The Link Between the Greens and the Boardroom

Baseball and peanuts. Ice skating and bad judging. Golf and business. In life, some things just go together. And there are few more intimate relationships than the one between golf and business. In fact, some companies make it a tacit obligation that their senior executives get out on the links with clients on a regular basis.

A hole in one isn’t the objective. Golf offers the chance to relationship-build, size clients up, make business decisions, and move closer towards clinching that crucial business deal, all in a casual surrounding.

One Vancouver golf pro believes the game offers more than a chance for executives and clients to get out of the office Friday afternoons. Mike Vanderwolf, of McCleery Golf Course, sees parallels between lessons learned in golf and those learned in business about how to succeed and enhance performance.

An excellent golfer often demonstrates the same traits of a successful business person, says Vanderwolf, Director of Instruction and golf professional at McCleery. He teaches, selects and trains staff as well instructing recreational golfers up to the elite level at the McCleery Golf Academy. Elite golfers whether amateur or pro compete in high level tournaments often for money. They see golf as a way of life and are completely dedicated to the sport.

Vanderwolf sees several keys to success in both golf and business.

Self-awareness is primary. Elite players work hard at getting to know themselves, often working with sports and performance psychologists. “They become aware of what their body is doing, of what their emotions are doing and how their mind affects their play,” he said recently.

Effective business people, too, work to increase their self-awareness. Many of our successful clients know how their feelings and thoughts affect their performance and ability to deal with setbacks.

Golf pros face setbacks all the time. Tiger Woods may hit a beautiful drive down the middle of the fairway, only to land the ball in a divot. He can view the problem negatively – or as a strategic challenge to be worked out. Guess which approach this phenomenal athlete chooses?

“When my golfers get into trouble, I see a range of responses,” says Vanderwolf, “The pessimists say the world’s against them. The optimists figure how to work it out.”

That’s what a successful businessperson does: looks for strategies to work out a problem.

Commitment to a goal is essential when enhanced performance is desired. Again, the parallels between top golfers and successful business people exist. “The elite players do what it takes to achieve their goals. They are naturally curious, they want to learn, they want to find as much information as they possibly can to improve,” said Vanderwolf.

Like the best golfers, successful business people continue to learn even when they think they’ve mastered the task. Receiving continuous training doesn’t undermine their confidence. It enhances it.

Elite golfers and effective business people ask questions. They feed off constant learning. They stagnate if they haven’t encountered something new. Some of the senior executives we deal with are the best-read people we’ve ever met. They attend workshops and training programs, use coaches, listen to tapes on the drive home and go to lectures. They NEED to learn and keep their knowledge and intellect stimulated. So, too, does the pro golfer perfect his or her game through a variety of methods – watching themselves on videotape, playing competitively and practicing.

Great golfers try to correct personality traits that could hold them back. Golfers who are trying to impress others get into trouble because they aren’t focussed on the game. Business people who are engaged in popularity contests, who worry excessively about their image, or try to one-up colleagues, have lost their focus too.

Golfers who excel watch out for perfectionist tendencies too. Perfectionism can get golfers and executives trapped in small details at the expense of the larger picture. Micro-managing is a symptom of executive anxiety and a lack of confidence. Golfers can get stuck in a rut or stop trusting themselves when bogged down.

Both golfer and executive deal with this by developing a mental routine, activated when self-consciousness sets in. When they’re off track they ask, “What is required here?” and “What can I control about myself right now?” Knowing what they can and can’t control can be liberating.

Pro golfers operate in the present. Cash, trophies and publicity hold allure but the golfer and businessperson who places value in meeting his or her own expectations will succeed in the long term.

In the business world, rigid ideas and processes can stamp out initiative and creativity. Businesspeople and golfers refrain from boxing themselves in.

Good personal habits are the hallmark of the elite golfer and the pro businessperson. Both keep fit, eat right and have balance in their lives. These habits improve concentration, stamina and the ability to cope with stress.

Vanderwolf sees the golfer as an athlete whose mind, body and emotions are important tools to enhanced performance. If business people adopt the golfer’s disciplined athletic mindset, optimal performance is the result.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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