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The Art of Business Golf in Colorado: Turning Bogeys Into Birds on the Green, and in the Office

No matter how you chip and putt, golf can deepen your connections with clients and colleagues. Here’s how to win at that game, whether you’re guest or host.

Susan Fornoff //April 10, 2024//

Group of Asian people businessman and senior CEO enjoy outdoor sport golfing together at country club. Healthy men golfer holding golf bag walking on fairway with talking together at summer sunset
Group of Asian people businessman and senior CEO enjoy outdoor sport golfing together at country club. Healthy men golfer holding golf bag walking on fairway with talking together at summer sunset

The Art of Business Golf in Colorado: Turning Bogeys Into Birds on the Green, and in the Office

No matter how you chip and putt, golf can deepen your connections with clients and colleagues. Here’s how to win at that game, whether you’re guest or host.

Susan Fornoff //April 10, 2024//

You can take clients to Elway’s for steaks and compete with the text notifications blinking on their cell phones, or to a Nuggets game and irritate the diehard fans all around you by discussing ROI and A/B testing. But there’s nothing like time on the golf course. Four hours walking or riding fairways together, with long leisurely gaps between shots and the timeless tradition of the 19th hole at the end.

“It is special,” says Ryan Smith, the Colorado Golf Association’s chief development officer.

“I think it’s a really great way to build trust and get to know someone, because ultimately a good business relationship is built around what they’re interested in and what they want to invest in, especially corporate partners and corporate dollars, whether it’s sponsorship or just investment in an event or a program, and also private donors.

READ: How to Do Business on the Golf Course — Counting Penalty Strokes

“And they get to see what I’m passionate about and what I’m excited to share, whether that’s playing really well, or playing poorly, which is more often the case.”

Smith has spent most of his career in fundraising, including with Habitat for Humanity before joining the non-profit CGA. He’s not a scratch golfer, and his handicap bears no relevance to the topic at hand. Just as some in sales excel at reading a room, Smith has honed his skills at figuring a foursome. Last year, the CGA tapped him to be executive director of its do-good department, the Colorado Golf Foundation.

I’ve played with Smith, and it was a pleasure. I’ve also spent years writing about golf, playing with colleagues and supervisors more powerful than me and with players much, much (and another much) better than I am. I’m convinced there’s no correlation between golf skills and success when it comes to the game of business golf.

Here’s how it works.

The venue

Golf courses are all over Colorado and a private club membership is not required for showing a client or colleague a good time. Smith uses the CGA’s CommonGround as a host venue with a special caddie program that turns into a talking point; see the sidebar for a list of more Colorado daily fee courses that are a cut above the local muni. Just be sure to secure a tee time far enough in advance to pin down your guests.

READ: Colorado Gold Guide — Top 7 Upscale Public Golf Courses

The invitation

The generous host goes beyond “be my guest.” Those buzzwords, of course, make it clear who’s paying. But, are there any rules the guest should know? Like, are cargo shorts prohibited, or does the club use rulers to ensure skirts are not too high above the knee? Is there a locker room, or is it OK to change shoes in the parking lot? If a group is playing, how will the foursomes be arranged?

The acceptance

It behooves the guest to ask the questions the host hasn’t thought to answer, or to call the course for answers to some of the thornier ones for hosted guests – like, for instance, “Is my money good in the clubhouse? Whom should I expect to tip?” Smith recalls neglecting to bring cash to his first round at Colorado Golf Club. “We had a caddie who worked his butt o ,” he says. “I was the one guy in the group who didn’t plan ahead. You don’t want to be running into the clubhouse asking for an ATM.”

Walking, riding, caddies

Most golfers expect to ride, so the kind host will talk to the grateful guest up front about how they will travel around the course. Does the guest have an injury, or inability to walk 18 holes?

If so, the host who always walks the course should plan to ride this time. If walking, are there push carts? Motorized caddies? Or, wow, real caddies?

Know that places like CommonGround, the Broadmoor, even famed Ballyneal host special programs designed to groom young people with life skills and the chance at an Evans Scholarship to CU. Unlike the career caddies to be found at some of Denver’s venerable golf clubs, the kids don’t necessarily know much about golf, which is all part of the fun.

