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.

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Yet some of the reasons written in by the respondents give credence to long-held stereotypes of corporate golf circles: that those business leaders who play the game with each other—predominately males—are a fraternity that needs to be joined in order to move up the corporate ladder. And not being able to strike a little white ball in front of their boss or colleagues—or, if they're not very good, at least possessing the ability to carry themselves well on the course—somehow detracts from their future corporate worth. (Test your knowledge of golf's written rules: Take our quick five-question quiz at "Golf Rules." Note: It's a .pdf document.)

What Is Acceptable Smartphone Use?

We asked golfers' opinions on what should be done with the BlackBerry or cell phone.

Number What They Said
76% Turn to silent or vibrate and check if necessary
20% Leave it in the car
4% Leave it on with no restrictions
"CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" May 2008, 394 responses

Several survey responses illustrate the perceptions and frustrations of those who chose not to hit the links: "Deals happen on the course"; "It's admission to the old boy network"; "Many business meetings happen playing golf, and it excludes the non-golfers"; "I couldn't socialize with board and investors over golf. I was too embarrassed about my lack of skills, so I didn't play"; "I seem to be stuck in the middle management rut regardless of my business performance and track record"; "If you're not in certain circles, you miss out"; "People who play golf seem to know crucial business information that has grown their business and income"; and "I lose visibility and recognition."

About one in five of the survey respondents were women. Thirty-seven percent of them said not playing golf has hindered them professionally, whereas just 23 percent of male respondents felt the same way. Noted one respondent: "I've only been playing the last few years. Not being able to play reduced the number of networking and professional socializing, and being a female in a male-dominated business place, playing golf would have given me something in common with the 'boys.'"

Dona Munsch, a senior director of commerce at Cisco who took the survey, says that when she moved into her new operations role, she quickly discovered that golf played a big part of the group's culture. She hadn't golfed before and thought she'd take it up when she "was 60," she says, but then she thought that "maybe it was time to accelerate my golf schedule."

So far, her relationships with her colleagues have gotten stronger and her golfing abilities have improved (her handicap is in the high teens). She claims not to have "sealed any big deals" on the course, but that's not what she's really after. "I think that success in any role you're in, especially as an executive, is about creating strong relationships and partnerships," Munsch says. She adds that the golf course is "a place with a more relaxed setting than the office so that you can better understand what drives and motivates the individual" you're working with.

What a Round of Golf Can Do for You

So for those respondents who see value in showing up at corporate golf outings and meeting with key vendors for 18 holes and a beer, what exactly are they getting out of it?

The overwhelming reason was that golf "facilitated a partnership," which was cited by 71 percent of the respondents. Next, 24 percent claimed that golf "made a sale/sealed a deal," followed by "got a better deal from a vendor" (22 percent). As to career enhancement, 16 percent noted that playing golf had contributed to a promotion, and 8 percent said that golf helped them land a job. (Multiple answers were allowed.)

If You Could Play Only One Course

We asked: If you could play only one golf course for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Number What Course They Picked
28% Augusta National (GA)
27% Pebble Beach (CA)
24% St. Andrews (Old Course) (Scotland)
5% Pinehurst No. 2 (NC)
4% Carnoustie (Scotland)
"CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" May 2008, 394 responses

Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that "golf provides networking opportunities not found elsewhere," while 44 percent say golf is an essential business tool.

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