Our owner, our safety director, and I recently asked the HR Director at one of our longtime clients to be our fourth man at a charity golf tournament.
It's a tricky thing, getting clients to come out and play golf. If the client is really, really good, they might not want to play with a bunch of plebes.
However, if they are the least bit unsure of their abilities, and this probably fits the vast majority of people in general, they might not want to embarrass themselves by playing with guys who could, for all they know, be much better than them. (After all, if you're going to repeatedly shag the ball into the woods 20 feet from the tee box, the fewer witnesses the better, right? Far less people you have to kill...)
On our particular company, I have a unique role vis-a-vis golf-outings-with-clients, and believe it or not it's tied to my golf skill set, or lack thereof. You see, I'm no golfer, not by a long shot. If I could play more, maybe, but for now four little kids pretty much nipped that in the bud a decade ago!
However, the fact that a double-bogey happens to be a pretty decent hole for me actually plays to our advantage when it comes to getting clients to go out with us. After all, the last thing someone who considers himself an average or below average golfer wants to do is go out with a vendor and be the weakest link on the team.
No worries there... I am ALWAYS the weakest link. It's my role, my calling, my duty, and I embrace it as much as I embrace that Chick-fil-a sandwich they gave us for lunch before tee off.
As a result of that and the fact that none of us really take golf too seriously, clients generally seem to have fun when they go out with us. The challenge is getting them to go in the first place.
This particular tournament, like pretty much all of them, was a best ball tournament. In case you non-golfers wonder what that is, it means each team gets to select the best ball from all four shots played in order to determine where the team will hit the next ball. It means a lousy golfer like me can hit my drive into the next fairway and still, assuming someone else on the team gets a good ball, get to hit my second shot from a decent position.
In short, best ball is an equalizer, a way for even mediocre golfers, whether myself or someone else, to still have fun. We like inviting clients along for these because even if the client isn't very good, he or she can still have a good time. How do we know this? Because I'm no good and I still have fun and even contribute a shot now and then... except for this particular tournament.
This particular tournament found me playing my role a bit TOO well.
In my defense, this was the first time I had played this year, so I didn't expect to hit a lot of good shots. However, I did and typically do expect to contribute SOMETHING to the team - a drive, a solid iron, a long putt, maybe a decent pitch here and there.
This day, the only thing I think I contributed to the team was a three-foot putt, and that's only because I putted first.
I was shagging golf balls everywhere - in the trees, in the sand, on the porches of the houses along the fairway. And God help me if there was water anywhere in the area, because I'm pretty sure my golf balls had a water-finding homing device somewhere in there.
It was truly horrifying!
From the first few bad shots, I had lost every ounce of confidence I once had in my ability to strike a golf ball squarely with a club and make it go where I wanted it to go. In fact, there was really no telling where ANY of my balls would go, because where they went seemed to have nothing to do with the direction I thought I was swinging. At one point, arguably the lowest of the day, after a particularly hard swing the club slipped out of my hand and somehow managed to fly halfway up a par 3 fairway (hey, at least the club went straight!).
Like I said, I don't pretend to be a 'real' golfer, but I'll be honest - that day I did feel a little bit embarrassed. Sure, maybe it's a good thing to make clients and others feel at ease by sucking at golf, but I'm still a guy with an ego and let me tell you, that level of suckiness is no fun, even for me.
Looking back on that outing, though, what stands out isn't so much my golfing ineptness, though that's definitely there, but how much we all laughed, all of us. And it wasn't just at me (OK, most of it pretty much was), but at everything that happened that day.
It wasn't the mean kind of laughing either, although I probably deserved it, but the genuinely funny kind because, although I certainly bring up the rear, none of us really take golf seriously (thankfully, our client didn't either!). So in a way, I suppose, my incompetence allowed us all to loosen up and just enjoy the day.
We didn't do it on purpose, although at the end of the day getting to know the people we deal with on a deeper level is one of the reasons we ask them to play with us, but that day we got to know our client quite a bit better than we did the day before.
After all, breaking bread with someone is great, but almost breaking a driver in front of them while they bust a gut laughing, well that's quite another thing altogether.