A short course in course conduct

Dear Hilka,

I have taken up golf because, I'm told, it can be helpful to me in business. I understand there is a great deal of etiquette involved in the game. Can you give me some guidance?


Dear Duffer,

GOLF is the single most important game business people play. No other game allows people to play with one another in an informal, collegial atmosphere regardless of age, gender, or ability. A round of golf gives you four uninterrupted hours to establish and solidify business relationships, to develop closer and more lasting personal ties and to learn a great deal about the other person.

Golf is an ideal way to observe how others operate and to let them observe you in turn. And, what you see is usually what you get when you do business with one another. You see how they react under pressure, to adversity, to good fortune. You learn about their ethics and sense of fair play. You see how they treat others. Unless you are competing in a tournament, the old adage its not whether you win or lose but how you play the game truly applies, because people do notice.

It has been said that golf is the last bastion of civility in sports, a game in which rules and conduct still matter. Proper course behavior starts long before you arrive at the first tee. Learning the rules and etiquette of golf is as important as taking lessons. Rulebooks are inexpensive, and can be found at bookstores and pro shops. While nobody appreciates a rules shark, general knowledge will make the game more pleasant for everyone and keep the pace of play moving.

As a guest at someone's club, be sure that you obey all the club rules, including the dress code. Appearance counts in golf. Generally, the more exclusive the club, the more stringent the dress code is. In brief, though, a pair of sports slacks in good condition, a collared shirt and proper footwear are required for men. Women should always check beforehand with the club pro to determine what is acceptable. Avoid anything that is flashy or gaudy. Stick to traditional styles rather than fashion extremes. T-shirts, jeans and short shorts are never acceptable.

Timing is of the essence in golf. A tee time of 8 a.m. means you are changed, warmed up and waiting at the first tee, ready to play. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 45 minutes to an hour before your scheduled tee time.

Once on the course, it is important to keep up the pace of play. If you play too slowly you disrupt the rhythm of everyone else's game. Have your club ready and take only one practice swing before hitting the ball when it is your turn. Should you lose your ball, allow no more than five minutes, although one is preferable, to find the ball before you take a drop and a penalty. The price of a lost golf ball is not worth the price of the lost business if you insist on searching interminably. If your match drops pace and loses more than one clear hole on the players in front, invite the match following you to pass through.

Since you are a novice golfer, double-par is a good guide to maintaining pace of play unless you're in a tournament. Once you've reached double par, 8 strokes on a par 4 for example, pick up the ball and move onto the next hole. To insist on playing until you get the ball in the cup will frustrate the people you're playing with, to say nothing of all the foursomes delayed behind you. Nor will it help to keep you relaxed and enjoying the game.

Once it is your foursome's turn to tee up, always wait until the group in front is out of range of your drive. Then, wait to tee up until the player before you has taken his shot. Make sure no- one is standing close enough to be hit by your club, the ball, or any stones or twigs. Always keep an extra ball in your pocket. Then, if your ball is lost or out of bounds, you can take a provisional shot after the others have all teed off without wasting a lot of time. Remember to take the penalty if you play the provisional ball. Laugh off a poor shot. When another player is addressing the ball or making a shot, be courteous and do nothing to cause a distraction. Be a good partner by keeping your eye on the other person's ball to see where it lands. Hold the compliment on another player's shot until after it lands. To compliment someone on a shot that then lands in a trap will sound sarcastic.

On the fairway, the player farthest from the hole plays first. Do your part to keep the fairway and bunkers in good shape for players following you. Immediately replace any divots and press them down. Fill up and smooth over any holes and rake over all footprints in the bunkers.

Once you are on the green, the player furthest from the hole putts first. If your ball is closer to the pin, mark the spot with a small coin and pick up your ball until it is your turn. Be careful to avoid any damage to the green because even the slightest dent can ruin someone's putt. Even your footprint can cause a shallow indentation, so never walk on someone's line of putt. Don't lean on your putter and carefully put down bags or the flagstick. Repair any spike or ball damage on completion of the hole.

During a game of golf, never offer unsolicited advice; it is seldom ever appreciated. If someone needs your help, believe me, they will ask. Don't be like the fellow who once jumped into a sand trap to tell me how to hit a ball out just as I was about to take my shot. I was not a happy golfer at that point, and it took a great deal of effort on my part to remain civil.

There is no right time to have a business discussion while playing golf, but there is a wrong time, and that's right at the beginning of your match on the first tee. Let other conversational topics lead you into a business discussion. Pay attention to whether or not the others are open to it. If not, wait until the 19th hole over refreshments when the conversation won't interfere with anyone's concentration on or enjoyment of the game.

Finally, remember to tip everyone who touched your equipment during the course of the game if club rules allow. Some exclusive clubs do not allow tipping. If in doubt, place a quick call to the club pro prior to your match to find out what is acceptable. If tipping is allowed, your generosity as a guest will reflect well on your host.

As a novice, avoid rushing to host business associates to play until you can comfortably make contact with the ball. You should have a maximum handicap of 36. Thats a double bogey (2 shots above par) on every hole for a score of 108. If you need twelve shots to reach the green every time, it is frustrating play for everyone, and bad for business.

Remember, your business on the course is to establish and enhance business relationships. It isn't necessary to be a scratch (par no handicap) player to use golf as a business tool. If you pay attention to the rules and etiquette of the game, take some lessons and practice, golf can be the best business advantage you have.

Dear Hilka,

What can I do about a co-worker who helps himself to things from my desk all the time? I realise the office supplies are the company's, but it is frustrating when I have to keep looking for my pen or my stapler so that I can do my work. He even rummages through my desk when I'm not around.

At A Loss

Dear At A Loss,

THE only polite way to ask someone to stop helping themselves to your supplies is to preface the comment with please. It is unacceptable to help oneself to another person's things, even if they are technically company property. One should always ask to borrow something and then return it in good working order. It is totally unacceptable to rummage through another person's desk without permission.

Dear Hilka,

Every day my colleague comes into the office with a new personal problem or complaint that she feels compelled to share with me in intimate detail. We do not have a friendship outside the office, so I do not understand why she insists on pouring all her troubles out to me. How do I get her to stop?

Ear Strained

Dear Ear Strained,

BRINGING one's personal problems to the office and imposing them on co-workers is a common complaint about the workplace. Increasingly the friendships we develop with people are in the office because we spend so much of our waking hours there. However, that is no reason to belabour colleagues with our problems, especially during work hours.

Your colleague may have assumed a greater friendship towards you than you feel toward her. Perhaps she has no one to talk to about her personal problems. Or, possibly, she is one of those chronically negative whiners. Whatever the reason, whenever she unburdens herself to you, let her know that you are sorry that she is having these problems, but that you are not comfortable sharing in her personal life in such intimate detail. You might want to suggest she consider a therapist to help her through her difficulties. If she persists in her behaviour, keep a friendly distance from her. Eventually she will find someone else to tell her troubles to.


E-mail : hilka-hindu@hotmail.com