurs still gather around the little white ball for very much the same reasons as their forbearers. And surprisingly, even the new professional level of the game has become a good place in which small business opportunities abound.

Let's look at this from the perspective of the august PGA Tour. For all its premier branding and global reach, the Tour conducts about 120 tournaments each year. What's in this for small businesses? Well, for one thing, these tournaments are all local. And for relatively nominal partial-sponsorship fees, local businesses can provide a host of amenities for their customers. They can offer hospitality and accommodations and a popular entertainment venue to their tournament guests, which can give them much more quality time to develop relationships with potential clients and strengthen those with older ones.

They can offer ticketed access to the best golfers in the world. They can fly their flag and pitch their tent alongside those of the big sponsors. And they can reinforce their own brand in the context of worthwhile funding raising events. All PGA Tour events have a charitable component.

Small companies can also align with golfing on their own turf. They can organize special golfing outings on their own, many of which may be aligned again with local charity fund-raisers. Indeed, over half of the professional players on the PGA Tour become involved in local fund-raisers every year, often in their own home towns.

In addition, charitable volunteer organizations, such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which have a long term relationship with the PGA Tour, sponsor over 1,000 golfing events around the country every year.

So there are many opportunities for small businesses to benefit from the sport of golf while providing them business development opportunities and supporting worthwhile charities. Moreover, these benefits aren't extended just to their customers and prospective clients. There are many employee benefits as well.

Golfing outings help promote team building. They make it possible for employees to get to know others at a deeper level in a short period of time, and to do so in a more relaxed environment than the workplace. Such events can be a welcome antidote to a long offsite meeting or substitute for a formal rubber chicken event.

Golfing has also become a popular vehicle for helping employees become involved in community and charitable activities. Many companies give time off to employees who serve as volunteers in fund raising tournaments.

But to be able to take advantage of all these benefits - customer and employee - small businesses must overcome some minimal hurdles. First, participants must have a rudimentary command of the game of golf and an appreciation of its rules and etiquette. You certainly don't want to impose such an event on someone who can't meet theses minimal criteria, and yet you don't want to exclude members of the company who aren't golf-savvy.

The age-old golfing tradition of the "handicap" can be of help in this regard; indeed, that's why it was built into the game. And if golfing proves to be a valuable venue for your company, perhaps you should explore creative ways to help your employees rise to company-sponsored golfing occasions.

One of the newer business issues which is worth considering as your employees become more involved with those of other companies on the playing field of golf is the impact of Sarbanes-Oxley on what is fair play and what is out of bounds in such activities. Guidelines on this score could keep us all out of the rough.

About the Author

© Robert H. Miles

Robert H. Miles is a global thought and practice leader and frequent speaker in the fields of corporate transformation and executive leadership. He is the author of BIG IDEAS TO BIG RESULTS (published by FT Press/Pearson; March 2008; 256 pages; $27.95 hardcover). He currently serves as Chairman of the management consultancy Dissero Partners and may be reached at bmiles@disseropartbers.com.




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