September 19, 2014

More Than Just A Game

D.B. Tipmore | 12/1/1995
Any Saturday, 7 a.m. The 12th tee at Indian Creek Country Club near Miami Beach. A golden sun rises over Biscayne Bay. The dew glistens. Birds chirp. A breeze rustles the fronds of the palm trees.

The beauty of the scene begs for Wordsworth, but its glory is not wasted on the four players walking toward their carts: William H. "Bill" Allen, Jr., chairman of the board of Intercontinental Banks; noted criminal defense attorney James Jay Hogan; J. Frost Walker, a private practitioner; and general contractor Jay Lotspeich, owner of the Lotspeich Co.

Not that these men have chosen to get up before 6 a.m. on a weekend morning to pursue a little ball over hill and sand trap merely in pursuit of aesthetic bliss.

They'd be out here anyway.

They can't help it.

They're trapped in the perfect symbiosis, a world class quid pro quo.

The remora has the shark.

Lawrence had Arabia.

And Florida business leaders have golf.

The intensity of this relationship goes beyond the coincidental into the realm of deep need, as though the golf course were at once sacred ground, the psychiatrist's couch and the most stunning of conference rooms. Indeed, the game fits the business and social imperatives of these leaders so well that, to hear them talk about it, golf seems only slightly less important than sex.

"Long ago," says Bill Allen, "when I was 30, I was trying to get the business of a client named Jack Lenheimer. I'd tried to get his business for a year. I learned bridge. I took him out for lunch. I tried drinks after work. Everything. Then I started playing golf with him. One day, after a round of 18, as he was driving out of the Coral Gables Country Club parking lot in his brand new Cadillac, his muffler fell off. I grabbed a coat hanger, ran over to his car and reattached the muffler.

"The next day, a messenger arrived at the bank with a check for $1 million and a note of thanks. I'd gotten Lenheimer's account. And all because of a game I wish I could play seven times a week."

Numbers tell their own story. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) in Jupiter estimates there are 1.1 million golfers playing on Florida's 1,098 courses. Further, national studies by the NGF tell us 78% of golfers are male; 41% are in the vicinity of 50 years old; about 97% are white; their average annual income is $56,000.

In other words, a very specific group who form a network imbued with prestige and mutual respect. They are, to a golfer, "players" in every sense of the word. In photos on countless social and sports pages of newspapers and shiny sheets around the state you see them, invariably healthy, trim, handsome and smiling as if they had banished all mortal fears.

Look! There's "20-something handicap" Walter G. "Skip" Campbell, president-elect of the Broward Bar Association, playing at Coral Springs' Eagle Trace Country Club. There's 21-handicap lobbyist John French, of Tallahassee's Pennington & Haben, on the 18th green at a charity tournament at Killearn. There's a good shot of 22-handicap J.T. Kuhlman, president of Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, Americas Division, hosting a foursome on Fisher Island. There's 9-handicap Earl Powell, president and CEO of Miami's Trivest Inc., playing a club tournament at Indian Creek.

Powell sometimes plays with Jeb Bush and 12-handicap Edward W. Easton, president of Easton-Babcock & Associates Inc., a Coral Gables commercial real estate brokerage. Easton sometimes plays at Miami's Deering Bay, as does 14-handicap Peter Bermont, senior vice president of the Miami office of Smith Barney Inc.

Easton knows a little about Bermont's game. Bermont has heard a little about Bill Allen's game. Bill Allen is familiar with Skip Campbell's game. Lobbyist John French can tell you interesting stories about the games of any number of state pols. Chesterfield Smith, 78, past president of the American Bar Association and one of the founding partners of Holland & Knight, seems to know a little about everybody's game and about every decent course around the state.

Why this group is so drawn to the game that Mark Twain called "a good walk spoiled" is, on one level, obvious: a lot of business gets done around the golf course.

"While playing golf at Avila," says Penny White, a vice president in commercial lending at NationsBank in Tampa, "I met a Tampa attorney whose family owned a very profitable business in Central Florida. It turns out they were looking to move their banking affairs to Tampa. Because of playing with her, I was able to get the account."

