Why business and golf go well together

Learn from locals who share their experiences

By Kingston Rhodes

Enjoying golf is obviously a popular pastime for lots of people here in the Lowcountry. Our abundance of outstanding private and public courses makes it easy to play. 

Also, there’s no denying that a high percentage of business owners and other professionals in real estate and law love getting out on the course.

According to Harvard Business School, golf courses have long had the reputation of being places where business relationships are cemented, fundraising is set in motion and deals are closed. It has been estimated that at courses near metropolitan areas, one in every three golfers is involved with some kind of business activity. Even locally, with our high percentage of retirees, old habits of business golf camaraderie continue.

Making golf an asset for doing business

Drew Butler, a top salesman with Charter One Realty, grew up on Hilton Head Island and has been playing golf since childhood. After starring on his college golf team, he had the opportunity to pursue being a golf professional. 

Instead Butler listened to his father. “Enjoy golf as an asset for your business career, and you will be better off in the long run,” said his father.

A two-time winner of the Hilton Head Island Open (1983 and 1993), Butler is quick to credit his dad’s advice as proving absolutely correct. “For me golf has been an enormous resource for building referrals, leading to my successful real estate career,” said Butler. “It’s one of the best ways to learn about how people respond to adversity and success. It a game where most people drop their guard and reveal their temperament.” 

Judy Wade, a retired consulting executive from Cooper’s and Lybrand in the 1990s and later Accenture, had never played golf before joining her first management consulting firm near Washington, D.C.. – but she quickly realized its importance.

“I learned lots of business was getting done on the golf courses around D.C. — not in the office,” says Judy, who now lives in Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island with her husband, Terry. “I discovered a majority of the men in our office were often out in afternoons playing golf and building relationships with customers,” recalls Judy, “and if I didn’t learn golf, I would always be behind.” 

Fortunately, Judy says she had been a good athlete in her youth, so she took up the game. “It was fun and made perfect business sense,” she smiles. “I realized as a woman you don’t have to out-play men, but play just well enough and have a good attitude. I was soon spending several mornings a month on a golf course with clients and then finishing with lunch. Golf helped my consulting career as much as anything. You can find out a lot about a person over a couple of hours watching how they play.”

Another local retiree, Gary Frank, who owned a large printing firm in New Jersey, now resides in Hampton Hall in Bluffton. He says he closed many deals on the golf course for his company but insists he never discussed business on the course unless his partner brought It up. “Golf was all about building relationships” says Frank. “You gain a lot of insight about the people you are playing with. A hallmark of golf is that the sport is built on honesty and trust.”

How to arrange a business golf outing

Golf club managers across Beaufort County are convinced that lots of long-term business relationships are born on our local courses.

Bluffton’s Hilton Head National Golf Course is a premier public course in the area and sees a significant amount of business play. 

At a recent interview Sterlyn Mitchell, director of golf sales at Hilton Head National Golf Club, had just checked in a group of 24 executives from Ernst and Young Global Limited who were staying at a Hilton Head beach-front hotel. “We had set them up with a little tournament of their own. It happens regularly.”

All of the public and resort courses in the Hilton Head/Bluffton area are happy to help locals and visitors arrange golf outings. These range from just a few foursomes up to larger charity events and tournaments. Heritage Golf Group, a national company that manages the Hilton Head courses at Port Royal and Shipyard, recently coordinated a group with more than 600 participants.

For larger groups Hilton Head National and others recommend that organizers should start planning their outings and tournaments six months in advance. 

Golf concept. Golf ball and rake sand on bunker in beautiful golf course at sunset background.

Tips for golf outings 

One of the first questions you will be asked by the golf director is “what is the skill level of your players?” It will help him determine what kind of tournament should be played for the enjoyment of the players and the time it takes on the course. If the skill level is widely varied, often with both men and women players, a scramble will probably be suggested. This is a team competition where every player on the team hits from the tee. Then from that point forward the team decides the best shot and the other balls are picked up. Every player then hits from where the best shot was. The process is repeated until each hole is complete. Putts cannot be conceded in this format, meaning someone has to hit the ball into the hole.

red retro alarm clock on white background

Five key golf etiquette tips

1. Always be early. It makes your day of golf a better experience for everyone. There is no “five-minute grace” when it comes to grouchy starters. If your tee time is 9:30, don’t show up at 9:30. Arrive a solid 20 minutes before your tee time, so you can check and get your bag loaded. If you want to hit some warm-up balls, add another 20 minutes.

2. Monitor your phone. Don’t keep it in your pocket so it goes off on the green as your partner is starting to putt. Better to keep the ringer off in the cart.

3. Maintain appropriate pace. The biggest pet peeve for most golfers is when a foursome significantly slows down groups behind them. If there is no group ahead of you, and a group behind you is constantly waiting for your group, let that group play through.

4. Smooth sand bunkers. You should always rake the sand to smooth out footprints or other imprints you made in it. 

5. Stay silent. Never talk when others are hitting. This is a cardinal sin. When a golfer is about to hit the ball, their concentration is at its peak. One whisper can screw them up.

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