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Is golf still relevant to businessmen?

In the midst of competition from other activities, the game still stands head and shoulders above all as a sport for business people.

Throw a stone in Singapore’s business district and you’re likely to hit someone who (1) cycles, (2) runs, or (3) participates in triathlons or some form of ultra high-intensity activity. If you’re deep in the rat race for high-paying, high-powered jobs, then pushing yourself to exhaustion in your free time is just the thing for you.

And why not? Bicycles are stylish; running is easy; and saying that you’re a triathlete, why, that just shouts: “I’m not afraid to push myself to get what I want.”

Either that, or these people just love to see themselves in spandex.

The ascending popularity of such high-intensity sports may have something to do with the stagnant growth of golf among the executive set. Perhaps it’s the gentlemanly nature of golf that seems anachronistic in today’s dog-eat-dog world. Call a penalty on ourselves? What, are we crazy?

Moreover, playing a round can take half a day. And, if you throw in drinks and/or a meal, that’s a lot of time spent with your flight mates.

I’ve never been a big proponent of doing business while playing golf – unless your business is trying to help me lower my scores. It isn’t good form in my books to bring up the challenge of the stock market, or why it’s so difficult to find good staff. And it’s definitely out of bounds to try to get playing partners to buy or sell something.

Still, I believe that golf is the perfect platform to know someone’s character. It is a game about integrity, honour and, most of all, dealing with occasions when things go wrong. Shots don’t always pan out as intended. Even the great legend Ben Hogan who won 69 times on the PGA, with nine Majors to his name, said that only 10 per cent of his shots came out the way he wanted.

So it’s inherently important for a golfer to deal with things that don’t go according to plan. Playing the percentages, weighing risk and reward, and strategising outcomes are all part and parcel of golf. Sound familiar, business people?

What someone does or does not do opens a window to who he really is. Does he rant when he hits a bad shot, even if he admitted that he hadn’t played in months? (Business take: If he doesn’t do his due diligence, does he expect to perform positively?)

Does he understand the etiquette of golf like letting the player furthest from the green hit first? (Business take: Will he take the trouble to understand the norms of a new industry before trying to do things his way?)

Will he help you look for your ball if you’ve hit it into the trees? (Business take: How willing is he to go out of his way to help you?) The list goes on.

Golf requires a lot of resources. But it allows playing partners to forge a relationship like no other pastime. In half a day on the links, one gets a chance to know a fellow golfer’s past, present and what his hopes are for the future; what makes him happy, what frustrates him, and what drives him to succeed. And most of all, you’ll find out if he is someone you’d like working for or with you.

And if that’s not what business is all about, then I don’t know what is.