It’s been more than four months since I surrendered to the game of golf at the Shell Houston Open ProAm. I resisted the seduction of the game for more than 15 years, ever since I took my first golf lessons at the Black Enterprise/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge back in 1996, our first in Miami. Until my horrifying-yet-exhilarating experience at Houston’s Redstone Golf Resort this past March, I played hard-to-get with golf. But now, I’ve got it bad. It’s got me feenin’.
Golf now dominates an increasing proportion of my thoughts: “When can I practice my swing? How many times can I get to the driving range this week? Would hypnosis help? I sure love my Callaway Diablo Edge irons. Would it be that weird if I slept with my clubs?”
As I prepare for my next golf goal, to play for the first time ever in the Black Enterprise/Pepsi Golf & Tennis Challenge this Labor Day Weekend, I practice every chance I get, as anyone who follows me on Twitter knows. I use little magenta golf-sized wiffle balls to practice my full swing and real golf balls to practice pitching in the back yard. I go to the local park in my neighborhood, where I have the room to smack around almostGolf balls (my absolute favorite practice tool to date). I have an indoor putting green, where I can practice putting, as well as chipping balls from my dining room to my living room. I’m devouring golf magazines and books, including Golf for Dummies by Gary McCord and Golf Rules & Etiquette for Dummies by John Steinbreder (both of which I strongly recommend). On top of all that, I now actually watch golf tournaments on television! The commentary still puts me into a semi-comatose, waking-sleep state (I have to toggle the remote to the NFL Network just to get my heart rate back up), but I am increasingly enjoying what I’m learning from watching the best golfers in the world play.
Golf still reigns supreme as the sport for creating and strengthening the business relationships that are necessary to take advantage of opportunities, solve challenges and make things happen. This is a key reason for the popularity of the Black Enterprise/Golf & Tennis Challenge and similar golf-centered events. Golf is a great way to get an extended audience with key clients and influencers, and to communicate your value as a potential business partner, client, vendor or hire. Many people use golf, a game in which rules, sportsmanship and etiquette are paramount, to evaluate the character of potential business partners and associates, in order to decide who they should or should not do business with. In fact, when it comes to business, how you play is more important than how well you play golf.
Today, more African Americans, and more black women in particular, are playing golf than ever. This is important, because for too long, minorities and women were kept at the periphery of the sport, banned from the elite golf venues where key and lucrative business networks operated. Now, many of those barriers have been lowered, if not outright eliminated, opening up additional pathways to relationship-building that is necessary to maximize business, professional and other opportunities.
However, too many black entrepreneurs and professionals miss out on opportunities because they refuse to learn and play the game. If you’re a businessperson (I’m talking to you ladies, too) with ready-made reasons for why you don’t play golf, as I once was, I strongly urge you to reconsider your position. I’ve personally discovered that many of the things I accepted as valid reasons for not playing golf are either unfounded or no longer true.
So if you’ve been considering the game, but hesitant to commit, let me address at least some of the most reasons for not playing golf, in a sincere effort to get you out on the links with me.
It’s too expensive. You can spend an awful lot of money on golf. Or you can spend not much at all. Thanks to public golf courses, easily affordable golf clubs (both new and used) and other equipment sold both online and in stores, it really is no more costly to get started than most other sporting activities and pastimes. My golf shoes? $45 dollar FootJoys. My glove? $12. That’s it for my sports related attire. The rest of your uniform: golf shirts, slacks (not jeans) or long shorts and baseball caps, needn’t cost much, and you probably have that stuff already in your wardrobe. On the other hand, if you’re golfing for business, fly golf attire is just a smart investment. While there is a traditional dress code for the game, it’s more strictly enforced at private clubs and top golf resorts–which you probably won’t spend as much time at if you’re budget conscious. Dress codes at municipal courses vary, but are usually more flexible. Green fees for the public course where I live are only $29 for county residents, plus $45 a year for a county golf card. Even golf lessons are more accessible and affordable, especially if you opt for semi-private (as I did at Manhattan’s Chelsea Pier) or group lessons.
What about the clubs? I got my driver and hybrid on sale for $49 from Sports Authority. Not each. Total. It’s possible to get a set of irons and wedges, with bag, for less than $150 (even less if you buy them used) on Amazon or at retail outlets including Golf Galaxy and Golfsmith. You can get an 18-pack of golf balls for less than $15. Would Tiger Woods or Fred Couples be caught dead with this equipment? Probably not. (Of course, the average PGA pro can beat most regular humans with an umbrella.) But when you’re just learning the game, you don’t need to spend a fortune on clubs and other stuff. As you get better–or as you make more money as a result of the great networking you’ll be doing at the golf events you’ll now accept invitations to–you can trade up and play badly with the best clubs money can buy.
It’s too time consuming. A round of golf should be completed in four hours or less. I used to spend way more time than that playing basketball on Saturdays. What takes up a lot of time with golf is not the actual playing. It’s practicing, which you have to do to be decent enough to have fun playing. Back when people had to do all of their practicing at an actual golf course, this could be a time-consuming endeavor. But now there are all kinds of tips and tools you can use to practice your swing, chipping, pitching and putting at home, at your office, in your hotel during business trips, wherever and whenever, so you can spend most of your time at the actual golf course playing. Of course, you want to practice and play on a real course as much as possible, but there are all kinds of ways to work on your game with the time you have.
It’s not enough exercise. I once believed that if an activity didn’t involve running, jumping, catching, hitting or throwing something, such as football, basketball or tennis, it could not possibly keep me fit. Since then, I’ve discovered that there are different kinds of fitness that don’t involve explosive aerobic activity, such as bodybuilding, a sport I’ve pursued as a hobby for nearly 20 years. Golf also fits into that category, assuming you don’t use a golf cart to get around the links. An 18-hole round of golf requires you to walk as much as 7 miles or more, depending on the course and how often you have to hit the ball. (I’m sure I’m doing more than 10 miles a round.) Remember, you’re doing this while toting around as much as 30 lbs., the typical weight of a golf bag with a full set of clubs, a half dozen golf balls, tees and other tools of the sport. Add in 60 or more full swings of a golf club along the way, and it’s a pretty good workout, one reason it is critical to stay hydrated as you would with any other sport or workout activity. A weekly round of golf is a great way to get or stay in shape–but not as hard on the joints and easier to recover from than, say, those weekend pick-up basketball games. (However, stretching before playing, particularly the lower back, is highly recommended.) Golf has been a great addition to my other fitness and sports activities.
The bottom line: Golf is more accessible and affordable than ever. Approached properly, it can be a good fitness activity, too. And it’s actually a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon with friends or business associates. I’m sorry I bought into these reasons for not playing golf and put off embracing the game for so long. Don’t make the same mistake.