Golfers take care of business

Game is a real asset for execs, but there are rules to follow.

To a golfer, it's heaven ... out on the course, in the fresh air, nothing to worry about but keeping your head down and your arm straight. But as much as any fanatic longs to leave the worries of the world behind after teeing off, the savvy ones know golf can be a valuable tool in the business world.

"It does play a role," says composer Jeff Koz, founder and creative director of HUM, a Santa Monica-based commercial music house. "My joke to my company is that my ultimate job title, when I really reach the peak of my career, would be golf concierge."

Any true golfer will use any excuse to sneak off and play. So what better reason than work? The irony is that the last thing anyone wants to do when playing golf is conduct business. It's an unwritten law in Hollywood that if you want to close a deal, don't do it while playing golf.

"No one really wants to talk about the specifics of a deal on the golf course because you can't concentrate, you can't play," says Vinnie Malcolm, vp and general manager of Los Angeles station KTLA-TV.

"Can it help? Absolutely. Does it help and has it helped me? Absolutely," adds Seth Epstein, co-CEO of Rokuban, a U.S.-Japanese multiplatform media company focused on creating viewer interactive content for broadband.

"But it happens in an organic and natural way. My perspective is that if you go out with the intention to have that actual golf outing produce a particular result, you're screwed. Talking about business on the golf course is something that has to arise naturally."

Instead, most see golf as an opportunity to forge relationships. An average round can last four to five hours. It's hard to think of another setting that affords that much face time without the pressure of a business agenda.

"It's more about spending quality time together, getting to know each other," Malcolm says. "Anytime you can spend quality time with anybody of importance to your business, whether it's a key employee or a key client, it's great. Golf affords you a good amount of quality time, usually with very few interruptions."

"I've taken clients out and I've been the client being taken out," adds Epstein, whose new venture will launch content in English and Japanese in the first quarter. "Having taken clients out, my main purpose is really not to talk business, but just to enjoy the day and get to know them better."

The golf course setting in itself is unlike any in the business world. You can be in the heart of smog-ridden, traffic-congested Los Angeles, and if you're in the middle of a golf course, you feel as if you're a million miles away. It's almost impossible not to relax.

"The thing I love about golf in terms of relationship-building is that you have a lot of really nice variables. There's other ways of meeting (like) having lunches or drinks, but with golf, you're outside, you're active, the weather can be beautiful," says Koz, who admits he often invites new HUM clients to play once he learns they're golfers. "I've gotten a lot closer with clients, and we've become more like friends on the golf course."

Though the suits and ties are left behind and no one is expected to prove his or her corporate chops, there's no question that one's behavior is on display during a round. How you play the game can say a lot about your character.

"I believe golf is an absolute metaphor for life. So, you definitely learn a lot about people," says Koz, who also is in the process of launching Stir Entertainment, a co-venture with Kennedy Communications designed to create entertainment vehicles with corporate tie-ins. Initial clients include a major car company and a leader in global computer technology.

"Some people are super easygoing and you can see that. Some are risk takers. They're in the woods and they're going to go for this crazy shot. If you throw your clubs, you have some anger issues," Koz says. "You can see little strains of all the different personality types in the golf game."

Even away from the course, golf can be a great asset as a conversation starter. Because as any lover of the sport knows, the next best thing to playing golf is commiserating with others about it.

Avid golfer Cheryl Ladd has found that her love of the game has helped her fit in with her fellow cast members on the set of the NBC series "Las Vegas."

"The last thing actors want to talk about while sitting around on a set is acting, so when you have fellow golfers on set, it brings you closer together," she says. "It bonds you in a way that other things can't. I have a great relationship with Jimmy (Caan) and Josh (Duhamel) because of our fondness for the game of golf."

"In a business meeting recently, a guy was wearing a shirt with a logo of a golf course I hadn't played. So I asked him if he had ever played there and we just starting talking," says Epstein, who also founded Fuel, an Emmy-winning broadcast design and commercial production firm based in Santa Monica. "Golf does create an affinity because it is so addictive."

"If you know a key decision maker plays golf, it's easier for you to invite them to play than to say you want to meet for lunch or dinner," Malcolm adds. "Golf affords you the opportunity to take them to a place you wouldn't normally meet."