Bonding On Links Can Foster Strong Business Relationships.

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BERLIN – Ever since 1900, when the $480 million agreement that created United States Steel was forged on the links, golf and business have been inseparable.

It’s not just that the sport traditionally appeals to successful people. Golf itself — with its unique combination of competition, excitement and leisurely moments ideal for conversation — lends itself to doing business.

“Where else are you going to get five hours alone with an executive?” asks David Rynecki, author of “Deals on the Green: Lessons on Business and Golf From America’s Top Executives.” “The difference between golf and most other activities is the long walks between shots. Or, if you’re riding a cart, you’re sitting right next to that person.”

Also, because many private clubs and top-tier public courses forbid mobile phones and other gadgets, golf offers a rare opportunity to be uninterrupted by technology.

Jeff Gembis, a Merrill Lynch Financial Advisor in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., sees golf as an opportunity to ask “sincere, open-ended questions that might seem out of place in a meeting at the office.”

The sport also reveals much about the character of a potential business partner, says Rynecki.

“If he gets frustrated, complains and throws his clubs, it tells you he’s probably not that good at dealing with stress,” Rynecki says. Of course, your behavior will also be on display, for better or worse.

While you don’t have to be a scratch golfer to invite a business acquaintance out on the links, you should play enough to be competent, familiarize yourself with the standard rules and courtesies of the game, and choose a good venue.

“If you belong to Augusta National, you’ll always have clients who want to play there,” Rynecki says. Luckily, business golf doesn’t require membership in a famous club — a resort or upscale public course will do nicely, but be sure you’ve played there enough to feel at home. Pay greens fees and make any restaurant reservations well in advance. “You don’t want to seem uncertain,” Rynecki says. He recommends these additional tips:

- Make a game plan. Think about what you’d like to achieve during the round, even if it’s no more than a warm handshake and plans to meet again.

- Don’t try to close a deal. “The biggest mistake people make is pushing too hard,” Rynecki says. This is a time to get to know the other person, not ram a deal home.

- Talk shop judiciously. The short break after the first nine holes is a good time to ask, “May I tell you a little about my business?” If he’d rather discuss his new driver, so be it.

- Don’t overpraise. Gratuitous comments after each shot are obsequious and annoying. Also, conceding every putt your guest hits near the pin can backfire. Many business leaders are obsessive about finishing what they start, whether it’s a new product line or a golf hole.

- Have fun. Staying cheerful and relaxed will help your guest do the same.

(The writer is a Merrill Lynch Senior Financial Advisor. She can be reached at 410-213-9084.)

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