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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Munsch says a round of golf allows her to learn more about her colleagues. "I can know what their backup style is, what things are going to frustrate them," she says. "I can observe their personal style and approach, and a lot of that does carry through to the office from the golf course. If they're willing to cheat on the course, I always keep that in mind in the business environment as well."

The Difference Between Golf Links and LinkedIn

It should be noted that the majority of respondents to the survey fell in the 35-year-old to 54-year-old range: 73 percent of respondents were from that age range, while just 16 percent were in the "under 35" group. That might be significant because, as Kris Brady, North America IT director of business systems at real estate developer Taylor Morrison, points out, the younger generation of workers who are growing up with social networking may feel that they need fewer "in person" networking activities, like a round of golf.

"When I was thinking that I needed to play golf to develop relationships, LinkedIn didn't exist," Brady says. She tried golfing early in her career and she says "it bored me to tears." So she stopped. Brady has noticed that among her younger staffers networking isn't just about schmoozing with vendors and bigwigs; they're out on the Internet, interacting in blogs and chat rooms and using social networking sites to solve IT problems.

And that's why the perception that golf is just for "old people and suits" might become more pervasive with generations to come. (Which might, incidentally, explain some of the decline in U.S. interest and participation in golf during the last decade, though there is debate about just how much decline there actually is.)

Who Pays for Your Golf?

59 percent of respondents had played in corporate-related golf outings. So who picks up the tab?

Number What They Said
55% Whoever is hosting
29% My company
16% Me personally
"CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" May 2008, 394 responses

More evidence of golf's waning importance in business can be seen in the fact that just one in five of all respondents said they were under pressure to play golf for business reasons, and only 18 percent say management at their company expects its executives to play golf. In addition, nearly three-quarters of the respondents (67 percent) said that a fellow golfer's skills and adeptness on the course does not affect their professional opinion of him.

"I may have been very fortunate," Brady says, "because where I've worked is an environment where performance got you to where you wanted to be. That's not the case for everybody. Sometimes the relationship-building that goes on on the golf course, even if it turns it into a schmooze fest, is necessary. And some people do see it as a requirement. But I don't think it's necessary in today's environment."

Plus, in this post-Enron era "taking those favors or gifts from vendors, suppliers or trade partners is frowned upon more now than it used to be," Brady says. "I think more people are saying no."

More "CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" Results

Just how often do they golf and how good of golfers are our respondents?

Number What They Said
11 Average number of rounds played a year
18 Average handicap
56% / 44% Prefer to golf with cart / Prefer to walk the course
"CIO Magazine Golf Networking Survey" May 2008, 394 responses

In addition, the economic downturn and everyone's time seems more pressed than decades ago, and a full day away from the office to meet with vendors or consultants might not be the best use of their time.

Some of the survey respondents, like Christopher Calvin, an IT manager with Charter Communications who took the survey, don't have the time. He golfed growing up but hasn't picked up a club in years. And when he does get a chance to get some fresh air and exercise, he doesn't want to have to think about work. "If I was playing golf for business-related reasons," he says, "that's still not separating me from the other things consuming my [work] life."

Still, Calvin "fully expects" to eventually return to the course once the demands of his work and personal life allows him to do so. He sees some value in the networking aspect, though not so much for climbing the corporate ladder. "I don't think [staying off the golf course] has had a negative effect on my career," Calvin says, "but I think there are things I might have missed out on, for sure."

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