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Get on the Green

Many a deal has been closed over a round of 18 holes. So why is golf still one of the best ways for entrepreneurs to establish business relationships?

This story appears in the November 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

"Golf is the only sport where you can put businesspeople together on the course," says PGA pro Brad Faxon. Because of the game's handicap system, it's easy for players of different experience levels to enjoy a round together.

Stepping out of the office and spending a day on the course provides more advantages than meeting over coffee or giving the typical sales perks. "[Pitching for] 15 minutes in a boardroom [emphasizes that] you're selling something, but with four hours on a golf course, you're giving something better than any trinket," says Robert Amberg, vice president of PR agency Cushman/Amberg Communications.

"It engages your mind and body," says Celeste Hilling, 49. "It's a nice, casual environment in which to open a dialogue from a business point of view." As the founder and CEO of Skin Authority, a San Diego-based medical-grade skin-care company with sales in the high seven figures, Hilling often opens and closes deals on the golf course.

The nature of the game also allows for unique insights into a player's personality. How clients or business contacts react on the golf course can clue you in as to how they deal with business situations. "You can learn how they handle playing with partners, how they talk [to employees] by how they talk to a caddy, whether they compliment your good shots or whether they're so competitive that they don't notice anything else, how angry they get or how happy they get," says Faxon.

Playing with a business contact "shows you how they deal [with] subordinates or how they would deal with management--whether they try to make excuses for how they're playing," says Amberg, who adds that it's not just their personalities that come out. Their strategies on the course show a lot about how they do business: their club selection, going for the par five green in two shots, etc.

Regardless of skill, knowing the rules of the game and having proper etiquette can go a long way in impressing playing partners. It's important to understand the details, Faxon says, such as standing still during another player's shot. "The guys I enjoy playing with enjoy the game and enjoy the spirit of the game," he says.

"You have to blend how you play to how [others do]," Amberg says. Remember that you're not out there to simply compete and put up a low score. After all, it's not just your skills with the driver that are on display.