Golf, The Abominable Game That Won't Help Your Career

On a summer day in 1975, I stepped up the tee at the Liberty Country Club. It was the first time I ever played on a real golf course.

My father stood back and watched as I drew back and swung as hard as I could. The head of the club clicked so solidly and cleanly against the ball that I barely felt the impact in my hands. The ball rocketed off of the tee and flew straight as an arrow down the fairway into the humid Indiana afternoon. It bounced twice then stopped 50 yards directly in front of the green.  

It was a beautiful shot—absolutely beginner's luck—and it was my finest moment as a golfer.  

It was a fast nose dive into misery from that moment on. I was never able to replicate the combination of factors that produced that heavenly shot, and the rest of that afternoon was spent learning the ridiculous and arcane protocol that surrounds the world’s most frustrating sport. And I’m pretty sure I sweated completely through my belt.

There’s so much to hate about golf. The cost. The time it consumes. Live golf cams. People who talk about golf. (I know, that’s exactly how I started this post. I’m ashamed of myself.) I especially hate the TV commercials for The Masters. Who needs the tinkling background piano and Jim Nantz’s hushed tones about the tradition of Augusta National ruining the bliss of March Madness?

But the worst thing about golf is the notion that you can’t be successful in business unless you play it. Rubbish. I think that myth was created by people who like to play golf and would like to keep playing—on company time. I get the premise—meeting a client out of the office provides an opportunity to connect on a personal level, find common ground, be a host, and connect in a more relaxed setting.  

But times are changing. Fewer people are playing golf (which means fewer clients are playing golf), and companies are cutting back on club memberships and other golf-related perks. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reports that "The business of building new courses in North America is almost completely dead." Don’t confuse your career path for the cart path.

In the guidebook Keeping Your Career on Track, my colleague Jean Leslie and I identify 20 strategies for leadership success—only a few of which can be learned on the golf course.  Here are five lessons that help leaders adapt and change. Spending a ton of time on the links probably won’t help you develop them:

1. Consider if you are stuck in the past

Has your career progressed from a technical role to a managerial to a leadership role? Have your skills transitioned with you or are you still leaning on your old repertoire? 

2. Develop informal feedback sources

Look both in and outside of your organization for people who have an opportunity to see you interact with others.  When you ask for an opinion, for heaven’s stake, quit fidgeting, stop looking at your BlackBerry, and listen.

3. Be realistic about the culture of your organization

You don’t play politics? What does that mean? Do you even know how decisions get made in your organizations? Figure it out and roll with it.

4. Look up  

Learn what skills are necessary for the job above you. Watch how people at that level interact with each other. In what ways are the rules different? Is the word "Dude" ever appropriate with your boss or her peers?

5. Continually increase your self-awareness

The cornerstone of any work we do with leaders at the Center for Creative Leadership always starts in the same place—with an open and honest look at one’s strengths and weaknesses.  

Okay, this last one could be developed on the golf course. Paying attention to how you manage your competitive streak, the way you interact with others, and how you handle a disappointing shot are all matters of self-awareness that can be monitored and developed during a round.  But golf isn’t the only way to do that, either. Have you considered hot yoga?

Author Craig Chappelow is a portfolio manager at the Center for Creative Leadership (, a top-ranked, global provider of leadership education and research. 

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[Image: Flickr user trojanguy]

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  • Craig Chappelow


    Thanks for your kind words about your experience at the Center for Creative Leadership. I am glad you found your experience with us to be valuable.  And, you are right, there are many other benefits from golf.  My oldest son has taken to golf in a big way and, at least for one more year until he gets his driver's license, I am his playing partner.  Its a great excuse to spend time with him and a great excuse to keep playing.  Now if I could only lose the slice...  Thanks again for your note.

    Oscar and Ben,

    I really appreciate you guys taking the time to respond to this blog.  You are both right.  Golf is still big (king in many ways) and there are many good reasons for people to play--and I still do.  But I'm definitely going to let you guys play through.  Thanks again for your comments and hit 'em good.


  • David Helter

    Hi Craig,

    I attended a course this year at CCL and have the utmost respect for what CCL does.  The course was a bit of a life altering.  But, I have to say, I couldn't disagree more with your comment, "There’s so much to hate about golf."  In life, it is easy to hate anything in which one can't excel.  But this is not a formula for success.  I would say just the opposite, There are so many things to love about golf.  First of all, golf teaches many important lessons in life; etiquette, integrity and patience, just to name a few.  These are all qualities, which can help one's career.  Next, the game is also very social and can help anyone become more comfortable in the many social situations that face us every day in the business world.  Last, if one walks when playing a round of golf, the game provides a higher level of fitness.  Many of today's business people could benefit from increased fitness.

    I agree that the good old boy days of golf (joke telling, betting, chauvinism, heavy drinking, etc.) are a thing of the past.  Also, most golfers I know don't profess that "that you can’t be successful in business unless you play it.." But I might suggest that if all things are equal between 2 candidates, I would hire the good golfer everytime.  Chances are this person will have the patience, integrity and focus to succeed in business the way they succeed in golf.

    You should consider going out and trying your hand at golf again.  It could provide you with some quality time with your father and who knows?  You just might learn some of golf's lesson that will help you advance your career.


    David Helter 
    General Sales Manager - ECCO Golf

  • Oscar N.

    Craig, buddy, just because you suck at golf and can't walk and talk smart at the same time doesn't mean the rest of us have to share your misery.

    Asia is the future of business (it's actually the present already, but I digress) and golf is big in Asia. So I say, pull out that old copy of 'Five Lessons' and shape up.... leave the hot yoga for when you're playing alone.

  • Ben Simerly

    I apologize for the auto-correct on my computer.  In the first line, "employee" should be "employ." 

  • Ben Simerly

    The majority of the people who hired and employee the majority of the people in this country, and many others, play golf.  A LOT of golf.  The notion that playing regular rounds of golf with customers and once business colleagues-become buddies, wont advance your career, is pure rubbish.  You want to watch your colleagues get promoted to higher positions and pay grades while you sit idle?  GO FOR IT !  If you think golf is silly, or hard, or annoying, or stressful, or any number of other negative things there are probably good arguments to be made there, but golf can help someone make massive advances in their careers. Im sorry you stink at it, but don't advise people to do something so stupid as to wash away such a clearly defined path to advancement.