Does Playing Golf Actually Help Your Career?

According to our survey results, playing golf with business peers and corporate partners isn't as critical a career-enhancing and networking activity that everyone once thought it was -- especially for those in IT.

Conventional business wisdom has long held that to succeed in the corporate world, to win friends in the ranks of senior management and to show you can interact with co-workers and customers alike, you should take up the game of golf.

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But that's not the case in 2008. According to the "CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey," not everyone is convinced of the relationship-building, networking and career-advancement power of the game of golf. The results are from an online survey of 394 IT industry professionals who identified themselves as golfers (48 percent), non-golfers (34 percent) or those considering taking up the sport (18 percent). (A wide range of industries and company sizes were represented by the respondents, who took the survey via CIO.com in May 2008.)

Overall, opinions from the respondents were split on whether playing golf had actually helped them professionally: 55 percent said that the game of golf had helped their careers; 45 percent said golf had not helped them.

For years, many in corporate America have claimed that the golf course is "where business gets done." Donald Trump once said, "I have done many deals on the golf course." (Occasionally, though, 18 holes can't create M&A nirvana: Steve Ballmer and Jerry Yang's May 2008 round of golf could not seal the Microsoft-Yahoo deal.)

But according to our data, many IT industry professionals have no qualms about saying "no thanks" to the boss's invitation to the country club or a day out on links on a vendor's dime. To some of our respondents, there are plenty of networking opportunities on Internet-based social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook—and you don't have to leave the office. Plus stringent post-Enron corporate practices that frown on schmoozing and gift-giving may have had an effect on vendor- and partner-sponsored golf junkets. (See "Mastering the Secret Etiquette of Golf" for a look at the written and unwritten rules of the game that all executives need to know.)

Your Dream Golf Partner

We asked: If you could play a round of golf with just one of these people, who would it be?

Number Who They Picked
32% Pro golfer Tiger Woods
19% Microsoft's Bill Gates
19% Former GE CEO Jack Welch
15% Actor Bill Murray
11% Actress Jessica Alba
"CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" May 2008, 394 responses

For IT executives, in particular, just a little more than half (56 percent) said that their presence at golf outings had helped them professionally. (To see if you're ready for a golf outing, read "So, You're Thinking of Playing Golf.") That percentage becomes a little more telling when you compare it to business and sales executives' perceptions: 73 percent of business executives in the survey said that playing golf has helped their careers, and a whopping 93 percent of sales executives said the same.

In other words, in IT circles, golf skills are perceived as less important to enhancing a career. Whereas in business and sales, golfing abilities appear to be a prerequisite skillset.

Perception: Missed Golf Means Missed Opportunities

In the survey, nearly three-quarters of all the respondents thought that their decision to say "no thanks" to a golf outing had not hindered them professionally.

The flip side is that one-quarter of the respondents (26 percent) said that their decision to not play golf had hurt them professionally. The majority of ways in which it affected them were predictable. The theme of "missed out on networking and relationship building" was most frequently cited.

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