If you’re an avid golfer, you may know that it’s a great way to spend a day with friends.  Its pace is slow enough to allow for lots of conversation and storytelling.  In other words, it can be a great bonding experience.  But did you know that it can be the kind of bonding experience that benefits your professional life, too?

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Now, you may be thinking that the last thing you want to do with your day off is spend it with coworkers or clients.  After all, as relaxing as it may be, you still take your game very seriously.  No way you want to chat it up with people you don’t know or, worse yet, feel compelled to turn in a subpar performance (yeah, stupid pun) to stay on the boss’s good side, right?  Instead of thinking about work-related golf as the loss of a good thing, try imagining what you can gain.

For instance, let’s say a superior invites you to play on Saturday.  If you haven’t spent any real off-the-clock time with him, a game of golf can go a long way to establishing a better relationship.  You get to see him outside the office and playing the same game you love.  This gives you a chance to see more of the “real” him.  You’ll know what he likes to talk about, how he deals with the various strategies of the game, including tough shots, which can be decent indicators of real-life responses.  He’ll get to see the same about you.  When during the work week can you get that kind of one-on-one time with a superior?  Assuming three or four hours of playing time followed by a couple hours of lunch and drinks, and you’ve got five or six quality-time hours you wouldn’t otherwise get.  That kind of quality time can increase mutual respect, which can benefit both of you come Monday.

Likewise, a chance to play golf with prospective clients could mean building a relationship that could benefit you in the future.  Maybe 18 holes is enough to get a deal inked out, or maybe it just gives you a leg up on the competition.  We all know that networking is key to establishing new business contacts and reinforcing existing ones.  What better way is there to forge these relationships than a few hours on the greens?  No suits, no stress, no rush.  You get to see what they’re like outside the office, which can give you insights into their personalities that can help you determine the best way to reel them in.  They get to see how well you think on your feet–outside of the structured meeting that can seem more scripted or pitch-driven.

Whether playing with a coworker or client, a round of golf can definitely be a great way to identify common interests and take advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere to pitch your own ideas to a supervisor or your company’s project strategies to a potential client.  As for whether or not you ought to let them win…well, you’ll have to figure that one out on your own!