Geoff Currier: What golf can teach you about others — and yourself

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Sport does not build character. It reveals it. — Haywood Hale Broun

Eighteen holes of match play will teach you more about your opponent than 19 years of dealing with him across a desk. — Grantland Rice

Broun and Rice knew what they were talking about. It’s why, if you want to know if you should do business or even socialize with someone, the best way to find out is to play a round of golf with them.

In times past (think Mad Men) golf was thought to be an elitist activity and that’s why so many business buddies got together to shoot 18 and knock back a few on the 19th hole. But there’s more to it than being a member of the country club crowd.

Here are a few of the things that playing golf will teach you about a prospective business associate, or yourself for that matter.

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  1. Are you punctual? Do you show up early enough to warm up properly and stroll to the first tee box or are your partners waiting for you as you madly sprint there?
  2. How do you treat property that is not your own? Do you replace your divots, rake the bunkers, repair your pitch marks on the green? This is something you are unlikely to learn about someone in a boardroom meeting.
  3. How do you treat those who are in a service capacity? Are you polite and respectful to the young people working in the clubhouse, the cart girls, the people serving you at the snack shack? Again, this won’t come to light in an office setting the way it does at a golf club. The way in which you treat people who are serving you can say much about your overall character.
  4. Do you have any manners? Do you talk and make jokes while someone is trying to make a shot or jingle coins in your pocket while they’re attempting a putt?
  5. Do you have any integrity? This is crucial. If you are to associate with anyone, you must have confidence that they are honest. Does this person use the famous “foot-wedge” when nobody is looking in order to improve the lie of the ball? Do they shave strokes in order to win? Golf is a game of honour. There are countless examples of players, even at the highest level, calling penalty shots on themselves even when no one saw the infraction. Some rules may be quirky but you can tell a great deal about a person by how carefully they observe the rules of golf.
  6. Are you in control of your temper? This can be hidden in a dozen boardroom meetings but not on a golf course, where poor shots and bad breaks await every player. Do you throw your clubs in a fit of rage or can you contain yourself and remain cool when bad things happen?
  7. How do you handle the breaks of the game? Sometimes, you hit a good shot and get a bad result. It happens. How you respond will tell your opponent how you will deal with the unforeseen problems that arise in business.
  8. How do you handle success? Best to be humble about it, knowing that all success is temporary and no more so than in golf. Your best shot may well be followed by your worst and after a winning round, do you handle the congratulations of your fellow players with grace or are you boastful about it?
  9. How do you handle failure? Perhaps even more important than No. 8 on our list. Failure comes to us all and it is how we respond that tells those around us what we are made of. A round of golf will give you that valuable information about the would-be-friend or business partner.
  10. Are you pleased for the success of others? This will tell you if the person can be relied upon to be a good team player at work. The truly classy individual will always be pleased to see others succeed, even while they themselves may be enduring a rough patch.
  11. Do you pick up the tab on the 19th hole when it’s your turn? Do you suddenly have to make an important phone call or rush off to pick up your kids when everybody knows it’s your turn to buy the round? A person who pulls this kind of weasel move at the golf club will surely do it elsewhere. But, once again, you’ll never find this out sitting across a desk.

There are many more reasons to take up this wonderful game. Fresh air, exercise, mental and physical challenges are among them. (There are also some pretty funky clothes you can get.)

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And even if you never plan to get into the business world and you think you already have all the friends you need, you still might want to give the game a try. If nothing else, it will teach you some things about yourself.

Geoff Currier is host of the Geoff Currier show on Global News 680 CJOB in Winnipeg. 

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