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Double-Dealing Duffers

Eighty-two percent of executives admit to cheating on the links, survey finds. The flip side: Eighty-two percent say they hate people who cheat at ...
Lisa YoonOctober 9, 2002

Between the WorldCom bombshell and the stock market plunge, summer 2002 didn’t yield the relaxing downtime the season usually does. But if you’re like most executives, you probably still got in some quality golf time. A study sponsored recently by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide — as part of market research for its new Starwood Golf Vacations program — found that virtually all executives see golf as an essential business tool.

So now that we’ve confirmed what everyone has known all along, here’s the scary part: most executives say behavior on the golf course typically reflects behavior in business. If that’s true, we’re in trouble: according to the survey, your typical golf game between business executives isn’t exactly the model of ethical and virtuous behavior. In fact, the vast majority of execs also admit to cheating on the links.

Ninety-seven percent of 401 executives surveyed for Starwood by Guideline Research & Consulting in “From The Boardroom to the Back Nine: The Importance of Golf in Business” say that golfing with a business associate is a good way to establish a close relationship. More than half say it beats out business meals, overnight business trips, and a night out drinking. Ninety-two percent feel some time on the links is a good way to make new business contacts, and 43 percent say some of their biggest deals have been done on the golf course.

But before all that camaraderie inspires you to knock off early to head for the driving range, consider that much of this chumminess has ulterior motives: Twenty percent of executives surveyed said they would let a client beat them if they thought it would get them more business; 87 percent gamble while golfing; and a whopping 82 percent of executives admit to cheating on the golf course.

Not surprisingly, many of the executives (59 percent) think the way a person plays golf reflects the way he or she conducts business affairs. How? For 75 percent of execs, your golf reveals your level of competitiveness and motivation. Seventy-three percent said golf gives you time to get to know a person’s true character. Sixty-seven percent said a person who cheats at golf would probably cheat in business, and 57 percent take note of a golfer’s temper.

Forty-three percent of executives surveyed said that if more women played golf, they’d succeed more in business. (It seems, however, that women who do play golf are more dedicated players, calling in sick for golf almost twice as much as men — see below.) But if women did play golf, some male executives would rather they played by themselves: 16 percent of the men surveyed said they hate playing golf with women — especially those with the lowest handicaps (under 10).

Despite all the wheeling and dealing that takes place on the links, 92 percent say that golf is a good way to relieve work-related stress.

I’d Rather Be Golfing … And While We’re at it, Let’s Make it Interesting

So just how much do execs love golf? Ten percent of executives have called in sick to play golf. Surprisingly, almost twice as many women (19 percent) than men (10 percent) admitted feigning illness to hit the links.

Eleven percent of executives would rather get a hole-in-one than see their child get a game-winning home run. Forty-seven percent of executives say they often find themselves daydreaming about golf while at work. Finally, from the More-Than-You-Needed-To-Know file, 11 percent even say that golf is more important to them than sex — especially older executives and those who earn the most.

Eighty-seven percent bet money during a round of golf. When asked the largest amount they’ve ever wagered, the average high was $589. But those with handicaps of 10 or less averaged $1,344. Of course, those with incomes over $250,000 tend to be high rollers, averaging $1,947. CEOs/presidents averaged out at $1,010.

The Liar’s Club

It’s a good thing the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t oversee the game of golf, because executive behavior on the links isn’t exactly by-the-book. What are the top golfing sins, according to the survey? Improving your lie a little; allowing partners to cheat on their score; not counting a missed tap-in; taking a mulligan without asking; and — for shame! — secretly moving the ball to get a better lie. Still, cheating doesn’t stop folks from being shocked when others cheat: 82 percent said they hate people who cheat in golf.

Want to get really teed off? Eighty-six percent of golfing execs admit to cheating in business.