Inclusive Work Activities: Golf Outings Don't Count

Thomas Barwick, Getty Images

Men on the golf course

Thomas Barwick, Getty Images

Romy Newman
Romy Newman
April 23, 2024 at 2:8AM UTC
Dear Business Community,

You may not realize it, but do you want to know a really easy way to make people - especially women - feel excluded? Play golf during business hours.

Here’s what some women in the Fairygodboss community have to say about golf in the workplace:

Men advance a lot further than women and get special treatment, especially if you're into what the "boss" is into, like golf or drinking.” - a Healthcare executive

“You better know how to play golf, but then, you won’t get invited to play.” - a Finance executive

“A senior employee may invite a young man to play golf at a local charity event, but would not extend this opportunity to a young lady” - A Consumer Packaged Goods executive

At times in my own personal experience as a media sales executive, I have felt alienated personally and professionally by the dominance of golf in the workplace.

In fairness, golf is a salesperson’s dream come true. Compared to the often stiff thirty minute sales calls that I’m accustomed to, a golf outing with a client is an extraordinary opportunity to build a strong rapport. “Think of it as a six hour sales call,” says Bill Storer, the president of Business Golf Strategies. And he’s right. In what other situation would you ever get to spend such a long amount of time in an intimate, relaxed and fun situation with your client or prospect?

Better still, an invitation to play golf on a good course is something that many clients who are golf aficionados just can’t refuse. So it’s much easier to land a meeting with a key prospect than offering the boring standard in-office sales call.

Golf is indeed a fantastic tool for salespeople. But for the most part, it’s not a tool that is available to women.

In business school, in addition to studying finance, accounting and strategy, I diligently took lessons in golf. And while I’m no Jordan Spieth, I’ve had enough golfing experience to handle myself on a golf course. I’ve even played Pinehurst #2! But in my years of sales, while my male peers spent days and days on the golf course with key clients, I never received an invitation. Nor did I ever extend one.

Why? Golf is still predominantly an activity for men to engage in with other men. Not because women can’t play, and not because they don’t have access...but because the male clients who golf only want to golf with other men. Golf is the ultimate boys club. It’s one of the few pockets of the business world that is still a place where men have time with each other and can reasonably exclude women. The unspoken implication is that the outing would simply be less fun with women present.  

(For what it’s worth, I have yet to meet a female client who seeks out golf invitations.)

In my sales experience, when it was clear that golf was the way to a client’s heart, a man always took the lead. Often, that meant I would get over-stepped or cut out entirely of conversations with key clients. In any client meeting where the conversation turned to golf, I suddenly became invisible.

Honestly, I have to confess that the prevalence of golf in the workplace in 2016 is surprising to me. In many ways, it’s a last vestige throw-back to men-only clubs and three-martini lunches. For the company, it’s expensive both in the cash outlay and in the lost time away from the office.

And, I want to make clear that I’ve also seen golf used as a way to exclude other men who were not “in the club” in a terribly junior high school way. Golf is somehow inherently an activity that makes people feel excluded.

So can we can change this? It has to start with the clients. It’s not appropriate for clients to accept golf outings from men if they wouldn’t do the same with women. In the meantime, I think it’s worth asking ourselves: Is there still a place for golf in business?

Ultimately, I have seen both men and women be excluded by the practice of incorporating golf into the workplace. So, I’d like to ask the business community - salespeople and clients alike - to think twice about it the next time you select your foursome and instead think about a more inclusive activity. Personally, I’m a fan of Karaoke.

Yours truly,
Romy Newman
A version of this article originally ran on Fortune. Have you ever felt excluded at work because of golf or similar activities? If so, consider sharing your advice and opinions with other women in the Fairygodboss community.


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