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Business Golfing Primer – Beginner to Scratch Golfer to Sergio Garcia

As none of you may know, in a past life I was/am a scratch golfer who was on the varsity team at school (possibly the only reason why I passed my investment banking interview).

Although strong corporate finance knowledge and quality work can carry someone all the way to a Managing Director position, banking is fundamentally a people oriented business and playing a sport is immensely helpful in getting there faster.

Unfortunately, not all sports are created equal in a business and networking context. Team sports (hockey, lacrosse, basketball, softball) are great for connecting with junior peers at the analyst and associate level, especially during fundraising events throughout the year – however, the only sport that really matters is golf (spectator sports are a different story).

As Emerging Markets such as China and Korea become more relevant in global trade (especially as it pertains to countries with an abundance in global commodities), the importance of golf will inevitably rise.

I have prepared a few posts about my one true passion on the fairway – hopefully getting anyone interested from a rookie to John Daly.

Relative Importance of Golf to Finance Careers (in Descending Order)

  1. Equity Capital Markets (anything to do with Equity including research and equity sales)
  2. Commercial Banking – less sophisticated mid-market clients require amiable relationship management
  3. Debt Capital Markets
  4. Private Equity
  5. Investment Banking
  6. Sales
  7. Corporate Banking
  8. Trading
  9. Mid and Back Office *not important

Preparing for the Golf Day with the Boss

As a junior banker your life will mostly revolve around spreadsheets and grunt work but you may be one of the lucky few who gets invited to a golf outing with your boss or client.

Banking is a relationship driven business and every now and then either your bank or a client will host a golf event, whether its for a charity event, lender’s meeting, etc. If you are lucky enough to be invited, this is a good sign as it shows that your boss trusts you and likes your company enough to take you out to spend half a day with them outside of the office (this means you get promoted).

This article will cover the general rules of thumb when playing in a business environment. We won’t go into swing mechanics and technical advice in here because there are a ton of articles on the web that offer a plethora of tips to get you a head start on the game.

Picking up a Golf Digest publication is a good way to acquaint yourself with the game.

First Rule: If you are invited, the number one rule should be to accept it. If you have your partner/spouse’s birthday party on that day, you should still go to the golf event because golfing is fun.

If you are successful in having fun and bonding with your group during the round, this helps you drive the relationship tremendously and may become a catalyst in you getting more noticed by your boss or winning business with a client.

Getting Started: Your prep for this should really start much earlier than getting the invite. You should invest in a set of clubs and go to the driving range every so often to get a feel of how to swing the golf club and how far you can hit the ball.

There is no need to buy a new set of clubs which will set you set back thousands of dollars. Jump on Kijiji or Craigslist and try to find a full set of clubs with a bag which you should be able to get under a grand.

  • A few popular brands include Taylormade, Mizuno, Ping, Callaway, Nike (although they discontinued equipment manufacturing there should be some second hand ones online), and Titleist. If you are a beginner, we would recommend against Titleist as this is a player’s club and the last thing you want to do is give off the impression that you are good and you step up on the first tee only to shank it. If you are shorter in stature, Mizunos might be the way to go as they are a Japanese brand and they have shorter standard-length clubs.
  • A set of golf clubs will depend on the brand and that specific set, but typically it includes a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 irons, pitching wedge and putter. If you are a beginner to an intermediate player, you do not need all these. You really just need a driver, 3-wood, 5-9 irons, pitching wedge and putter. Forget a sand-wedge or lob-wedge.
  • Avoid Stiff shafts (shafts rank in varying degrees of stiffness from senior flex, regular flex, stiff flex, extra stiff flex) as these will make it tough for you to hit a good shot if you don’t have enough swing speed.
  • Invest in some proper golf attire. Please don’t wear jeans or cargo shorts on the golf course; this is not real golf attire and you’ll stand out. Also, wear a belt and tuck that shirt in. It goes a long way to make you look like you’ve played before. Golf shoes are not necessary. You can certainly buy some so it looks you actually have enough swing speed for it to make a difference, but in reality, it won’t.

On the Golf Course with a Client

Now, assuming you know how to hit a golf ball and what the general rules of the game are (get the ball in the hole with the fewest strokes possible) here are some general guidelines to help you have a good day on the links and help build that relationship. The main thing to remember is that you are out there to have fun. Do whatever you need to do to have some laughs and build a good bond with the others.

No Slow Play: There is nothing more frustrating for a good golfer, than to play with someone that is slow, regardless of whether they are good or bad. Playing with a bad golfer is tolerable as everyone plays at different levels, but there is nothing worse than playing with a bad golfer who is slow. If you are not good, the best thing to do is to admit you are not good and do your best in keeping up with everyone. Examples:

  • Don’t take more than one practice swing. We can’t overstate how annoying it is for a playing partner to stand there and watch someone spend a full sixty seconds just to hit the ball, wondering the entire time whether you will hit the ball or the world will explode first. If you are bad and you are hitting lots of shots but you’re doing your best to keep up, it shows. The worst that will happen is that the others will feel bad for you but at least they won’t be frustrated and they’ll see you as a considerate person.
  • If you hit your ball wayward and have a hard time finding it, don’t spend more than sixty seconds looking for it. Yes, the rule allows for up to 5 minutes, but no one cares about the rules and no one cares about your ball. Just drop another ball and move on.
  • You don’t need to read your putts from every direction. Just squat down from behind the ball and try to see where the ball might roll down to if you hit it at the hole. Then take that into account and hit the ball.
  • Play ready golf (definition below). This can be a little tricky because normally, the player who had the best score on the previous hole has the honour (definition below) to go first. Some people can be really picky about this and will be mad if you steal their honour. Spend the first few holes adjusting and seeing how the others are playing. Otherwise, if you are ready to hit and the others are not, just ask whether it’s okay to go first because you are ready. They may say no, but then at least you know.
  • Of course, if you’re playing partner is also slow, then just do what you need to do to maintain pace with them. In reality, if they are awfully slow, they should probably be reading this article too because slow play is the absolute worst.

