Bandits, cheats and whingers
Golf is much like business: you spend a lot of time with people you don't like while having to deal with obstacles, disappointment and unpleasant arithmetic.
But the world's most frustrating sport can help you to succeed in your business life. Eighteen holes in your opponent's company will tell you more about his character than you will learn in a lifetime of board meetings. Nobody can keep their guard up in a game where disaster is only one slice, hook or shank away.
While deals are rarely sealed on the course, relationships are formed that can lead to profitable business relationships. The shared suffering of dealing with 20-foot downhill putts or impossible bunker lies can create a bond between those addicted to a sport that even fails to provide Tiger Woods with enough birdies. A round of golf will raise red flags around those people with whom you should never do business. Here are the ones to avoid:
BANDITS: If your opponent claims to have a handicap of 24 and then hits all greens in regulation, he will have more tricks than a circus pony in his business dealings. Likewise, if he is far worse than his handicap, he is probably more concerned with image than achievement.
CHEATS: All golfers will have come across players who 'forget' penalty strokes, improve lies, move their ball or ground their club in bunkers. If a potential business ally is prepared to rip up the rule book against someone he is trying to impress, you know he cannot be trusted.
WHINGERS: Golf balls are attracted to water and sand by the same laws of physics that draw British MPs to expenses claim forms. There is nothing anyone can do about it. Golfers who blame the weather, course or even their caddies are looking for scapegoats for their misfortunes. Delete them from your business contacts.
FAVOUR SEEKERS: A 'gimme' is a short putt conceded by an opponent. If your partner persistently asks you to concede six-foot putts on a sloping, pockmarked green, you can be sure he will also expect unreasonable business favours.
ETIQUETTE CLOWNS: Golf's complex protocol includes not playing out of turn, not talking or breaking wind when someone is addressing the ball, not stepping on the line of a putt and treating the course with respect by replacing divots and raking bunkers. If someone breaches the code, you cannot expect him to be any more respectful as a business partner.
Golf will also expose your shortcomings, so avoid the worst business golf bunkers. Don't give your partner the hard sell. The aim is not to return to the office with a signed contract but to get to know your opponent on a personal level. If you enjoy each other's company on what Mark Twain described as 'a good walk spoiled', the business side will take care of itself.
Although the golf swing can be a thing of great beauty, the versions practised by most high-handicap players have the aesthetic appeal of a bucket filled with toads. There are too many things going wrong in these swings for you to helpfully inform your partner at the top of his backswing that his grip is showing too many knuckles.
When something goes wrong on the course, try to keep your dignity. A female friend once accepted an invitation for a round with a powerful business figure. After slicing her opening drive into a ditch, she fell into the filthy water while trying to retrieve her ball. She burst into tears before help was summoned to carry her to the clubhouse for a shower. Her sobs only just managed to drown out the giggles of four male golfers about to drive off from the first tee. She has never played golf since.
A male friend was asked to represent his firm at a pro-am at St Andrews, the home of golf. As his experience was limited to pitch-and-putt courses on holiday, he was understandably nervous - more so when he found that his playing partner was European Tour pro Andrew Coltart and that the other two members of the foursome were a pro and a three-handicapper.
After they arrowed their opening drives down the fairway, he was announced to the spectators. As he nervously addressed the ball, panic overcame him and he was unable to move the club for five minutes before, with his legs shaking, he shanked the ball into the car park. Although his round got little better, his good-natured partners helped him to enjoy the experience. Above all, never forget that soccer is the poor man's sport, tennis the middle manager's sport and golf the chief executive's sport. The higher you are on the corporate ladder, the smaller your balls become.