by By Julie Steinberg
Golf. Has there ever been a sport so polarizing? Some love it for its emphasis on gentle finesse, others hate it because they think it’s boring. The one thing that cannot be denied is its place in corporate America.
A few weeks ago, we published an article on the nine rules women need to follow to get ahead in the workplace. One of those rules is learning to play golf. Since then, angry responses have poured in, condemning us for being anti-feminist by telling women they needed to reconfigure their hobbies to suit mens’.
To evaluate those perceptions, we reached out to Leslie Andrews and Adrienne Wax, the authors of “Even Par: How Golf Helps Women Gain the Upper Hand in Business.” They believe the issue isn’t about golf, but rather about needing to be where deals are made and relationships are built.
“If the important people and deals were in the swimming pool, I’d say learn how to swim,” Wax, 57, said in a recent interview. “You want to be close to the nexus of power.”
And, like it or not, corporate retreats, business meetings and social events with clients tend to take place on the golf course. Women comprise one fifth of the 25.7 million U.S. golfers counted in a 2011 survey, according to data provided by the National Golf Foundation. Andrews and Wax want to add to that figure because they believe golfing enables a boss or client to see a woman as a human being worthy of a relationship, not just a number-cruncher sitting at a desk.
When Andrews, 51, was the head of marketing for ESPN.com, a female client once needed to be entertained on the golf course. Andrews was able to put up her hand and offer to play with her, and ultimately became a key contact with the client from that day on, which gained her exposure to the higher-ups in her company.
“I wouldn’t have gotten the visibility I did if I hadn’t known how to play,” she said.
If you’re persuaded by now that golfing is a route to moving up the corporate ladder, but are unsure of how to break in, don’t worry.
“You don’t have to be good,” Wax says. “Just good enough.”
Here are some tips to help you embark on your golf career.
Get over your fears
Women especially tend to think they’re not ready or not good enough to take part in a game, according to Andrews and Wax.
“I knew one Harvard M.B.A. student who had a beautiful swing and had been taking lessons for two years,” Andrews said. “When I asked her how long she had been playing, she said she had never been on a golf course because she wasn’t good enough!” And yet the student was confident enough to advise a packaged-goods chief executive on how to break into China.
While you do have to be able to hit the ball, you only have to play well enough to keep up with the pace of play. You don’t have to score well.
If you’ve never hit a ball, you may want to invest in a few lessons. Think of it as taking a language course or business etiquette seminar to help advance your career.
Get the Invite
You’ll want to advertise your interest in golf so people know to invite you to play. Put up a screensaver on your computer of you on the course, the book recommends, or wear a golf shirt on casual Friday. Watch a game and sprinkle some highlights into your conversation the next day with your boss. Anything to broadcast that you take the game seriously and want to be included the next time there’s a trip out to the course.
Fake it Till You Make it
Know the general rules of the game and know enough to keep up for 18 holes, but don’t pretend you know every single thing about the game.
Adhere to the basic rules of golf etiquette, like turning off your cell phone, refraining from crunching potato chips — or something similarly audible — on the green and tee box. Know where to stand and when to move.
If you need to, pick up the ball and move it out of a tough spot, but let your partners know that you’re planning to do so. They’ll be much more grateful for your moving the game along than if you force them to wait while you take 20 swings to get out of the woods.
Harness the Connection
Don’t forget what you’re there to do: Have a good time, yes, but also relate to your bosses, colleagues and clients in a more personal way, Wax advises.
In an ideal world, Andrews says, gender wouldn’t be an issue and the mentoring relationship would evolve naturally in the workplace. But since many times it doesn’t, being able to swing a few with your boss will help that relationship develop organically.
“You’ll get noticed, you’ll be near powerful people, and you’ll have the chance to prove yourself a fun person to be around,” Andrews said. “It’s as simple as being where the people are.”
Write to Julie Steinberg at email@example.com