More women are using golf to foster business relationships

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You could spend four lunch meetings trying to get to know a prospective client or potential employee.

But over one round of golf with that individual, you're likely to come away with a more complete sense of that person's character and whether he or she would make a good fit for your business.

At least that's the assessment of a golf instructor and retired professional golfer who Tuesday encouraged a roomful of female executives gathered over lunch at Chatham University to practice their swings and putts and get out on the links.

"Golf opens doors you can't get in otherwise," said Sandy Thomas, the former professional golfer who now resides in Forest Hills and coaches women on how to use golf as a business and networking tool.

Her audience Tuesday was approximately 65 women at a workshop hosted by Chatham's Center for Women's Entrepreneurship and BizChicks, a Downtown-based networking group.

Many of the women showed up in business attire but had golf clubs in hand to get a few tips on their technique.

But first came advice about how to be more savvy in combining golf and work.

No. 1, take lessons if you're a beginner, and make sure your clubs are fitted to your swing. Then, pencil in regular practice times on your calendar once or twice a week.

That includes during the winter months when Pittsburgh weather may force you to putt in your living room, said Ms. Thomas, wearing an official pink golf shirt from the U.S. Women's Open that wrapped up Sunday at Oakmont Country Club and where she worked as a volunteer.

"Make it part of your business plan."

If you can gain enough confidence to chip and putt, you can be an asset to your foursome in a corporate scramble.

Specifically, you should be able to shoot a score of between 55 and 60 on nine holes or from 110 to 120 on 18 holes to be ready to play for business.

Once you schedule an outing with a client, show up an hour before the tee-time and tip the bag boy "so he'll treat your guest well."

Also, make a reservation for lunch or dinner.

Just like the office, there are do's and don'ts for how to dress, she said.

Some clubs don't permit scoop neck shirts for women or they require men to wear collar shirts, so check out the rules in advance. Short skirts aren't a good idea for moving around the course and short shorts are a no-no, especially if you're over 30.

Know the penalty rules for sand and water and when you're on the course, agree with your partner or group to hit out of turn if you're moving slowly; and wave the group behind you ahead if they're on your tail.

If you can relax enough to observe the people you're playing with, you'll gain some critical insights about them without even talking about business, said Ms. Thomas.

"After four or five hours of sitting in a cart with this person, you can figure out if the person has confidence. Are they lining up a putt from four different angles? You can learn if they're a team player. Do they make excuses for a bad shot?"

Other traits you'll pick up on: whether a person is patient, can control his or her emotions and how they handle pressure.

A major characteristic that emerges on the course, according to several women golfers in the audience, is honesty.

A round of golf with someone "is more likely to show you whether they'll cheat than going to lunch," said Esther Barazzone, Chatham's president. She described herself as "not a good golfer who plays anytime I can."

Velma Monteiro-Tribble, retired president of the Alcoa Foundation, is writing a book about women advancing to top corporate jobs.

But she's determined to improve her game through golf lessons because, "All the business contacts out there want to play."

After the game is the time to bring up business -- not on the course, said Ms. Thomas. "Send a note or call in a week and then do the business."

Raised in Forest Hills, Ms. Thomas swam at Churchill Country Club as a young girl, and when she was 12, she noticed a sign at the club announcing free golf lessons. "I showed up and it was me and 30 boys."

The game came in handy during her teen years when she sought ways to avoid hanging around her mother, she said. And although the boys' golf coach at her high school discouraged her from playing, she went on to play at the University of Miami before trying some professional tournaments.

After finding she "didn't like living out of a suitcase" on the tournament circuit, Ms. Thomas ran golf shops in Florida and returned to Pittsburgh when her marriage ended.

Golf connections helped her land a job in marketing and she later worked in real estate and as a golf professional for Dick's Sporting Goods stores.

Now in addition to coaching other women, she plans to teach golf to her four grandchildren, because, "It's a game for a lifetime."

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.


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