6 Tips for Closing Business Deals on the Golf Course Like a Boss

by Henry Jablonski
on March 6, 2018

While the way that business is conducted is always changing, there are some things that always stay the same. One of these staples that shows no sign of leaving is the use of the golf course to close business deals. There is something about being out there with nature while chasing around an obnoxious little white ball that makes men and women want to spend and make money.

Now, you may have read similar articles like this before, which is great, but I had a particular problem with every single one of them I read. They were all written by either expert golfers who had a club in their hand since they were two-years-old or CEO level business folk who were already at the top of their game.

It’s great to hear from the experts, but there always seems to be a disconnect. Here’s an example: I constantly read tips that said, “You should look at your client/boss’s ego level and then decide if you should let them win or not.” While I think this could be good advice, I usually am just worried about surviving out there on the golf course and not shanking 100% of my shots. I am nowhere near good enough to control whether or not I let someone win.

While I am certain they all mean well, and again, it’s great to hear from experts, there are times that you need to hear tips from people that are down in the trenches with you. So that’s what I aim to do today. I am a mediocre golfer who plays recreationally a few times a year. I am a successful businessman now, but I was not when I started hammering away at deals on the golf course. What I’m going to do today is share some of the tips that helped me get to where I am today by getting deals closed on the golf course.

Keep Score Like Your Preacher is Sitting Next to You

When I first started golfing, I got to where I could shoot about 100 fairly quickly. For the next, 6-12 months I continued to get better at golf, but I kept shooting 100. What was happening? Well, my 100 early in my “golfing career” was about the most dishonest 100 you’d ever seen. I gave myself free drops, kicked my ball around and did just about anything else I could rationalize to get myself to a score that made me feel good. As the months and years went on, my score didn’t get better, but it got more honest.

When you are on the course for business, you better keep score as if your preacher is watching you or you’re on the PGA tour with hundreds of cameras around. Take 100% of your penalty strokes, never move your ball from a lie unless you legally can and count every single putt, even if you miss a two-inch tap in. Additionally, if someone makes a comment about the rules and you know they’re wrong, they get to be right today. This is not the place to argue about score.

Also, don’t make a big deal
when you’re adding penalty strokes to your score.

Some people like to say it loud and proud to show they’re following the rules to a T. Just keep an honest and accurate count of your score and record that. What’s funny is that I’ve played golf for a lot of business meetings where the other person was convinced that I was beating them only to find out they were massively ahead. They then realized that I was assessing every single penalty to myself (quietly) and playing by all the rules.

You can imagine how this helped with my business dealings. Actually, I won’t make you imagine; I’ll tell you that it helped a ton. They realized that I was a straight shooter with no ego who follows the rules and does things the right way without cutting any corners. It might be subconscious, but this is going to help you get that deal closed.

You Are Not the Scorekeeping Police

As an addition to the above tip, you are not the score police. I do not care if you have spent hours studying the PGA rulebook and you know all of the penalty rules. If someone you are playing with wants to fudge the numbers and kick their ball around, let them do it. Don’t sneer at them or make any comments either. If they rub it in that they beat you at the end, and you know with honest scoring they wouldn’t have, let it go and congratulate them.

Look, I am not saying to be weak. What I am advising is that you choose your battles. Do you really care who wins that one random round of golf? Or do you care more about getting what you want out of the business dealing? If the first is more important to you, it’s time to check your ego. Your goal during a business golf outing should be to advance your business dealings. You can always go out and play with your friends later and let them know you’re better by holding them to the strict rules. When it’s business golf time, though, that stuff goes out the window.

Etiquette Before All Else

This should go without saying, but that never seems to be the case with things. You need to make sure that you 100% understand basic golf etiquette and that you follow it to a T whether or not anyone else in your group is. Additionally, don’t correct someone who is not following etiquette rules even if it is negatively impacting your game.

I’ve been on some business golf meetings where people walked on my line, talked in my backswing and hit balls when it wasn’t their turn.

You know what happened
when I said something about it to them?
I don’t know the answer because I kept my big mouth shut.

Sure, it would have helped my score immensely if I asked them to be quiet during my backswing, but my goal out there wasn’t to shoot a masterful score. My goal was to get what I wanted out of them, and keeping them happy and on my side was the key to that.

Additionally, you never know when you’re going to be playing business golf with someone who takes things way too seriously. For this reason, you should always err on the side of caution by practicing all etiquette no matter how nice or junky the course is and no matter how serious or not serious you think they are taking the game. Do things the right way. Don’t be snooty about it. Don’t correct anyone that doesn’t do the same.

Be Jelly and Go with the Flow

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I try and use them in my analogies as much as possible. When you’re on the golf course looking to advance your business dealings, you need to be ready to go with the flow. You need to be like jelly— not so rigid that if things are different than you’re used to, you can’t adapt.

Here’s the thing: people play golf like they make their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Some people like to use crunchy peanut butter and some like to use creamy. Some people use white bread and some use wheat. Some people even like to make double-decker PBJ’s. The point here is that there are hundreds of different ways to make a PBJ sandwich, and there are also hundreds of different ways to play a round of golf.

