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Corporate Golfing

By Christopher Schonberger
Quick Tips

  1. Is the juice is worth the squeeze? – If you’ve never played golf before and the company tourney is next week, is it really worth dropping money on lessons or hacking your way around the course just to save face? Remember, you can always volunteer and still be involved without playing.
  2. Dress the part – Just like your clothes at work, golf course attire sets a tone. You can’t really go wrong with simple khakis and a polo shirt.
  3. Golfing etiquette – Proper etiquette is more important than a perfect swing. Brush up on the general rules of the game, as well as USGA’s etiquette tips.
  4. You can drive the cart, but can you talk the talk? – Golf lingo is almost a foreign language. Sprinkle some key terms into conversation, but don’t expose yourself by tossing around ridiculous phrases willy-nilly.
  5. Tournament play – Learn the popular forms of tournament play and betting that might crop up on a corporate outing.

Even though Small Businessman Magazine tells us that Chili’s is the new golf course (thank you, Michael Scott), golf is still corporate America’s favorite pastime. From weekend outings with the boss or a client to the annual company tournament, the ability to lay up a nice approach shot

(or at least act the part on the links) can help you stand out more than a spreadsheet ever would.

A lot of recent grads enter the workplace full of confidence. “I’m so smart and better at computers than any of these dinosaurs,” they think to themselves. But little do they know, old men are incredible at golfing, and as soon as the annual round robin tourney rolls around that youthful swagger will quickly wear off.

Business golf is a far cry from hitting up the driving range with a six pack, and it can be intimidating for people with limited experience. Learning how to actually play golf will take some time and may require taking lessons or enlisting the aid of a friend. But learning how to not look like a joker is pretty simple—we’ve compiled a quick primer to get you ready for the various sand traps and water hazards of corporate golfing.

[Note: If you really think the notion of you swinging a club at a tiny ball is a recipe for disaster, consider volunteering at the company tournament. At least you’re still out there, in the mix and part of the team.]

Golfing Etiquette

Golf is a gentleman’s sport, and as such, proper etiquette is as important as being able to wallop a drive 300 yards down the fairway. For the most part, bosses and colleagues will forgive a four putt, but an egregious faux pas could follow you back to the office. Here are a few fundamentals to brush up on before hitting the clubhouse.

Dressing the Part

Golf attire should be kept conservative on your first outing, but there’s no need to go overboard. A pair of khaki pants and a tucked-in polo shirt are always a good starting point. Think “sports casual,” but remember that you’re not Tiger Woods and it’s not your place to flaunt tradition. Hats should be worn forward and ideally feature the name of some New England town like “Newport, Rhode Island.” If you don’t have golf spikes, a reasonable pair of running shoes will suffice.

Pray Silence, Please

If I had to stress just one aspect of golfing etiquette, it would be this: When in doubt, keep your mouth shut. Golf is a very psychological game—you’ve got a lot of time to think about each shot, so focus and preparation are imperative. As in all situations like this, people will latch onto any excuse for why they hit a horrible shot. Whether you whisper a story to another player, open a soda, burp, or fart while someone else is hitting a shot, you will soon make yourself persona non grata if you keep it up. No noise, no sudden movements, no heckling.

On the Fairway

Keys to fairway etiquette are pretty simple. If you dig up a huge piece of earth with your shot (called a “divot”), go pick it up and put it back in the hole that you’ve created. Replacing your divots will help keep the course in good repair, though some courses have special rules about divots that may be worth looking out for. On a similar note, rake the sand trap after you hit your shot out of the bunker.

If you’re driving a golf cart, always drive on the cart path or the rough. If you must cross the fairway, do so at a 90-degree angle. Finally, if you’re playing slowly and it seems like the group behind you keeps waiting at the tee (or there’s a backup of groups lining up), step aside and let them “play through.”

On the Green

The green is like the grand sitting room of the golf course—it’s where deals are sealed and fortunes are won and lost. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Never walk in front of someone’s line to the hole. Walk around their ball, or else they will pretend the indentation of your foot print sent their putt off course.
  • Let the person furthest from the cup putt first
  • When you need to mark your ball, place a coin or ball marker behind the ball. If the marker lies in the path of someone else’s putt, you can move it a club’s head to the left or right (at a 90-degree angle to your line to the hole). Move it further if they ask.
  • Tend the pin if someone is taking a long putt or if they ask you to on a chip from the side of the green. If it looks like the ball is going into the hole, take out the flag. Never lay the flag in someone else’s line, or anywhere the ball might roll for that matter.
  • If your partner is within a couple feet of the hole, give him the option of finishing up, or offer him a “gimme” if it’s really close.
  • Shake hands after all putts have been sunk on the last hole.