" 'Would you favorably consider changing your banking relationship from So-and-So Bank to Intercontinental?' is a far more powerful question when posed after an enjoyable round of golf," says Bill Allen. "I guarantee you I've gotten a lot more business on the golf course than I have sitting behind a desk quibbling about an eighth of a point."

Peter Bermont concurs and adds a bit of pragmatism echoed repeatedly by Florida's executives. "I started playing golf when I graduated from college because I thought it would be a great way to meet people with money," he says. "And it has been."

Lest anyone doubt how important an advantage this really is, ponder for a moment the amount of money these business people and their firms spend on the game.

The cost of equipment alone can be staggering. United States golfers part with $1.3 billion a year on it, more than five times that spent by tennis players, according to figures from the National Sporting Goods Association in Mt. Prospect, Ill. A good set of clubs goes for more than $1,000; a decent bag, $300. Spikes run $100-plus. Tack on even more for club head covers and balls.

Nor do memberships at the state's exclusive country clubs, such as Avila and Palma Ceia in the Tampa area, Killearn outside Tallahassee, Isleworth in Central Florida, Indian Creek and La Gorce on Miami Beach and Doral and Deering Bay in Miami, come cheap. Memberships at top clubs can cost in the high five figures, not including the three-figure monthly dues.

Not only do many companies pick up the tab for all this, they also spend hundreds of thousands more to sponsor professional tournaments. Others pay for the opportunity to entertain clients in the hospitality tents which embroider the fairways at these outings.

But golfers aren't simply spending money to make money. Golf is valuable to executives for less bottom-line reasons as well. It is often said that golf is a mental game, and it is. But it is a mental game with a direct appeal to the business mind.

Golf rewards efficiency and offers risks. On every shot, a player must choose the right club and then determine in what direction and with how much force to hit the ball.

Then there is the constant accounting, checking the number of strokes and comparing that to par. And finally, there is the implicit entrepreneurship of the game.

"Golf is a real case of free enterprise," says J.T. Kuhlman. "You've got no one else to depend on but you."

Golf also offers certain indubitable social advantages. It frowns on the macho exhibitionism of tennis with its grunting and smirking. Unlike jogging or biking, there's typically no soreness the next day. Even its couture accommodates public exposure better than a dripping polo shirt or sagging shorts.

Furthermore, golf reeks of undeniable beauty, albeit a somewhat enhanced beauty. Florida has more than its share of handsome links: Disney's Palm Course and Osprey Ridge, preferred by Richard Nunis, chairman of Walt Disney Attractions; Miami's Doral, a favorite of Bill Allen; Tampa's Palma Ceia; Pelican's Nest in Bonita Springs.

Inseparable from golf's beauty is its serenity. Serenity to an executive is as parole to a lifer. What price, after all, a few hours free of telephones, fax machines, travel schedules, well-meaning assistants, suits, ties, beloved spouses, wonderful kids, noise, appointment calendars, office politics, letters, firings?

Of course, golfers don't just sneak away to play on weekends. More than half the respondents to a 1993 Hyatt Hotels and Resorts poll, "Golf and the Business Executive," confessed to sneaking out of the office a little early on occasion to get in a round.

These business leaders might plausibly argue that they're playing golf to bring in business. But they're not bringing in the business while actually playing golf. If the subject of business comes up, it is usually sometime before or after a successful round, while enjoying the cool of the clubhouse lounge.

"If my partners and I are going to discuss business," says Chesterfield Smith, "we do it after the game. Never while we're playing."

"One of the nicest things about golf is that you often eat a meal around the game," agrees Peter Bermont. "Either breakfast before or lunch and cocktails afterwards. It's then that you have time to talk."

Talking is an essential part of business golf. There is, after all, little else to do in the game. Players spend more time riding after their shots than actually making them.

What do they do with all this time?

Bond. Tightly.

"The attorney-client relationship has, in my experience, never established the degree of friendship that golf has," affirms Chesterfield Smith.

Adds Peter Bermont: "One of the nicest things about golf is that you can actually spend time with people you like, talking about things you like."

