Leadership in Golf
How business and golf shape our careers.
by: Steve Mallory, Director of Golf, Terravita Golf Club
When I began in this business almost 20 years ago I believed that I was entering into a career that would allow me to play and be around the game that I loved. It has not disappointed. Through this game, I have realized that all things are possible. Working in the golf business has afforded me opportunities to meet individuals I never would have dreamt of meeting. These individuals have included prominent business executives, movie stars, athletes and influential politicians and even a past United States President. I truly believe that this game has no boundaries and opportunities are endless. Having the opportunity to interact with those who are in the public eye has allowed me to realize one very important aspect of being human - we all share some basic characteristics. Spending time with a person on the golf course allows one, in most instances, to see an individual in his true unfiltered light.
When I started writing this article, I was reminded of my early days in the business. How enamored I was when I met some of these famous and influential people. I would study them and wonder what separated them from others. What made them special? What I quickly realized is that these people were no different than you and me. Along with their special abilities and outgoing personalities, they also struggled with many of the same emotional experiences that you and I do. Those that left a true impression understood the magnitude of their persona. They understood that the gift that they had been given came with responsibility, and that the people whose lives they touched everyday would define them long after their days in the public eye faded.
As golf professionals, most of us don’t have that type of burden to carry; however, many are leaders in their own right. In our professional status, we are constantly under the scrutiny of how we conduct ourselves, especially how we act on the golf course. In most instances who we are on the course is more important than how we play. In relation to everyone who is in management positions, we experience that same type of pressure to produce, sometimes under the most stressful of circumstances. What I’ve discovered is how individuals conduct themselves on a golf course is usually a window into how one handles themselves with the stresses of life.
Leadership positions in today’s golf work environment can easily be compared to those of college or professional coaches. Actual coaching, or managing, often takes a back seat to public functions, fundraising and administrative duties. With leadership positions in the golf industry the ability to play or teach the game often takes less importance to the membership if the golf course is in poor shape or your staff wasn’t at bag drop when Mrs. Jones dropped off her clubs. Success is expected in leadership positions, and as in all businesses, can be extremely stressful. The one variable in all business is good staff members, working together to be successful in serving their clients and administrators.
All of us play the game, but I’m curious just how many of us understand how others see us on the golf course? The following are a few scenarios that I have experienced which have enlightened me to a few of the do’s and don’t of mixing business and golf.
Be a good sport. Everyone gets good and bad breaks. If you feel like you get more bad breaks than others, lie. I’ll never forget meeting a very prominent politician who was running for President. We met in the pro shop, late one evening after his round of golf. Only he and I were in the shop and I reached my hand out and introduced myself and asked him how his round went? “Shitty,” he answered! I’m not sure if he could read the look of amazement on my face but I remembered thinking to myself how disappointed I was in the way in which he responded. I was looking at this man with an interest that was much deeper than his ability to play golf, I didn’t care if he was a good golfer, but instead I wanted to know that if this individual ever did lead our country I wanted him to be a little more politically correct than that. I’ve never forgotten that encounter and I’ve always remembered how it shaped the way I see those types of interactions today.
Be a good listener. Most people want to talk about their own score or are apologizing for how they played. Next time, focus on others, their accomplishments and talk up others play. It’s a proven fact that people have better feelings towards those individuals that are good listeners.
Be a good loser, but most of all be a good winner. Nobody likes to lose but gracious losers are respected. Some of the nicest words ever spoken of Jack Nicklaus were those who said how gracious he was in defeat. He didn’t lose that often but when he did he left an impression with those that he competed against. When you win, let others speak for you. Act graciously and act like a winner
Be a rule player. There is a strong relationship between one's integrity on the golf course and the integrity shown in his day to day life. Remember, reputations take years to build and seconds to tear down.
Leadership at work and even on the golf course is a 24 hour -7 day a week responsibility. The golf course has become the center of the workplace for many people. Business which was once conducted in the board room is now done while walking down the 18th fairway or over a cocktail in the grille after play. Remember, leadership responsibilities don’t end when you tee it up on the 1st tee... in many instances they are just beginning.