For more tips, check out the USGA’s etiquette tips.

Golf Lingo: Don’t “Dick Out”

For golfing newbs, a round of 18 can feel like a trip to a foreign country. Not only are there a lot of technical terms associated with the game, but there’s also a lot of ridiculous slang that gets bandied about the course. You can find a full list of golfing slang at Golfinity, but here are a few phrases that should help you fake the “Fred Funk” on your first outing:

  • Mulligan - The golfing equivalent of a “do-over.” Be wary about calling mulligans the first time you play with someone, and certainly don’t do it during any sort of competitive tournament. These are only deployable in casual outings.
  • Dick Out - If a man fails to hit his drive past the women’s tee, he must open his fly and let his penis hang out the front of his pants for the remainder of the hole. Don’t use this phrase unless you are playing with an incredibly fratty group.
  • Afraid of the Dark - If the ball just misses the hole on a putt, it must be “afraid of the dark.” Shout “are you afraid of the dark!?” when your boss rims one out and he’ll either be putty in your hand or think you’re a manic. You assess the risk.
  • Get Down - “A message from golfer to ball asking it to cease flying.” Yelling this at your approach shot will definitely garner some quiet nods approval, assuming that your shot is actually anywhere close to the hole. Yelling it at the dude who is about get hit in the face by your drive is not appropriate—that’s where “fore” comes into play.
  • 19th Hole - The mythical “19th hole” is a euphemism for the bar that you hit up after your round is over. Example: “Man, I can’t wait to tee up a frosty Bud Heavy on the 19th hole!”
  • Scratch - A “scratch” golfer is someone with a zero handicap (i.e., they consistently shoot par). In the corporate world, being a scratch golfer is probably just as impressive as having an MBA from Stanford.

Gambling for a Promotion

If you’re a recent grad, your salary is probably lower than anyone else’s on the course, so no one’s going to expect you to throw around cash like you’re Michael Jordan. You should never be the one initiating betting at a corporate golf outing, and you can always abstain if it makes you uncomfortable. However, if some lighthearted gambling pops off, it might be worth knowing some of the popular forms of golf betting and tournament play:

  • Nassau: Basically a three-in-one bet that includes lowest score on the front nine, lowest score on the back nine, and lowest total for 18. A $2 Nassau is the most popular wager in golf. Most of the time, a player or team earns a point for every hole won, and the most points for each part of the bet wins $2 (or whatever amount was decided on). If someone goes down by two or more, they can go for a “press” bet, meaning they place an additional bet on the holes remaining. The leaders are sort of obliged to accept a press in the name of fun.
  • Sandies: A “sandy” is when you either make par on a hole in which you were in the bunker or make it in the hole with two shots or less from the sand trap. In casual games, people will often accrue points for sandies or place individual bets on “sandy” situations.
  • Round Robin: Even if no money changes hands, a corporate outing will often take the form of a round robin in which teammates switch frequently.
  • Scramble: Another popular format in the world of business golf. Each member of a team of two or four people will tee off, and then everyone will all hit their second shot from wherever the best drive lands. The third shot is from wherever the best second shot ended up. Etcetera, etcetera…
  • Learn more ways to keep things interesting on the golf course.

Reasonable Ways to Cheat

Let’s face it—even though I said “etiquette” counts for more than talent, everyone wants to put on a good showing. For some bizarre reason, many people in business think that athletic prowess correlates directly to being a good employee. Why else do you think everyone from the lacrosse team has a higher paying job than you? If you think that shooting a good round will really boost your rep in the office, it might be worth taking a few calculated risks.

If you hit a ball in the woods and no one sees you, did you really hit it at all?

If your tee shot goes haywire and you find yourself deep in the forest, you might hack away for a few minutes before finally emerging. Feel free to round down to a believable number of shots.

A lie is a lie.

Probably the most common way to cheat in golf is to improve your lie. When you don’t have TV cameras in your face and your partner is on the opposite side of the fairway, a little kick or “dropped ball” will generally go unnoticed.

Gimme, gimme more.

As discussed before, “gimme” putts are a judgment call. As a rule of thumb, you should wait for your partner to grant you the gimme. But if you think they’re relatively inexperienced as well, you might be able to pick up an easily missable one- to two-foot putt and act as if it’s too close to bother.

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