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Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women Playing Golf

Golf as a Valuable Business Tool For Women Aiming For the Top

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Breaking the Grass Ceiling: Women Playing Golf
© Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Updated June 20, 2011
Ever heard the old wives' tale about the word 'golf'? Supposedly it stands for "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden."

Of course it's not true.

But as professional women ascend the corporate ladder armed with the skills and experiences they feel are necessary to break the glass ceiling, many overlook one small detail that most men understand.

The majority of top-level executives play golf, and they do so for professional and personal advancement. Yet most women don't regard golf as an essential business tool or utilize it as effectively as men do.

Does playing golf really make a difference? According to The Grass Ceiling, Inc., a consulting group which offers golf workshops for executive level women and minorities, any woman aiming for a senior management position can't afford not to play:

The game of golf is synonymous with "big business," and is one of the most effective tools for the networking and deal making in the modern business world. An estimated 90% of Fortune 500 CEO's play golf, and according to Barrons (March 30, 1998 cover story: "Investing in Golf"), one quarter of the 25 million golfers in the U.S. are top management executives and a full 80% of that number agreed that the game of golf is an important business development tool.
Many executive women spend long hours at the office believing that hard work is what's needed to get ahead.

Even those who embrace the mantra, "Work smarter, not harder," are uncomfortable with the idea of leaving work early to meet up with colleagues or clients and essentially 'have fun.'

Yet it's a fact that working smarter often means putting yourself in the right place with the right people.

And that's exactly what golf provides - proximity and access.

Susan Reed, Editor in Chief of the magazine Golf for Women, observes:

Women are just now learning what men have known for years: that golf may be the one of the best relationship-building tools there is - both for business and for pleasure.

Women resist going out for the afternoon because they're generally too responsible, shortsightedly so. Like men, they need to realize that leaving the work on the desk (which will be there anyway) and going out to play golf with a valuable business prospect is a good decision.

One woman, a corporate attorney, found herself the only lawyer in the office Friday after Friday, fuming, while her colleagues were out playing golf with clients. Finally, she says she realized, "Who's the dummy here?"

Who plays golf?

In 2008, Golf for Women compiled a list of the fifty most powerful women who play. They include the following:

  • Politics: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
  • Business: Chairman, CEO and President Patricia Woertz of Archer Daniels Midland Co., the $11.3 billion agribiz giant, and Kerrii Anderson, CEO and President, Wendy's, whom USA Today calls the "most powerful woman in fast food."
  • Philanthropy: Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Sports: Katie Blackburn, Executive VP, Cincinnati Bengals and one of the highest-ranking women in the NFL.
If you are the company you keep, then there's ample reason to pick up a golf club and start working on your swing.

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