Waiting anxiously for the 2021 season at Calgary’s Springbank Links, The Glencoe, Inglewood, The Hamptons, Heritage Pointe or Bearspaw is a seasonal reminder that, while golf is relaxing, challenging, frustrating and enjoyable, golf is different things to different people.
There’s the sunshine-y, good friends and kibitzing golf. There’s focused, charity-boosting tournament golf. And there’s the chinwag and relationship-building business golf.
There’s consensus that a golf course is a great place to get to know someone. A recent survey by Guideline Research, an American consulting firm, guesstimated that at least 30 per cent (one in every three) of golfers are on the greens doing some kind of business. Some 97 per cent of executives felt that golf with a business associate was a way to establish a close relationship, 92 per cent used golf as a way to make business contacts, and 59 per cent said the way a person played golf was the way they would likely behave in business.
“Golf is a great and easy activity to do while conducting business,” says Jason Stanier, general manager and executive professional at Calgary’s Inglewood Golf Club. “Spending four or five hours with a potential client is an invaluable opportunity. Very few activities or settings allow potential business contacts that much one-on-one time.”
A golf swing takes five seconds, so one game involves a total of about 500 seconds (under nine minutes) of swinging, while the whole game lasts about four hours. The basic logic asks: what is happening the rest of the time when the business golfers are together?
“Observing someone during a round of golf can tell you a lot about the person that you’re playing with,” notes the personable Ash Chadha, general manager at The Glencoe Golf & Country Club. “You learn a lot about someone’s personality, character and personal values. Golf provides many opportunities for players to demonstrate wonderful or dubious behavior. If they cheat at golf, they just may cheat in business. If they throw clubs after a bad shot, they may be prone to temper tantrums at work. On the other hand, if they can keep themselves under control and count every stroke, chances are they’ll handle adversity in stride and be honest in the work setting.”
Kevin Heise, general manager at Springbank Links shrugs and chuckles from experience. “A lot of business happens on the course. A lot of it is relationship building. Golf is important B2B communication. If you’d rather not work with a hot-head, beware of someone who throws their 7-iron across the fairway. If you don’t want inventory missing through the backdoor, don’t hire the player who shot 8, said they took a 5 and wrote down a 4 on the scorecard.”
Golf experts, coaches (and life coaches) underscore the character and personality-factors about business golf. Observing self-behavior during golf may reveal business tendencies. “There are very few environments where you can build relationships like you can on a golf course,” says Barry Ehlert, the dynamic managing partner of Calgary’s Windmill Golf Group. “You definitely learn a lot about someone – good or bad – during a round of golf.
“Being on the first tee can feel like a fish bowl experience of people watching. It is nerve wracking and may reveal reactions under pressure. Like hitting the first tee shot. The reaction could be an indicator about how they work under stress. Do they worry about first tee jitters and duff it? Or walk up cool, calm and collected and deliver a clean strike? The similar kinds of reactions happen in business.”
On various levels, corporate golf is also a vital aspect of the business of golf. Waiting for the Calgary 2021 golf season, there is no denying that the impact of the Alberta economy and last year’s pandemic have taken their toll on the momentum of corporate golf in Calgary.
“Like all golf clubs, The Glencoe offers a sanctuary for members to conduct corporate or personal business,” Chadha points out. “It’s a place where they feel pride of ownership and a sense of belonging. We believe golf clubs provide a unique opportunity to do business because when they are on the course, they have a captive audience, in a known secured environment.”
There’s a quirky anomaly about the 2020 golf season in Calgary. The stats about the outdoor and socially distanced game – and actual rounds played – spiked, while popular, large corporate and charity tournaments sagged. After all, 2020 was the infamous year when The Stampede, the CFL season and even the Olympics and other mass events were cancelled.
Heise explained that Springbank’s rounds played increased by nearly 14 per cent, while there was a 22 per cent Alberta increase and a 19 per cent national increase. “The rounds played helped clubs stay healthy, even though weddings, banquets and tournaments dropped off a cliff. Corporate golf spins off food and beverage, some pro shop sales and is also played on weekdays – our less busy days. With a resurgence in golf, we sure were a very lucky and thankful industry last year.”
Last year’s pandemic negatives actually turned into a positive spark for Calgary’s 2020 golf season. “We saw an approximately 35 per cent increase in last year’s total rounds played,” notes Chadha. “The increase is consistent with what happened throughout North American clubs. COVID-19 restrictions forced our lifestyles to change overnight – there was no more gym, no more tennis and not much was permitted for activity. Golf was one of the few sports people could play to have an active lifestyle, socialize and support their mental health.
With cautious optimism about the vaccine, the end of lockdowns and slowdowns and positivity about this year’s season, Chadha even suggests a silver lining about the life speedbumps of the past year. “Golf is a generational sport for all age demographics and we saw a change in not only how often people played, but who they played with. It introduced many new golfers as well as bringing back past golfers.”
He acknowledges that although it may sound strange considering the horrible price paid by public health, business and school shutdowns, workplace disruptions, job losses and added damage to the economy, “at least for the game of golf, the COVID-19 impact has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise.”
Jason Stainer points out that while the actual slump in corporate golf can mostly be blamed on the economy, the pandemic has actually boosted Calgary golf since it was one of only a few approved activities last year. He illustrates with Inglewood stats that show 35,000 rounds played in 2018, 36,000 rounds in 2019 and 39,500 rounds in 2020. “Once we get past the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if the game continues its momentum and the corporate business returns.”
When it comes to corporate and tournament bookings for this year, Springbank Links, Inglewood, The Glencoe and most Calgary clubs are in the same holding pattern. While the calendar shows many events booked for 2021 – many postponed from last yearfor obvious reasons – Calgary’s corporate golf events and tournament schedules are “pending” and planning is tentative. Current provincial restrictions, dates of booking and other factors will determine if they happen or not.
Ehlert is revved and enthusiastic. “The overall corporate golf market has definitely been soft for a few years. Many corporations hosted golf events years and probably didn’t change a whole lot. We think there are incredible opportunities to buck the trend and get corporate golf back to where it used to be.”