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The Social and Business Sport

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Golf ball on green

In Calgary, and throughout North America, golf is a uniquely enjoyable, double-headed monster of a game. Unlike other popular sports, like hockey, basketball, soccer and softball, golf is a wonderful social sport, and also a uniquely special and terrific way to schmooze, network and do business. 

Stas and trends show that, despite the fluky but golf-boosting pandemic bump and the rush for the great outdoors, golf in Canada, and particularly in Calgary, is hotter than ever. There are 334 golf courses in Alberta, including 268 public, 38 municipal, and 28 private courses.  

The average golf season in Alberta runs from (any day now) April to October, depending on the weather. Courses in Calgary and southern Alberta open sooner, while courses in the mountains and in northern Alberta open later.  

The Calgary pros and the teetime weekend warriors are testimonials that Calgary golf is wonderfully relaxed and competitive good times, and also provenly good for business. 

From Springbank Links, Confederation, Shaganappi and Bearspaw, The Glencoe and even Calgary’s tremendously popular LaunchPad Golf, the state-of-the-art driving range which proudly admits to being Calgary’s “ultimate party venue.” 

According to Kevin Heise, the personable general manager of Calgary’s Springbank Links, “Since I started in the biz 25 years ago, the social component of Calgary golf has grown by leaps and bounds, but particularly during and now post-COVID. And there has been a noticeable shift in the demographics. 

“A definite increase in family and couple golfers, with more spouse and junior play. It shows in Springbank’s Junior program as well as our Ladies Nights, which are now as busy as our Mens Nights.  

“And the clubhouse has become more and more important every year. Having the right music, or bringing in live music, dinner features, trivia nights, tournaments, are all important. And the staff are welcoming and engaged to create the perfect social atmosphere that members expect and guests want to be around.” 

Kevin Thistle, the gung-ho CEO of PGA Canada, the respected and membership-based non-profit association representing over 3,700 club professionals across Canada, explains, “The growth that the sport has seen has been incredible over the past little while. We have seen it firsthand with our RBC PGA Scramble program. There were over 12,000 amateurs who competed last year across Canada, a new record. I have also heard many PGA of Canada Professionals talk about the waitlists they have at their private clubs, and how full tee sheets are nearly every day at public courses.” 

He is enthusiastic and proud about how the Canadian game, and particularly Golf Canada, tracks the rounds-played data, which shows that, since 2020, there has been an uptick in play each year. “Every summer we seem to hit new records for rounds played.”  

Thistle also underscores that the popularity of golf has increased throughout the entire country. The number of PGA of Canada members is at an all-time high throughout the provinces. According to the most recent count, there were 300,000 golfers and 1,400 member clubs in Canada. 

Golf insiders and therapists continue to rave about the social aspects of the game. Golf is actually a very social sport which brings people together, forges new friendships and acts as a potent networking tool. Considering golf is one of the most difficult sports to play, enjoy and excel at, it has been shown to boost self esteem, grow emotional strength and also enhance a person’s focus. 

Although even the most enthusiastic golf boosters shy away from claims about the game being “good for health,” the distinguished British Journal of Sports Medicine reported a 2016 Swedish study of 300,000 golfers and non-golfers, showing that golfers live five years longer than those who don’t play. 

“There arent many other activities to get four hours of undivided time with another individual,” Thistle says with a smile. “Some of my favourite memories with PGA of Canada members, industry partners and friends have happened on a golf course.  

“It’s so easy to get overloaded nowadays by screens, whether it’s computer monitors or cell phones, but when you’re out on the golf course with three other people, it is really back to basics and getting to enjoy people, which is incredible for mental health.” 

On the flip side, a lot of businesspeople not only enjoy playing golf but, on various levels, doing business on a golf course. It is where connections are said to be formed and deals are said to be made.  

It’s unanimous that golf provides virtually unlimited opportunity to network and forge new contacts. Some business golfers even call it golf networking. Informal guesstimates suggest that 33 per cent, (one in every three) golfers are doing some kind of business on the golf course. 

Aside from the hardcore shop-talk mini-huddles, the business side of golf is valuable because it reveals the true character of a person.  

It may be subtle but it has been proven. Business golf tests the honesty, integrity and professionalism of the player. Golf has many rules and regulations, and a player who plays by the rules indicates someone who can follow directions and agreements. Another tell-tale aspect of business golf is that scores are self-reported. Lying about scores or cheating during the game may be a sign of dishonesty in other aspects of life.  

Because golf is an inherently difficult sporta round is filled with psychological ups and downsplaying with someone is also a chance to notice how they deal with opposition, frustration and success. Are they graceful in victory and professional in defeat? An unwritten business-of-golf rule is that a person’s attitude and behavior on the course will likely be mimicked in the office. 

Even management consultants acknowledge the potential of business golf. They mention most limited opportunities for spending solid quality time with a valued client. With today’s hectic schedules, most business types are lucky to get just five minutes! They even break it down that, a golf swing takes five seconds, so in a game of 500 seconds swinging, there’s amazing potential in the remaining four hours to finish one game. 

Accomplished and successful business golfers subtly offer tips about talking shop, closing deals and smart business golf.  

  • Focus on relationships. 
  • Always be on time. 
  • Play to pace, don’t slow play. 
  • Be honest. 
  • Respect golf etiquette. Fill your divots, fix the green and take care of the course. 
  • Play the tees of your handicap and play it forward. 
  • Be cautious with alcohol. 
  • Gamble only if its appropriate. 

Heise notes from direct experience that the business golf is more and more popular. “Golf genuinely boosts business and forms relationships. It is a valuable four hours of a captive opportunity to bond and do business. They key is, never cheat, throw a club and, when lining up that finishing putt, ask yourself if dropping the putt for the win is worth losing the sale,” he laughs.  

The PGA Canada’s Kevin Thistle acknowledges the value of business golf. “I recommend to anybody looking to do business on the golf course, try not to focus on the business aspect of it. Dont go in with an agenda. Go into the round, getting to know the person youre playing with. Build a relationship. That’s what business golf is all about. 

“Once the relationship builds and people get to know each other better, the opportunities to do business may, or may not, happen. But the relationship matters the most.”  

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