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Golfing or yakking?

Keith DuBay //April 14, 2015//

Golfing or yakking?

Keith DuBay //April 14, 2015//

Most business golfers have seen this dozens of times: You bring a client to lunch and then a round of golf. His phone rings often and because he’s in the middle of a crisis, he answers every call and makes few of his own. On more than a few holes, he is yakking on the phone when it’s his turn to hit. The others in your group are waiting impatiently for him. Not only that, your group is behind and the players behind you are yelling for you to keep up.

Not only is he talking on his cell phone, he’s reviewing documents and charts and exchanging texts and emails. The course marshall drops by and tells you kindly to keep up with the group in front of you, now a couple holes ahead, as if the slow play were your fault. This is an important client, so what are you supposed to do?

Awkwardly hurry him along and risk the relationship? It continues on the 19th hole after the round over drinks. The phone is still glued to his ear. He even steps outside, leaving you haplessly sitting at the table. The whole thing has been an unmitigated disaster. It wasn’t as if you wanted to talk about your deal with him. You just wanted some uninterrupted face time with him. You wanted to use golf to develop a rapport and relationship.

It’s getting to the point where communications devices are playing the buzz kill for business golf. James Cooke, a manager for a large auto manufacturer, works closely with dealers and their executives. Most of the time, dinner will work better for him than a round of golf, partly because golf is played during the day when communication is heavy.

“These guys don’t turn that stuff off. It’s more difficult to keep them focused,” he said. “Technology hasdefinitely made doing business on the golf course different than it used to be. A client is connected in so many different ways. Trying to get that guy on a golf course and talk business, it just doesn’t work that way anymore. It’s purely entertainment and relationship building, but you don’t discuss deals.”

Scott Beckley, vice president and wealth investment adviser with Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management in Denver, said that despite the digital revolution, there is always a demand for business golf.

“We are so beholden to our calendars, emails, and responding as quickly as we can to any type of information, but I believe there is no replacement for face-to-face discussions,” Beckley said.

“Email and other mediums make communication quicker and certainly more efficient,” he continued. “The caution for business people is to be aware of the digital revolution and see how their clients or customers want to be connected. In a commodity industry, you need to be aware of your value. I can share my value on the golf course, as I invest in the relationship.”

Some private courses don’t allow cell phones on the practice tee or course. Denver Country Club is one example, and Cherry Hills Country Club another. Here’s the cell phone policy at Cherry Hills: “To preserve the integrity and atmosphere of the Club and out of respect for Members and their guests, cellular phones and Personal Digital Assistants (“PDAs”) are not permitted to be used at Cherry Hills Country Club, except as provided in this rule. These specific devices may be used on the Club Grounds for outgoing or incoming telephone calls and the retrieval of voice messages in the following areas only: Inside the Member computer office in the Men’s Locker Room Grille area; by the courtesy phones in the main entryway to the Club next to the Men’s and Women’s Restrooms; and inside an automobile in the Club parking lot with windows up.”

Only Cherry Hills could make cell phones an issue of integrity. But clearly they are an issue for business golf. Perhaps the best idea is that golf in the digital age is not a place to complete a thought or deal even, but used as a door opener for follow-up conversations.