How and Why to Swing a Golf Course Deal

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Times have been tough for the golf industry.

Younger players haven't been as keen on the sport as past generations, a situation not helped by the recession, high unemployment and the on- and off-course problems of the marquee draw Tiger Woods.

The business world still heads to the links to hash out deals big and small, says Michael Andrew Smith, author of Business-to-Business Golf: How to Swing Your Way to Business Success.

But rest assured, the golf course business deal is alive and well, says Michael Andrew Smith, author of Business-to-Business Golf: How to Swing Your Way to Business Success.

Smith, a consultant who has led more than 125 business-focused golf outings, says the business world still heads to the links to hash out deals big and small.

"Despite all the instant messaging and email, and even in the era of Facebook and Twitter, the face-to-face meetings and discussions are still very much up there in importance, particularly when it comes to business relationships," he says. "If you want to get to know somebody a little bit better, the cardinal rule is to have a meeting, and golf is the natural vehicle for doing that."

Golf courses, Smith says, are a perfect venue for gaining leads, firming up deals, maintaining vendor relations and resolving board-related matters. The relative calm and quiet of the course, and the many breaks in the action, are ideal for fostering conversation.

"If there is interest in having a lengthy discussion -- something that goes beyond a simple yes or no in an email -- what better setting is there to do it than the quietness of a golf course?" Smith asks.

As he sees it, taking clients to sporting events, even using a luxury box, may be impressive, but it doesn't always get the job done.

"If you are at Madison Square Garden or Giants Stadium watching the Yankees or the Knicks, it is great," he says. "I'm not taking anything away from it. But there are so many distractions -- the crowd and the game itself. You can't really get anything up close and personal, or ask more probing questions. If it's a nine-hole or an 18-hole round on the course, and you supplement that with a luncheon or a quick drink afterward, you have the ability to pursue a really good conversation."

Smith offers the following advice for those looking to broker business on the greens this summer:

Be prepared, but not pushy
Before heading off to the course, make sure to do your homework ahead of time, Smith says.

Does your partner have a recently published white paper? Were they part of a media interview? Did they recently make a donation to, or otherwise support, a favorite charity? "Arm yourself with the information," he says, and be prepared to carry your end of the conversation.

Be careful, however, not to be too aggressive. Keep things friendly, cordial and light until you are steered into more substantial matters.

"Mix the golf talk and business questions," Smith says.

Take lessons
If you are fresh out of school with an MBA, or an up-and-comer at your company, take the time to learn the basics of the game.

Smith suggests taking three to six lessons with a local golf pro to get the hang of the basics.

"There are 14 clubs in a bag and 80% of the game is played with those three clubs -- your wedge, your putter and your driver," he says. "Those are the three clubs that you should focus on and not necessarily impress, but it will help you gain confidence. Not only do you need lessons, but you need to get out there and play. Playing the game will keep you coming back for more."

Be upfront about your ability
Don't be afraid to admit you are not a very good player.

"If you are going to try to play with a business associate, just tell them, 'Look, I'm a terrible golfer, I just started,'" Smith says.

An average or below-average golfer may likely learn that their partner is not much better.

"The average score, according to the National Golf Association, is 97," Smith says. "Don't feel you have to play great, as long as you are upfront. Say to them, 'This is my level of ability,' and they will appreciate that."

Play fair
If you think of the round as an interview process of sorts, you certainly don't want to get caught cheating, fudging a score or nudging a ball out of the rough.

"You are not just trying to develop a relationship, but a trusting relationship," Smith says. "There will be situations where you can impress upon them that you are trustworthy."

Attend charity events
The nation's 26 million golfers raise more money than any other sport for charitable purposes, Smith says.

His advice is to take part in the many charity tournaments that are held each year and use them to effectively network while doing good.

"Even if you don't play golf at all, most events have a dinner-only option," he says. "You can network right there."

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

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