The golf course has long had a reputation of being the place where you schmooze with clients, fundraise and close deals. While business frequently overlaps with your time on the course, the exchange can go both ways. Golf can teach you about more than networking – read on for four business lessons you can learn on the links.  

Focus on your next shot

If your ball is in the rough, there’s no use in rehashing what you did wrong to end up with a bad lie. The best golfers realize that they can’t go back and change their shot, and rather than agonizing over what is in the past, they focus their attention on making the best shot out of a bad lie.

As Professor Mihir Desai explains in Leading With Finance, this is also an important financial concept. In finance, sunk costs are amounts spent in the past and do not matter in the future. Unlike accounting, which records sunk costs in balance sheets, finance believes that the amount paid for an asset is gone forever and those sunk costs should not affect future decision making.

So if you’ve devoted significant resources into developing a product that doesn’t work, it’s best to learn your lessons from your efforts and move onto the next project, rather than continue to waste time and money on a failing endeavor.

Legendary golfer Ben Hogan once said, “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” Instead of getting bogged down in your mistakes, learn from your failings, reach for your sand wedge, and knock the next shot from the trap onto the green. 

Play the ball as it lies

A hallmark of golf is that the sport is built on honesty and trust – in no other sport do the players call penalties on themselves. Tournaments have been won and lost when a player has deemed his own play illegal and voluntarily taken penalty strokes. This dynamic generates a level of trust between playing partners, regardless of skill or ability level, and breaking that trust will likely leave you without a foursome in the future.

As Professor Mike Wheeler discusses in Negotiation Mastery, trust is crucial to creating shared value and finding creative solutions while negotiating. If you break your counterpart’s trust, they likely will not want to work with you in the future, which could harm the long term future of your business. Like in golf, it’s important to conduct yourself in a way that earns the faith and cooperation needed to facilitate value creation.

Play the course, not your opponent

Professor Clayton Christensen defines the job-to-be-done framework, or the “why” that drives customers to make a purchase, as a way to understand consumer decisions.  As he describes in his Disruptive Strategy course, his research found that people who purchased milkshakes from McDonald’s were parents who needed a snack for their children, commuters who were passing the time, along with a vast array of other consumers for different reasons. With this lens, McDonald’s competitors were not just other fast food milkshakes, but also other snacks and activities.

Similarly, on the golf course, your biggest opponent is not your playing partner, but the environment of the course itself. Understanding the landscape – which direction the wind blows, which holes play long, and how fast the greens are – should inform your strategy. Both business and golf require you to consider the environment in which you operate rather than solely focusing on direct competitors and losing sight of the big picture.

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You drive for show, put for dough

Pulling out your driver and smoking a drive 300 yards down the fairway is sure to impress your playing partners, but if you follow it up with a three or four-putt, then it’s all for naught.  Golf is a game of precision, requiring you to use a set of 14 clubs to hit a small ball into a hole that is just two and a half times its diameter—and it’s 400 yards away.

The same holds true for business. Splashy ad campaigns and big PR announcements will drive buzz, but if you neglect other details like a properly stocked inventory, sound financials, and a strong team, you’ll struggle to achieve your goals.

As Professor Joe Fuller describes in Becoming a Better Manager, general management is defined as coordinated action in pursuit of performance. As a manger, your job is to oversee the whole process, coordinating across multiple departments and levels of the organization, implementing and executing strategies, and pursuing performance to achieve metrics of success. Good managers know that success means spending time at both the driving range and the putting green.

You might use your golf game to close a deal or entertain a client, but don’t forget you can learn a few business tips from your time on the links too. So slip on a green jacket, line up your putt, and expand your business expertise with lessons from the links.

Natalie Chladek

About the Author

Natalie is an Associate Product Manager at HBX working on Leading with Finance, Negotiation Mastery, and Sustainable Business Strategy. She received her B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University and M.B.A. from UCLA Anderson. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and staying up too late rooting for her Bay Area sports teams.