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Let's Make A Deal

There's an episode of "The Office" in which Michael, played by Steve Carrell, says, "Chili's is the new golf course. It's where business happens." 

There's an episode of "The Office" in which Michael, played by Steve Carrell, says, "Chili's is the new golf course. It's where business happens." 

Yes, there was a time when pitching on the golf course didn't just mean busting out the lob wedge, but making a proposal to a client, or telling your boss a wild new idea for increasing revenue. But today one of the many factors contributing to the steep decline in golfers aged 18-35 might just be the erosion of golf as a tool for business networking. 

While traditional fields such as law, finance and insurance may still hang on to golf as a component of how people socialize with their peers, it's probably not the same in the New Economy. Can you really imagine a tech startup valued at five billion taking clients on a golf outing? It would more likely be something hip and ironic, like bowling or ping pong. 

People who took up golf because they thought it advantageous to their career may never have become very good, but they learned enough about the rules, etiquette and technique to make their way around a course so they could get to know a client. And some of them became lifelong fans, if not participants, in the sport of golf. 

In the 1980s, Los Angeles based marketing director Louise Damberg was smack in the middle of that 18-35 demographic. "I was working for a publishing company," she says, "and when I rose into Business Development, it was clear that playing golf was part of how deals got done. Some of us up-and-comers formed a foursome, meeting early every Saturday morning to play a 9-hole executive course. Eventually we became adept enough to play with important clients." 

Golf Manhattan, a simulator lounge in the heart of Midtown, certainly sees a lot of business interaction. Most of it, according to co-owner Mike Schwartz, is sales-oriented. "Companies will bring a group of clients here in order to show them a good time. You still see it a lot among the financial industry. The old saying that the golf course is a great place for business because you have someone's attention for five hours, but it's really not true. But to be able to grab someone, go to a private room, talk business for an hour while playing some golf, and still have a productive work day, is very advantageous."

Countries such as Japan still appear to uphold the idea of golf as a prestigious way of business networking. A Japanese friend of mine spends much of the golf season on organized outings among fellow Japanese who are working in New York, and who hail from different industries but make connections through golf, despite that most aren't very good at it. 

Let us know what you think: If you're a Baby Boomer, do you find that you do less golf-related networking with younger colleagues than you used to? And if you're under forty, do you find yourself mostly playing with your buddies, and not with clients and coworkers? 


I have to mostly agree with Stuart. American workers are routinely listed at the hardest working people on the planet, measured in time, output, and days at the job. Most workers in the US don't take all their allotted yearly vacation, both hourly and salary. Hourly takes the money instead, salary just takes the loss of free time.

Since 2008, we've also had a HUGE change in how we value the dollar. We're cheap, and rightly so. We have less disposable income, period. This, I believe has fostered a major perception change by both media and workers in getting value for the dollar. It used to be in sales, traditionally you worked quality, availability, and lastly price to close a sale. Price somehow has moved itself back to the forefront. Quality is now assumed or your product doesn't stay in the game. And if the product is not available, forget about it completely because you won't even get to talk about the price. But make no mistake, price is now king. Quality may never go out of style, but money talks, BS walks.
In addition, now people in power are accused of being "wasteful" with time and money when looking at them playing rounds of golf. (Think of the example of President Obama on the course so much.)
Further, we now have a much larger portion of our population that are working poor, too much debt, having kids later when you might traditionally be in your golfing prime, and successful efforts by other endeavors, (such as the bicycling and walking industry), invading the monies that might traditionally go to golf.
A lot of small things have added up to a slow spiral down of the number of people in the game. No one idea will fix it. For every greenway that pops up in medium and small towns for biking and walking, another golf course goes away. There are others, but that is a good example.

I'm a baby boomer, and when it comes to business and golf, have found that golfers in the age range 55 and above are not that interested in talking business. In the age group under 55, for those who adopted the game as a primary sport at a young age and are still engaged in a significant way, golf and business still mix well together. For those that didn't stay engaged in the sport from an early age, a business golf outing is usually sponsored by their employer and really nothing more than a fun employee social outing. I'm thinking that changes in the on the course business activity is a reflection of the change in participation in golf itself over the past years.

We have found a solution for this here in Minnesota. I run weekly golf events through my website. Before each event (usually a 2-person Scramble), we allow local business people to setup a table and promote their business. They pay a small advertising fee that is the same price as two (2) entry fees. Included with their advertising fee is entry for 2 people into the event. This way, local business people can:

a) Advertise and reach new local people and get business
b) Play in fun golf events with clients or prospects
c) Write it off as a legitimate tax deduction as they are truly advertising and marketing

Because it is face to face marketing and advertisers then get to spend 4 hours with either a client or prospects, it's also an incredibly effective way to get new clients.

Golf in the US has allowed the press to create the impression that if you're on a golf course, you aren't working hard enough. From the President down, anyone seen playing golf is depicted as having too much time on their hands. A watershed moment in the 2008 financial crisis, according to the press, was when AIG took 400 sales staff to Monarch Bay. This is what the Washington Post had to say.

Scroll way down and the truth comes out. This event was for independent producers who sold AIG products. There were only a handful of AIG staff present.

I have a vested interest in this subject as I am in the golf entertainment business. Whilst my companies are showing considerable growth in Europe and the Middle East, the golf industry in the US is alone in witnessing a death spiral. Golf has been given an image problem and it needs to fight back.The mantra espoused recently in Cadillac's "Stuff" commercial is part of the problem. American business does not need to make it's workers work harder and longer, just smarter and better. The techies know this. Last year Apple gave their employee's the whole Thanksgiving week off with full pay. The press didn't go after them, did they? Why? Because Apple had the business guts to define their move as worthy. The golf industry needs to develop similar guts.

And don't expect the PGA to address the situation. The "P" in the acronym is who they represent and who they care about. We need someone to start caring and fighting for The Game and the 30 million non-"P" golfers.

When the young tech moguls of Silicon valley start realizing that their "hip and ironic" ping pong nights have generated zero business growth they will start running golf events with Justin Timberlake as their guest starter. I hope we still have golf courses for them to play on.

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