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Well-Rounded Dealmakers Put Golf on Their Résumés

Hilary Bruggen advises companies on how to get their employees to play golf to help win business. A golf game can seal a deal, she says.
Hilary Bruggen advises companies on how to get their employees to play golf to help win business. A golf game can seal a deal, she says. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 13, 2005

Sitting around a conference table at the Bethesda headquarters of Clark Construction Group LLC last week, employees of the company's business development and technology departments took turns in the confessional.

The issue: golf.

The counselor was Hilary Bruggen, a workplace consultant and business-golf expert hired to teach Clark employees how golf can be an important business tool. Whether their employees are avid golfers, neophytes or liken the tee box to "Fear Factor," companies like Clark hope that a lunch hour of golf therapy with Bruggen can bring even the most timid into the fold -- and help the bottom line.

People who don't play golf are "choosing to neglect the best business development there is," Bruggen told the group, describing how four hours on a golf course, away from e-mail, computers and ringing phones, can make or break a business deal. She heard from each of the 24 Clark employees about their attitudes toward the game -- they ranged from avid hobby to necessary evil -- then offered pointers.

Don't force the business discussion, she said, and don't whine about a poor shot. She counseled women not to dress too feminine or outfit their golf bags with too many frills.

"Many of our clients do business on the golf course. It is just good business development to be involved in these networking groups," said David Golden, Clark's chief information officer.

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Golf has long been a pursuit of the business elite. The golf course is the place for people like former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch to recruit corporate directors, or for the head of law and accounting firms to test the mettle of potential partners. As the economy has grown and become more complex, golf's role has become broader.

No longer just the province of presidents and chief executives, golf is promoted as an important strategic tool for mid-level managers looking to advance, and even for business students whose careers are just starting. Golf is also becoming more popular among women looking to compete on the same plane as men.

Of 401 executives surveyed for a Starwood Hotels study in 2002, 92 percent said golf is "a good way to make new business contacts," while 97 percent said that golfing with a business associate "is a good way to establish a close relationship." Forty-three percent of executives said some of their biggest business deals were made on golf courses.

University of Maryland students this fall will be able to earn three credits as they learn how to schmooze with potential employers, clients and executives. In the "Golf: For Business and Life" course, students will spend the semester in lectures by area business leaders, and, of course, on the greens. "The goal is when you finish the semester, the person can go out and play a respectable round of golf," said Jeff S. Maynor, director of golf for the university. In the course, students will hear how to interview or be interviewed while golfing, and to understand that ethics on the golf course are very much like ethics in the workplace.

"If you cheat in golf you cheat in business," Maynor said.

The program is sponsored by the Professional Golfers' Association of America, which gives money to players in the Ryder Cup to donate to a university of their choice. Fred Funk, a Maryland alumnus and member of the 2005 U.S. Ryder Cup team, donated to Maryland to start the program.


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