Mastering the Secret Etiquette of Golf

Heading out to the golf course with colleagues and business associates is a chance to network and build relationships over 18 holes. But there are many written and unwritten rules of the game that all IT executives need to know.

By Thomas Wailgum
Fri, April 01, 2005

CIO — You may golf well. Or, you may stink up the course every time you put on your soft spikes.

Regardless of your ability, however, one thing is certain: Golf outings are as integral to corporate life as board meetings, annual reviews and holiday parties. And if CIOs want to play along, they have to know the subtle points of the game—not necessarily the rules or basic playing techniques but how to behave on the course and avoid perpetrating the cardinal sins of golfing etiquette. (Test your knowledge of golf's written rules: Take our quick five-question quiz at "Golf Rules." Note: It's a .pdf document.)

Among the most egregious missteps is lying, of course. People lie about their scores; they lie about their handicaps; they lie about their lies.

There's rudeness—such as moving when someone is teeing off, talking when someone is about to swing or casting your shadow where someone is putting. There are errors of omission: failing to rake sand traps, fix ball marks on the green or replace divots in the fairway.

In fact, that serene golf course can actually be a minefield where CIO careers can be made or broken if you happen to believe—as many golfers do—that the sport reveals a person's true character.

"Golf tells no lies," says Suzanne Woo, founder of BizGolf Dynamics, a company that helps executives better understand the nuances of the game. Golf, she says, "puts you under this weird pressure and expectations—and in this competitive mode."

First Lesson: Be Prepared

In such a pressure cooker, CIOs need to be prepared for all types of situations on the links, including strategies for dealing with a cheating CEO who's giving you the nod and wink, or a pushy vendor who wants to monopolize the conversation with talk of business.

"You learn more about a person in four hours on the golf course than you can possibly learn by only having business meetings," says David Guzman, the former CIO of Owens & Minor who's now chief research officer of The Yankee Group. "No matter how you try to be on your best behavior, your true personality will emerge on the golf course."

But CIOs need to watch themselves as well. They are representatives of their companies, and any unprofessional behavior could kill future business deals or crimp their career plans. "If you are acting like a buffoon or cheating, the word will get out," says Woo. "And it won't bode well for you or your company."

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