"It's all about camaraderie," echoes Bill Allen. "Golf reduces everything to the most basic form of human relations. It's heuristic. You don't experience the truth of another person in an office atmosphere. You get it from playing golf."

This bonding remains, by dint of sheer numbers, persistently male, in spite of the fact that women - such as Joyce Landry, executive director of Miami's Landry & Kling, and Joyce Pepin, director of carrier selection at AT&T Wireless Services in West Palm Beach - now constitute nearly one-fourth of all Florida golfers, according to NGF figures.

For many executives, the game is a precise sort of character study, an athletic Rorschach test.

"I feel strongly there's a relationship between the way a man plays golf and who he is, and so do many others," says hotelier J.T. Kuhlman. "I was once interviewed for a job while playing golf. I had no idea the interview was taking place. The chairman of a company asked me to play and, during the round, talked to me about a lot of different issues. Afterwards, he told me I had just been interviewed for a job."

Trivest President and CEO Earl Powell thinks "you can see many aspects of a person's character - especially a tendency to fudge - on the golf course." Real estate broker Edward Easton refers to a sense of fairness to the game. Banker Penny White uses the game to see if someone is honest, a "straight shooter."

But one question begs another. If a person is as a person plays golf, does a person play golf as he does business?

Yes, according to the Hyatt survey respondents. Florida executives describe the ideal business golfer as relaxed, fond of risks, somewhat calculating and, to give him a boost during a bad round, occasionally angry.

Where do the qualities of good golfers and good business people intersect? Above all, both are honest. And competitive. (Nunis: "Golf is wonderful because you're playing against yourself.") And competitive with others. (Allen: "I don't like to lose, whether it's on the golf course or at tiddly winks.") And self-disciplined. (Nunis: "Good golf and good self-discipline go together.") And aware of the value of concentration. (Powell: "One of the things I like best about golf is that it forces me to concentrate.")

And the challenge presented by what Penny White calls "that maddening little white ball."

How do you become one of these lucky people?

First of all, have the right job. Something at the executive vice president level or above in business. Or partner in a law firm. Or surgeon. Join the right clubs. (Proximity is the better part of valor in executive golf.)

Buy the right clubs. High-tech specials such as Bubble drivers and Big Bertha Callaway woods are among the favorites of Florida executives.

Speak with dismissive charm about your game while working very, very hard at improving it. Get your handicap down to somewhere in the high teens, if possible.

And when you're asked to join a foursome, play like a gentleman. Or a lady. "Golf is very much a gentleman's game," explains Earl Powell, "in that everyone is on his honor."

How does a gentleman play? He rarely tees off without a wager, an often elaborate combination that allows him to win or lose money not only for his total score, but also for where his tee shot lands, how quickly he hits his ball out of a sand trap or almost anything else imaginable. The bet should be minimal. "Our wagers are always small," says lobbyist John French. "But you'd be surprised how seriously some people take $2."

A gentleman always keeps up. Slow play figures as the number one gripe of Florida executives. He never whines. Or plays with a cellular phone. Or cheats. Or throws his club.

Or otherwise falls short of the composite person executives most want to be around on the golf course: someone confident; someone in control of their lives; someone attractive to the opposite sex.

Someone, it turns out, exactly like they perceive themselves to be.

And so.

Symbiosis in excelsis.

Were executives and golf made for each other? A story lays the issue to rest once and for all:

"After I became president of the Florida Bar," recounts Chesterfield Smith, "I decided I wanted to be more active nationally in the American Bar Association (ABA). I didn't know many of the powers-that-be from the other state associations who could help me with my political ambitions. So I started playing golf with them. And, as we played, we slowly became friends. And, as it happens, I was elected to the presidency of the ABA in 1972. I am sure that golf was the single most helpful thing in accomplishing that goal."

And how do women fit into this rich-white-male camaraderie?

"There's no doubt that sexism still exists," says Skip Campbell. "I think women are perceived as not being able to hit the ball far enough or straight enough or well enough."

