Golf & Business

Golf and Business Offers Important Lessons in Life’s Decisions

Professional golfers make many decisions, including whether to compete in a tournament or go professional. A business makes similar decisions, and each one determines whether it moves ahead as a competitor or plays it safe.
— By Vincent Pane

Professional golfers make career decisions every day, and many of them concern whether to compete in amateur tournaments or whether to go professional. The decision involves finances, odds of winning or losing, reputation, eligibility for future opportunities, and experience. In fact, many of the same factors professional golfers consider when deciding to join a particular tournament are similar to the factors that business leaders must consider when deciding to pursue a potentially lucrative business deal that will strengthen the company's brand.

Making the decision to "stay or play" can be difficult at times because competitors are always looking for the next victory. It is the stuff that sports champions and entrepreneurs are made of.

Considering All the Factors
Golfers who play in tournaments had to decide at one point whether to strive to become a professional golfer. Playing amateur golf tournaments is like starting a small business and staying small.

Competitors of every ilk tend to get frustrated when they believe they are capable of accomplishing much more. Amateur golfers move to the next level by turning professional, but it can take up to 10 years of dedication, patience, travel, and a lot of wins in state and national amateur golf tournaments, plus proven scores when playing on a championship–level golf course.

An amateur golfer turning pro is like a small business leader deciding to grow a business to the mid-size level. Neither the golfer nor the business leader can count on luck to achieve goals. Golfers must win around 50 percent or more of their amateur tournaments to have some confidence they can compete as professionals. Without the right skills, experiences and proven successes, it does not make sense to reach beyond capabilities.

In addition, it is very expensive to follow a professional tournament tour schedule. It is estimated that it costs $100,000 to $125,000 to play one year on the PGA Tour. The golfer must cover travel expenses, tour fees, caddy expenses and other costs. The golfer hopes he or she will eventually get sponsorships to cover most of the costs, but that could take years. Sponsors pay for winners because winners get air time and fan recognition, but it takes exceptional performance to reach that point.

Setting the Pace Business leaders who decide to grow their businesses face similar challenges.
They have to decide if the financial equation makes sense. Trying to grow too fast is like trying to move into professional golf before it makes sense. Growing too fast usually means the business has taken on new customers it really cannot afford to serve or incurred expenses it cannot cover. Qualifying for a PGA tour or any other professional tour is not easy, but neither is growing a business. Success at lower levels does not automatically mean a golfer or a business is fully prepared to reach for higher levels.

Golfers and businesses that decide to move up will inevitably find themselves competing against bigger, more experienced competitors, unless they choose their paths carefully and are fully prepared. A small business needs to choose its course carefully because not every opportunity is the right opportunity.

A critical strategy for a golfer is choosing the right amateur path that leads to professional qualification. A small business needs to expand by zeroing in on a market segment it has the capability and capital to serve and then continuing to expand from that point.

Making a Full Commitment
In some cases, PGA professionals may decide to not play in a tournament, despite being qualified to do so. The PGA Tour tournaments are just one set of professional games. Others include the PGA European Tour, the Japan Golf Tour, the China Golf Association, the Challenge Tour, the Tour, and others. A professional golfer who travels a lot may need to stay home, reconnect with family, rest up, and recharge.

Sometimes, a business needs to step back and re-evaluate strategy, results, and or goals. Managers need to reconnect with the business mission and ensure the business is staying on track.

In fact, a golfer may decide to not go professional until a later date because of the time commitment required. Golfers and business leaders can get burned out, and stress impacts everything, including commitment and decision-making. Sometimes, it makes more sense to wait when leadership is not fully prepared to manage change.

Burned out managers and their employees, according to Eric Garton in "Employee Burnout is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person" (Harvard Business Review, April 6, 2017), reflect a problem with the organization. The problems include excessive collaboration impeding work completion, weak time management, and work overload. All three issues must be resolved, and employee engagement improved, before a business can enter a "tournament."

Gut Feelings
Quite frankly, sometimes a tournament course is just not appealing. A golfer may decide it has too many features that do not match his or her competencies. The golfer checks out the course features, and instinct says, "No." In the business world, managers sometimes go with instinct or intuition.

Golfers and businesses that decide to move up will inevitably find themselves competing against bigger, more experienced competitors, unless they choose their paths carefully and are fully prepared.
This decidedly unofficial approach to decision-making should be supplemented with data, of course. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, "War is 90 percent information." The other 10 percent is experience and gut feelings.

Golfers who start tournaments or go pro have decided they can handle pressure, are willing to take risks, and understand they will need to make significant financial and time investments. Small businesses that decide to expand have made the same decisions.

Golfer Ben Martin said, "You are an athlete, but you are also kind of an entrepreneur. Most other sports you get drafted; it’s up to someone else to decide your future. You sign a contract, and if you don’t have a good rookie year you are still out there playing next year. Golf is different. You have to perform, man. It’s all on your own ticket.”

Deciding to compete at a higher level in any capacity is never an easy decision. Get it right, and the golfer and business succeeds financially and strategically. Get it wrong, and the future is uncertain.