Be a Bluffer, Not a Duffer

The world would be a much simpler place if everyone wanted to talk business over steak and Merlot. But that's not the case, and sometimes you simply must step out of your comfort zone for the sake of advancing a business relationship. This just might include playing a round of golf with a client, with co-workers at a company meeting, or with competitors and potential clients at an industry-wide golf event.

The good news is, your golf ability -- or lack of it -- most likely won't draw any notice at an outing. That's because the real objective of players is to make the day beneficial to their business. And all that requires is being able to hit the ball straight enough to find it again, and being knowledgeable about golf etiquette as both a player and a businessperson. Here's a crash course to get you going, plus a listing of several resources that can put some polish on your business-golf abilities.

Enter the No-Ego Zone

The first question to ask is, "Can I hit a golf ball?" And for Pete's sake, be honest with yourself. If you've never had anyone show you how to swing properly, get a lesson from a pro at your local golf course. One hour with a certified teaching pro (costing between $60 and $80) will get you to hold the club properly, aim at a target accurately, and focus upon one or two key movements so you can strike the ball well enough to get around the course.

Afterwards, spend enough time at the driving range that you find one club you can hit from the tee, one you can hit from the fairway, and one you can hit around the greens. Fortunately, a five-wood is a club many folks are able to hit both from the tee and from the fairway, because the face of the club is lofted enough to get the ball both airborne and flying a considerable distance. Also try hitting a nine-iron; it's perfect for shots within 100 yards of the green, when you need to get the ball airborne without hitting it too far. Besides the putter, these might be the only clubs you need to use all day.

Fortunately, most business-golf events use a scramble format, which requires teams to use only their best shot as they play each hole; this eliminates pressure on lesser players. As a result, the area where you can make a positive impact is on the greens. So be sure to practice putting in the days before the event, making several uphill, downhill, right-to-left, and left-to-right putts to learn where you must aim in order to drop the ball in the hole.

Good manners are what this day of golf is truly about, so start with your appearance. Dress a bit conservatively -- business casual in solid colors or adorned with simple stripes or patterns is best; knee-length shorts are acceptable on hot days. Don't forget to bring along golf shoes (decent-looking sneakers also will suffice) and at least a dozen balls (if need be, you can always buy a few more when you pass by the clubhouse after finishing the ninth hole.) Also carry plenty of business cards for the reception after play ends.

On the course, the golden rule is "quiet and quick." Quiet means no speaking, whispering, or fidgeting when others are preparing to swing. What's more, quiet implies that business talk will not dominate the on-course conversation. Learn about the other person and their personal interests -- don't sell them. Your restraint will be noted and appreciated.

Quick means that you are prepared to hit when it is your turn (the person farthest from the hole is always the one who's up). Quick also suggests that you not look more than a minute or two for a lost ball, and that you pick up your ball and skip the rest of the hole if you have made a few poor shots consecutively and are slowing the pace.

When you hit the ball from the tee or fairway and tear up the grass, you should retrieve that hunk of earth, lay it back into place, and step on it lightly. And on the greens, if your ball makes a dent when it lands, push a tee diagonally underneath the dent and pry it up -- gently -- until the spot is flat again.

Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks, at most. The first reason: The sun exacerbates the dehydrating effects of alcohol, so over-indulging will make you feel lousy before the round is over. The second reason: You eliminate the possibility of becoming an intoxicated loudmouth whose reputation gets ruined. Finally, if you've never done it before, please don't drive the cart; this is not the day to learn.

Well, we've done about as much as we can in this limited space to help with your foray onto the links. To build your knowledge and confidence in a hurry, try these books and videos designed for novices, which appear below.