Nancy Oliver is familiar with this perception as founder and president of the Executive Women's Golf League of Jupiter. But she sees it not as mean-spirited but as part of a system of "antiquated attitudes" tied to an era when "women didn't work outside the home."

"It's not necessarily an issue of discrimination," she says. "But men in their 50s and 60s, the age of many corporate leaders, still have the image of women as slow players making their way leisurely around the course on Ladies' Day. The truth is that the women of today don't have much time to play slowly."

Call it discrimination; call it antiquated attitudes. Whatever the word, few male executives make a regular practice of golfing with women.

Disney's Richard Nunis "occasionally plays with women." Intercontinental Bank's Bill Allen sometimes plays tournament golf with women. Chesterfield Smith, Edward W. Easton and Earl Powell play with their wives.

"I've found myself paired with women in a couple of charity tournaments," says Peter Bermont of Smith Barney. "And I play golf with my mother-in-law, who's a good golfer, by the way."

The experiences of Penny White of NationsBank, reveal how much things have changed and remained the same for Florida's women golfers.

White has played golf for more than a decade. Unlike the men, she does not belong to a private club. Her handicap is "high." She still hits from the ladies' tee.

In other ways, however, she demonstrates the considerable distance traveled between the early 1980s, when women began to take up golf in significant numbers, and today. She makes a nice five-figure income. She's a serious golfer. She's president of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Executive Women's Golf League. She uses a Big Bertha driver, the favorite toy of many men. She, like her male colleagues, plays at least once a week.

And she has a very masculine pet peeve. "Slow play kills me," she says.

20 Fabulous Florida Courses
By Jill DeVlieger

Avila Golf and Country Club (Private)
943 Guisando de Avila, Tampa 33613; 813/961-1770
Holes: 18 Par: 72/6833 yds.
Membership: $1,000-$20,000 per person; monthly dues $20-$430; membership requires application and sponsorship by two other members
Claim To Fame: It's a Nicklaus re-design.

Black Diamond Ranch (Private)
2600 W. Black Diamond Cir., Lecanto 34461; 904/746-3446
Holes: 27 Par: 72/6496 yds. (Quarry course)
Membership: $35,000 for 100% equity family membership; annual dues $2,600; membership requires property ownership in Black Diamond
Claim To Fame: Quarry Holes

Colony West Country Club (Public)
6800 N.W. 88th Ave., Tamarac 33067; 305/726-8430
Holes: 36 Par: 71/6800 yds. (Championship course) Walk-On Rates: $20-$70 per person (includes cart)
Membership: Annual: $2,000 per person; $3,000 couple (cart fee $15-$22.50); no membership requirements
Claim To Fame: Infamous 12th on Championship course

Deering Bay Yacht and Country Club (Private)
13605 Old Cutler Rd., Miami 33138; 305/256-2500
Holes: 18 Par: 71/6740 yds.
Membership: $55,000 for 100% equity; annual dues $5,000; cart fee $14; membership requires sponsorship and property ownership in Deering Bay (some sold to non-residents)
Claim To Fame: Palmer design

Doral Golf Resort and Spa (Semi-private)
4400 N.W. 87th Ave., Miami 33178; 305/592-2000
Holes: 36 Par: 72/6600 yds. (Blue Monster course)
Walk-On Rates: $40 -$175 includes cart
Membership: Initiation fee $2,500-$7,500; monthly dues $125-$285 (cart and trail fees vary); membership requires sponsorship by another member
Claim To Fame: Blue Monster course

Fisher Island Club (Private)
1 Fisher Island Dr., Fisher Island 33109; 305/535-6000
Holes: 9 Par: 70/6200 yds.
Membership: Non-equity $7,500; equity $65,000 with annual dues $3,000; membership requires sponsorship
Claim To Fame: Merrill Lynch shootout championship

Golden Ocala Golf and Country Club (Public)
7300 U.S. Hwy. 27, Ocala 34482; 904/622-0100
Holes: 18 Par: 72/6784 yds. Walk-On Rates: $25-$45 includes cart
Membership: Closed out
Claim To Fame: Eight Replica Holes (copied from other famous courses)