You need to be ready to bend and move with whatever comes your way. For example, I had a business meeting once where the guys I was playing with always allowed multiple drops off the tee. This is not how I play, but I went with the flow and said, “Awesome, let’s do it!” The more that you go with the flow, the more comfortable people are going to become with you. The more comfortable they are with you, the more likely they are to do business with you.

Notice that I didn’t just tell them to do their thing and that I would have no problem with it. I got involved. I embraced it and played the way they wanted to. There’s a difference between tolerance and acceptance. I took my drops off the tee when I shanked my ball. I didn’t just let them take theirs and assess myself penalty strokes.

Be the jelly. Be ready to go with the flow.

Business on the Back Nine Unless…

So, this is a question that I get asked a lot. People want to know when the ideal time to talk business is on the course. There is quite a bit that goes into this, so I’m going to try and make it as clear as possible.

First, it depends on who is driving the conversation. If they are the ones that invited you and are trying to get something out of you, let them run the show. If you’re the one with the cookie and they’re the little kid that wants it, let them figure out when the ideal time to bring things up is. If you’re the one that wants the cookie, you’re going to have to decide when is optimal. I will cover this shortly. If it’s a mutual type meeting, I always like to take the initiative to make sure that things get talked about. It’s a four to five-hour commitment for a round of golf, so I’m going to make sure that time is used effectively and efficiently.

I’m going to tell you the general industry rule of thumb and my personal rule of thumb. First, the industry rule of thumb is no business talk until the back nine. Most people like to play the front line, make the turn and then somewhere on the back nine they like to get down to brass tacks. My personal rule of thumb is to let things happen naturally. I have found that the majority of the time, the business talk will happen naturally and you don’t really need to do much planning.

When things happen naturally, they always go much smoother. That being said, there are sometimes that you have to push the envelope to get the conversation started. This is why I like to use both of these rules in tandem. What I’ll do first is let things happen naturally. Sometimes people will want to get the business talk out of the way first (rare). Usually, though, it will just naturally come up in conversation on the course. I find that things usually get touched on a few times during the front nine, the real conversation happens on the back nine, and the decisions get made in the clubhouse after the round.

Here’s how I approach it step by step.

I will just talk naturally the whole front nine. If the business talk comes up naturally or they bring it up, that’s great. If it doesn’t come up at all, that’s okay. Once we make the turn, I start getting myself prepared to get down to the real reason we are playing golf. Still, though, I will give it a few holes to happen naturally. If by about the 13th or 14th hole nothing has been talked about, I will bring it up.

It may feel a little forced, but everyone should already be well aware of why you are there. What should probably be the 7th tip on this list is prefacing the meeting properly. When you invite them to play golf or when they invite you, you should make mention of what you would like to cover at some point during the day. That way, they are prepared to speak on the topic and are well aware that it’s coming.

If you just invite them out to play golf and spring business talk on them, they’re going to be annoyed and feel like you baited them in. But, if you invite them to play and say straight up that you want to talk about X or Y, they’ll know what they signed up for and, more importantly. will be prepared.

I made this mistake once early in my business career. I invited someone to play golf when I had an agenda that I did not share with them. They weren’t upset when I brought it up, but they weren’t prepared to speak on the topic. They hadn’t had time to look up the numbers or information needed to have the conversation. I eventually got the deal closed, but it required additional meetings and that day was a waste of five hours. Well, it wasn’t a waste because we did start to build a relationship, but a lot more could have been accomplished a lot faster.

Getting Better Does Help

You probably are already aware of this, but getting better at golf is certainly going to help, but maybe not for the reason you think. Honestly, most people I’ve played with didn’t care if I was good or bad at the game. Yes, a great golfer can be fun to play with, but I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal when it comes to closing your business dealings.

Where getting better helps you the most is that it’s one less thing that you have to worry about while you’re out there. When I first started, and I was pretty bad, I had to put so much focus into surviving the course that I struggled to juggle the business dealings as well. As I got better at the game, I could start to worry less about my golf swing and more about the negotiations at hand.

I am not saying that you need to go out there and become the next Tiger Woods. All I am saying is that if you put a little regular effort into getting your game better, you’re going to see results in your business dealings as well. Allow yourself to be able to focus on what is really important and let the golf be secondary.

Conclusion

I’d say we covered quite a bit today, and hopefully, this helps you to be more prepared for your next golf business outing. Sometimes getting tips from someone that is more around your level can be better than getting advice from an expert or a professional. To make sure you have all of this down, let’s recap the 6 7 (with the bonus tip) tips that you need to remember.

  • 1. QUIETLY keep the most honest score you’ve ever kept. Don’t broadcast your honesty to the whole world.
  • 2. Don’t worry if other people don’t keep an honest score. Let them do as they please; this is not the battle you care about.
  • 3. Understand and follow proper etiquette regardless of how the rest of your group acts. Again, don’t get onto them if they don’t.
  • 4. Go with the flow. Don’t just be tolerant, but get involved.
  • 5. Let the business conversation happen naturally unless it starts to get later into the back 9.
  • 6. (Bonus tip) Make sure you preface the meeting properly, so they know what’s coming and can be properly prepared. Otherwise, your meeting will be a waste of time, outside of relationship building.
  • 7. Invest in your golf game and try and get better.

I’m not saying that following these tips will close the deal for you, but it’s a good start.

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