There is business. There is golf. And then there is business golf--an aberrant offspring that usually lacks both the professionalism of business and the amateur pleasures of golf.

Business-duty golf might be a better term for what I'm talking about. I've had a great time playing golf at certain sales conferences. Alternative activities were available, so that those who turned out for golf were all competent enough and knowledgeable enough to be good companions.

But, if you're a dedicated golfer, company golf outings can try your soul. These are meant to be sociable, let-your-hair-down, get-to-know-people-better affairs. In other words, attendance is virtually mandatory. And the world's worst and slowest golfer, actually a non-golfer coerced into an annual appearance, is going to be in the foursome ahead of you--if you're lucky.

If you're not lucky, he or she will be in your group, not merely slowing you down, but calling out to someone just as you're driving, and jingling coins while you putt.

It's an experience like going out to jog, if you're a real jogger, with someone who insists on both of you stopping every hundred yards . . . and then trips you while you're running.

Fortunately, a kind of psychic numbing (a rarely recognized type of hysteria known as Held's Syndrome) comes over me eventually in these circumstances.

But this is not always true in another form of business golf: client or customer golf.

I'm not referring to playing with a friend you happen to do business with (the sort you want to play with) or to the aggravation of throwing a match in a client's favor, because I've never thought this was necessary or even smart.

But what do you do about the client who concedes himself six-foot putts? Improves the lie of his ball in the rough? Tosses his ball out of the trees he sliced it into? Tells you a wrong score for a hole?

Mostly I've just burned. I've gone so far as to tell someone he'd forgotten a penalty stroke or his second chip shot or whatever, and corrected his score. But not more than once in a round. And the other sorts of infractions have generally left me speechless.

Perhaps one reason is that the perpetrators have been otherwise rather honorable people--perfectly good clients to deal with in a purely business situation. When a Decent, Valued Customer turns into the Bastard of the Links, and you're in a state of shock, it's hard to come up with a deft, polite way to tell him he's a cheat or a liar.

All I've learned to do is to avoid a second round of golf with the same Dr. Jekyll. There's always another way to entertain a client.

Rationally, there's a way to reduce the stress of that first and only round, too, and of any business golf. Don't think of it as golf. Think of it as a fresh-air break on our business life . . . fraught with laughable distractions.

This commendable approach doesn't work for me, of course. True golfers are not rational. We may feel that business is a funny game. But golf for us, in spite of the joking and needling that are usually part of it, is always serious business.