Match ’em up

The appreciative guest will not decide which cart to jump into. It’s up to the host to pair up players who are riding, and, yes, it’s an art. One might check the GHIN app to find out a player’s handicap, or rely on other factors. Smith once hosted a VIP he would have liked to have ridden with but was wise enough to pair that player with another guest, who has since shown appreciation in many ways. But, he says, “If I’m trying to close a sale with someone, I want to be in their cart.”

Tee time: Men

Are we playing the blacks? The blues? The member tees?

Few decisions correlate to enjoyment the way this one does.

It used to be that if one guy said, “I want to play the whole course,” everyone went to the back tees with him. Now there’s more awareness of matching the length of the course to the length of your game. In business golf, though, it remains generally a group decision, so be prepared to roll with the flow.

READ: Revolutionizing Tee Time — GolfSnake App Offers Seamless Reservations for Denver Golfers

Tee time: Men and women

I checked in with Laura Robinson, former executive director of the Colorado Women’s Golf Association, about where the average woman golfer should tee up when playing a business round with three men.

The dilemma: play forward but miss the chitchat and camaraderie, or play back and suffer with your score.

“Always play from the right tee box,” Robinson declares. “I play with lots of guys and they are more impressed if I can get in par than which tee box I play from!”

And, for a man in the inverse situation: There is no rule against playing the forward tees. Smith does it!

Disguise your lack of skill

If you are a truly terrible golfer and cannot hope to finish out most holes with less than, say, a quadruple bogey, help the group move along quickly by pacing your play smartly. Lost two tee shots? “I’ll just drop my next one up there by (whomever hit it long and straight).” Just skulled your seventh shot over the green? “I’ll pick that up.” Then join the others on the green as they putt out, showing an interest in their games. There’s no need to apologize, ever: Golfers don’t care about your game, only their game. They might, however, watch to see how you handle adversity, so temper tantrums are not advised.

Don’t do the don’ts

Too many beers. Loud music. Slamming clubs, littering, cursing. Just don’t – you’re at a business meeting. Also, golfers will notice if you do not rake bunkers or ll divots or repair holes on the green. Score by cleaning up messes that aren’t even yours.

Know the rules of the game

No, not literally the Rules of Golf. Know which rules by which your group is playing. Are mulligans (aka do-overs) and gimmes encouraged? Is there any team game whereby you can pick up before holing out? If there’s a friendly wager, I strongly recommend participating with enthusiasm even if you are sure you are going to lose. This is a great opportunity to show sportsmanship and integrity.

If you’re playing by the Rules, count accordingly

Years ago I played with a woman who at the end of the day boasted of having broken 100. She’d taken so many mulligans and free drops, I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes. Ethics and integrity still have a place in the business world, don’t they? Well, they do on the golf course.

When to talk shop

On the golf course? Maybe. Over drinks and dinner at the 19th hole? Maybe. Some other day? Maybe. “I think that’s being sensitive to who you’re playing with,” Smith says. “I want to share about my background in golf and outside of golf and what my interests are. I think that’s just as important as it is to get to business. But sometimes four hours go by, and all you’ve done is talk business. I’ve also experienced the other side, where you conduct your business not even over a drink at the 19th hole but after the fact, because you’ve had that shared experience and now you can have a common language about what you’re trying to accomplish.” Of course, then there’s the matter of a tax deduction …

… Tax deductions? Forget about it!

Folks who actually work in golf might have the nerve to claim rounds or club memberships, but Congress did away with business entertainment, amusement and recreation deductions for most in 2017. What still works: As long as a business meal shows up separately on the tab, it’s a 50 percent deduction. However, remember to talk at least some “yadayada” to qualify your post-round drinks and dinner as a business meeting.


Susan Fornoff has covered golf for the San Francisco Chronicle, regional golf associations and her own She is a member of the Overland Park Golf Course and Links at Highlands Ranch women’s clubs. This is her eighth Executive Golf Guide for ColoradoBiz