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The Hacker

Tiger Woods isn't the only one with golf etiquette issues: A bad balls conundrum

News_Jane Howze_The Hacker_Dec. 2009_head shot
News_Jane Howze_John Mann_golf etiquette_golf cart
Go ahead and drive? Well, thank you.
News_Jane Howze_golf etiquette_trees
Bloodhounds are less dedicated to searching in the bushes than our hacker.

I discovered that learning to hit a golf ball is but one part of the total golf experience. Golf is not only governed by a complex set of rules but also by a code of etiquette. Not knowing the proper etiquette is as big a faux pas as whiffing the ball.

It is not an easy task trying to master all of these skills, to (ahem) keep all of the balls in the air, so to speak. My first year of playing golf provided a lot of comedy and tips on what not to do.

Having taken up golf as a way to connect with my many golfing clients, I was eager to join the guys — yes, most of them were guys — for a round of golf. My first round of business golf took place at Riverbend Country Club with two executives from Northern Trust.

My partner told me, "If you want to play golf, you must play fast and help people find their lost golf balls." I took both pieces of advice to heart.

Not even daring to take a practice swing, I jogged to the tee box and, with no practice swing, whacked at the ball. There was no foliage too deep for me to wade into in hopes of helping my playing companions find their wayward tee shots. Finally, my partner pulled me aside and told me I looked like an overeager bloodhound nosing around bushes, and could I please try to act a little more cool.

No one had told me that after eight strokes on a hole, you should pick up your ball and move on to the next tee. Not me. I proudly continued to swing the club, even though my playing companions kept yelling, "That's good, Jane." No, I told them, I wanted no charity and would take my actual number of strokes.

I shot 141 that day. It was two years before those clients asked me to play again.

Ball Trouble

One of the ways to endear yourself to your clients is to give them a sleeve of golf balls — better still if the golf balls have your company logo on them. As Christmas rolled around, I found a great deal on golf balls imprinted with our firm logo for 88 cents a ball. Not knowing that the brand of golf balls was more important than your company logo, I selected Dunlop DDH balls.

If golf balls were a car, the DDH golf ball would be considered a Yugo — definitely not the type of image we wanted to project to our clients.

Unfortunately, our Northern Trust client was the beneficiary of my Christmas generosity at lunch when I proudly pulled one — yes one — golf ball from my purse and placed it in his hand with a jovial, "Merry Christmas!" My client stared at the lone golf ball intently and finally said, "Why, Jane, I don't know exactly what to say." I responded, "Mark, please think nothing of it — just a small token of how much we value our relationship with Northern Trust."

Another one of my clients, a record company executive, invited me to play golf with him at his exclusive club in San Francisco. We were paired with a couple of other club members, and I was trying very hard to be a good partner. We drove to the first tee and my client received a call on his cell phone.

He answered the call and said, "Jane, why don't you go ahead and drive." I quickly leaned over across him and placed my hands on the steering wheel of the golf cart waiting for him to hit the pedal.

After about 30 uncomfortable seconds of him talking on the phone with me in the "drive" position, I realized that “drive” meant drive the ball and not the golf cart.

As I was recounting these stories to the golfers in my office, I said, “I’ll bet every beginning golfer has stories like this to tell.” A moment of silence hung over the group. Then, in unison, they all shook their head no.

One finally earnestly said, “Um, Jane, no, I can’t remember embarrassing myself that badly. But let me keep thinking!"

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