Competition: Competition is a tough one, because if your boss or client is good, naturally, they’re going to be competitive and everyone wants to win. The general rule of thumb is to always let your boss or client win so they feel good, but in all honesty, who feels good about being given a win. Our best suggestion would be to play naturally, have fun, and let things run its course. Don’t get overly competitive, though, and try to penalize them on an obscure rule by calling them out on RCGA rule 5 – 6.3 just so you can win. It’s just a game and you’re out there to have fun.

Some other things to consider:

  • Don’t step on other players’ lines (definition below). If you step on their line, it creates a footprint, and worse yet, if you have golf shoes with spikes, it will create depressions on the line and the ball may not smoothly roll over it causing a player to miss. At the end of the day it doesn’t actually make a big difference because 1) they’re probably going to miss anyways and 2) a well hit putt with enough forward spin on it should roll through it just fine, but golfers are notorious for blaming faults on others. If you do accidentally step on it, don’t worry too much as it happens all the time but just make sure to act like you care and say sorry.
  • Don’t be late to your tee time. If you are late, they won’t wait for you.
  • Don’t get mad but don’t give off the impression you don’t care either. No one likes to play with someone who has a tamper tantrum and it sends a negative energy throughout the group. Even though the golf course is a pristine and nurturing place to drop f-bombs, we would advise against swearing after every shot.
  • Don’t talk while others are either preparing to hit the ball or are swinging. Golf is a game of focus and abrupt noises can throw people off.

This serves as a general guideline for anyone playing golf in a business context. As mentioned earlier, we can’t stress enough that it’s all about enjoying the day with your group members and not about the score. Just use your common sense and try to be considerate. We do recommend going out there with your friends or by yourself to practice every now and then. It is a fun game and is a great way to spend the better part of the day with people you enjoy being with.

Business Golf Glossary

Here are just a few terminologies thrown around sometimes that might help if you are out on the links:

  • Rub of the green: bad luck on the green
  • Fade: when the ball curves left to right. A slice is a more pronounced fade and is not controlled.
  • Draw: when the ball curves right to left. A hook is a more pronounced draw and is not controlled.
  • OB: Out of bounds.
  • Red stakes and yellow stakes: Essentially both are water hazards and the two types have coloured stakes next to the water. They have different rules in how you drop the ball. Don’t overthink it and just drop it wherever you think it went in.
  • Slope and Rating: they represent the difficulty of the course. Just know that the higher it is, the more difficult the course it is.
  • Cart-Path only: It means you can only drive the cart on a cemented path. Do not drive it on the grass because it will ruin the grass.
  • Ready Golf: the person whoever is ready to hit the ball goes ahead and plays first without considering honours.
  • Honours: On the tee, who ever had the best score on the previous hole has the “honours” and has the right to go first. After the tee box, who ever is furthest away from the hole hits first.
  • Match Play: can be a 1v1 match or 2v2 match. There is no gross score because you are simply playing against your opponent and each hole counts as a point, essentially. If you win a hole, you are 1 up, regardless of however many shots you might beat them by. A few types of 2v2 matches exist. Some examples below:
    • Best ball: Each player plays his or her own ball and only the best score on each team is used on each hole.
    • Scramble: Each player hits a ball, but you decide which spot to hit from next. From there each player hits another ball and decide again which spot to hit from next until you hole out.
    • Alternate shot: you alternate each shot. Typically, you alternate hitting tee shots too. For example, player A hits off the 1st, 3rd, 5th tee and so on and player B hits off the 2nd, 4th, 6th tee and so on.
  • Gross score: total number of shots you needed to finish the round.
  • Net score: Gross score minus your handicap.
  • Handicap: a proper handicap is a computer calculated one that averages out the differential between your gross score and the golf course ratings from your 10 best rounds out of your most recent 20 rounds. In essence, it is the differential between your average gross score and the par of the golf course. A higher handicap golfer is a “worse” golfer as they should be shooting higher scores. Handicaps are used in Net Score competitions against others to make the playing field level between good and bad golfers. Be honest with your handicap and be fair. No body likes to play against someone who is a sandbagger.
  • Sandbagger: someone who is a good golfer but claims they have a high handicap so they can sandbag people into winning.
  • The Break: the break is where the ball will roll towards based on the slope of the green and how hard you hit it. If the green is sloping left to right, the natural gravitational pull will make the ball “break” to the right. Thus, you should aim left of the hole and let the ball naturally break into the hole. This becomes a function of how hard you hit it and how much break you intend to play. The harder you hit it, the less it will be affected by the break because of inertia. It is often said that the speed of the putt is more important than the line because the line will depend on the speed of the putt. And as long as you hit the putt with the right speed, you’ll never be too far off.
  • Speed: Essentially, how fast the green is. If a green is fast, it means the ball will roll further with less force. Faster greens are generally speaking tougher.
  • Line: On the green, the path that the ball rolls on en route to the hole is called the “line”.
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ex investment banking associate

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