News

THE LONG GREEN

You are playing in your company's annual golf outing, ostensibly a social occasion, but everyone knows the tournament's results will be the topic of endless conference-table quacking back at headquarters. Interoffice alliances are forged on these occasions, mentors are acquired, careers are ruined. Fate has dropped you, a junior executive looking to make a move toward a corner office, into the middle of a high-powered foursome. Worse, your cart mate is Mr. Shank, the company honcho most responsible for your professional well-being and a fellow known to have both an explosive temper and, like most managers, a petty, vindictive nature toward underlings. You're lining up an approach shot on No. 14 when you notice, out of the corner of your eye, that Mr. Shank has kicked his ball out of a deep fairway trap onto soft, green grass. And he saw you see him do it. You: A) Shriek, just as loudly as you would shriek if Mr. Shank were to squeeze your upper thigh during lunch at the Arizona Club. B) Say, "Nice foot-wedge there, Arnie. You learn that shot in the joint, or what?"

C) Pretend that you didn't see him do it. Well, you needn't be an expert in either office politics or golf etiquette to know the correct answer. It's C. If you answered "A" or "B," you are a prime candidate for A) a career in civil service or B) Powergolf, a new seminar that promises to teach corporate ladder-climbers how to avoid golfing gaffes. More important, Powergolf also offers participants lessons in how to win clients and influence superiors through golf--one of the more potent business media of the age. The brain child of former Chicago commodities trader Peter Braun, Powergolf seminars, for now, are limited to the Midwest. But Braun, who already has scored a ton of publicity for his program in the business pages of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, promises to bring Powergolf to the golf-mad Phoenix area by early fall. Maricopa County's 100-plus courses would seem to be fertile territory for just such an endeavor. What local duffers will witness when it arrives is a daylong program designed to, in the founder's words, "lower your corporate handicap."

"We're teaching people how to conduct business on the golf course," says Braun in a telephone interview. "We help teach relationship-building and we help people understand the rules of golf and the etiquette of the game so they can give a good impression on the golf course."

Braun's Powergolf venture is built on a couple of key demographic facts. Fact One: Baby boomers have discovered golf. Members of the all-important 25-to-45 age group, who for years have spent their disposable leisure hours tossing flying disks and hitting softballs, are spending a lot more time in sand traps. Golf-related spending has grown 25 percent in the past three years, to $27 billion annually, and boomers have pushed the total number of American golfers toward 25 million. Fact Two: It's quite clear that many of the new players are not taking up the game purely for recreational reasons. According to the National Golf Foundation, 11 million linksters are corporate managers and their troops who regularly lace up their cleats to combine business with pleasure. The young corporate executive-on-the-go is learning that as much company business gets done between tee and green as gets done in the office between 9 and 5. And, more and more, the young corporate executive-on-the-go is female. About 40 percent of all new golfers are women, many of whom are shocked to learn that corporate golf outings can be as exclusive as any downtown men's club. For the gals, the Powergolf brochure promises that the seminar will impart tips on "how to respond to condescension or belittlement, and understand the male ego as it operates on the golf course."

The entire Powergolf seminar is not devoted to shop talk around the pro shop--there's a segment on good nutrition, for example, which describes the effect those snack-stand hot dogs can have on your game--just most of it. In fact, Braun and his instructors have reconceptualized the golf course. No longer does a round comprise eighteen holes of aggravated walking interrupted by several beer purchases. Braun has placed a savvy superstructure over the normal course layout, and Powergolf instructors show participants how to break down a typical round into three "Powerzones" of six holes each. The first zone is for getting acquainted with your business connections, the second is for rapport enhancement and the third is for solidifying the new buddy-buddy relationships with your partners. Then everybody gets down to real business over postround blasts at the course bar, always lovingly referred to by golfers as "the Nineteenth Hole."

"We basically look at a golf game as a four-hour sales call," says Braun. "But the `close' is not the closing of a deal. It's the closing of a relationship."

Tuition for Powergolf seminars conducted around the Chicago area this spring has ranged from $199 for a one-day outing (at which no actual golf is played) to about $500 for a VIP weekend, which does include a real round of golf plus a pep talk from a professional motivator. Last fall, Braun and Powergolf closed a deal with Career Track Seminars, Incorporated, a nationwide outfit that annually conducts more than $60 million worth of corporate seminars of many different styles. The Powergolf seminar is going national this summer. Regardless of your opinion of the local golf business--depending on your perspective, it's either a water-wasting, desert-destroying econightmare or the last remaining local industry that has yet to completely collapse--the Phoenix area is good territory for a program like Powergolf. As a hub of "destination resorts," the Valley attracts just the kind of group that could most use a seminar on schmoozing for swingers. When Mr. Shank's boss in Minneapolis sends a sales division to the Phoenician for an incentive trip, what better kind of continuing education could those go-getters get than Braun's golf-as-life message? "A lot of people focus too much on their own game," Braun advises. "They do too much internalization. You can internalize during the sixty seconds you're planning and executing your shot, but that's not much time out of the four or five hours you're out there. You can spend the rest of the time externalizing--talking with clients and associates, trying to learn about them and being a good listener. "There's a lot you can tell about a person out there.