Grand Cypress Resort (Private)
1 N. Jacaranda, Orlando 32836; 407/239-1904
Holes: 45 Par: 72/6993 yds. (North/South course) Walk-On Rates: (resort guests only) $85-$125 includes cart and tax
Membership: Closed out
Claim To Fame: LPGA Tournament of Champions

Innisbrook Hilton Resort (Semi-private)
36750 U.S. 19 N., Palm Harbor 34684; 813/942-2000
Holes: 63 Par: 71/7087 yds. (Copperhead course) Walk-On Rates: (resort guests only) $50-$120 includes cart
Membership: Initiation fee $6,500-$30,000; monthly dues $167-$228; cart $12-$15; membership requires application
Claim To Fame: Copperhead Course; JC Penney Classic

Isleworth (Private)
6100 Deacon Dr., Windermere 34786; 407/876-5432
Holes: 18 Par: 72/6500 yds.
Membership: Initiation fee $45,000; monthly dues $500; cart $15; guest fees $75; membership requires application and sponsorship by another member
Claim To Fame: High-profile membership

John's Island Club (Private)
3 John's Island Dr., Vero Beach 32963; 407/231-1700
Holes: 54 Par: 72/6850 yds. (West course)
Membership: $97,000 for 100% equity; annual dues $4500; cart fee $14; membership requires sponsorship by another member and property ownership in John's Island
Claim To Fame: Fla.'s 15th best course in '95 by Golf Digest

Killearn Country Club (Private)
100 Tyron Cir., Tallahassee 32308; 904/893-2186
Holes: 27 Par: 36/3300 yds. avg.
Membership: Initiation fee $350-$1,000; monthly dues $55-$198; cart fees $11; membership requires application with sponsorship suggested
Claim To Fame: Favored by Tallahassee lobbyists

La Gorce Country Club (Private)
5685 Alton Rd., Miami Beach 33140; 305/866-4421
Holes: 18 Par: 71/6802 yds.
Membership: Initiation fee $20,000; annual dues $4000-$5000; membership requires sponsorship by another member
Claim To Fame: It's a Nicklaus re-design

Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club (Private)
1601 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa 33629; 813/253-3061
Holes: 18 Par: 70/6250 yds.
Membership: Initiation fee $6,000-$15,000; monthly dues $165-$250; 4-year waiting list; membership requires sponsorship by another member
Claim To Fame: Gene Sarazen developed sand wedge in the club's practice bunker

Pelican's Nest Golf Club (Semi-private)
4450 Pelican's Nest Dr., Bonita Springs 33923; 813/947-4600
Holes: 36 Par: 72/7100 yds. Walk-on rates: $38-$125 includes cart
Membership: $42,500 for 80% equity; annual dues $3000; cart fee $13; membership requires ownership in Pelican Landing
Claim To Fame: Top-ranked Fazio course

Pine Tree Golf Club (Private)
10600 Pine Tree Terr., Boynton Beach 33436; 407/732-6404
Holes: 18 Par: 72/5275 yds.
Membership: $45,000 for 100% equity; annual dues $5200; cart fee $30; membership requires sponsorship by two other members
Claim To Fame: Challenging sand traps

Ponte Vedra Inn and Club (Private)
200 Ponte Vedra Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach 32082; 904/285-1111
Holes: 36 Par: 72/6515 yds. (Ocean course)
Membership: Initiation fee $8,000; annual dues $1,425-$1,650; membership requires application and sponsorship by two other members
Claim To Fame: Ocean course has the "original" island ninth hole

Saddlebrook Resort (Semi-private)
5700 Saddlebrook Way, Wesley Chapel 33543; 813/973-1111
Holes: 36 Par: 71/6044 yds. (Arnold Palmer course) Walk-On Rates: $92-$130 includes all; $70 for resort guests
Membership: (information not available)
Claim To Fame: Palmer designed course; Palmer Golf Academy

TPC at Sawgrass (Private)
110 TPC Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach 32082; 904/273-3235
Holes: 36 Par: 72/6700 yds. (Stadium course)
Membership: $101-$255 per game includes cart
Claim To Fame: Island Green: 17th hole completely surrounded by water

World Woods Golf Course (Public)
17590 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Brooksville 34614; 904/796-5500
Holes: 48 Par: 71/6900 yds. (Pine Barrens course) Walk-On Rates: $32-$106 includes cart
Claim To Fame: Pine Barrens ranked U.S.'s best new resort course in '95 by Golf Digest

The Rigid Rules Of Business Golf Etiquette

It might surprise non-golfers to learn that anyone who can play a game while wearing an outfit the color of an Easter egg would trouble himself with something as ephemeral as etiquette.

But business golfers do.

The etiquette of business golf is not about what one should do. It's about what one shouldn't do, a collection of taboos that goes far beyond the usual considerations accorded one's partner and the course itself.

Rather surprisingly, one of business golf's most serious etiquette dicta is that anyone wanting to hash out possible takeovers or stock purchases while waiting to tee off should cease and desist.

"As far as actually doing serious business, the golf course is just not the time or place," says John French, a lobbyist and partner in Tallahassee's Pennington & Haben.

Not that some very prominent business golfers won't try. "But if a person doesn't respond when you bring business up, leave it alone," agrees Peter Bermont, who runs Smith Barney's Miami office.

Cheating is, predictably, another no-no. The high moral standards required by a game in which each player is on his honor demand complete honesty.

The etiquette surrounding how to handle a cheater, however, is more complicated. Many executives qualify their distaste for cheating by distinguishing between whether the person doing it is an acquaintance or a stranger.

"If it's a guy I won't see again, I don't care," says Bermont. "But, if I know him and I see him cheat, I'll never play with him again."

Edward W. Easton, president of Coral Gables' Easton-Babcock & Associates, "probably wouldn't mention it" if he saw a cheat in action.

Some executives, however, most definitely will.

"I once saw a person move his ball and called him on it," says William H. "Bill" Allen, Jr., chairman of the board of Intercontinental Banks. "Of course, he said he didn't do it. But I never played with him again. And if anyone cheated in my foursome, we would be in that person's face with the proverbial blowtorch."

Lying about a handicap is another boo-boo of business golf. Since a handicap is really a measurement against one's own ability, most executives can't understand the logic behind fudging on it. "Why lie about your handicap?" asks Earl Powell, president and CEO of Trivest Inc.

Oh, and lose that cellular phone. Anyone bringing one on the links had better have a very good reason to do so - being a surgeon, for instance."Cellular phones should be banned," says J.T. Kuhlman, president of Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts, Americas Division. "They should be dumped into a trash barrel on the first tee."

"It's like taking one to church," says Easton.

Although slow play is almost every Florida executive's worst etiquette error, the interesting situation of playing in a foursome of mismatched skills brings a variety of responses from executives. Most like to play with people who are better than they are, or, as Powell puts it, "people who are willing to work on their game and be serious."

Others see the mixed-quality foursome as a matter of roles. "The better players have to understand that they are there to be gracious coaches," says Kuhlman. "And the worse players have to understand that just because they can't keep up is no reason to get upset."

Not that the better players should be too free with advice, especially with that special secret "tip" about how to swing your Big Bertha driver. Their reluctance stems, sensibly, from the fact that there are no secret tips. If mastering a golf swing were really nothing more complicated than learning to ride a bicycle, then there would not be 5,650 books on how to swing a golf club.

Most unwelcome are those Mr. Comedys of the golf course. There are exactly ten golf jokes, and everyone has heard them.

Having mastered these points, a novice should feel confident about his knowledge of the etiquette of business golf. And if its observance ever becomes too much to bear, he should take heart. Courtesy and consideration go a long way toward mitigating a business golfer's shortcomings.

"If, say, you've got a bad lie in the fairway and you think there's a pretty fair chance you're going to flub the shot and take a big divot and then be so mad you're going to stomp off without replacing it," says one Miami executive with tongue in cheek, "then I think you really owe it to the other players on the course to tee up your ball before you hit it."

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Business Florida

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