Washington University class teaches golf as networking tool

Sunday, October 27, 2013 | 6:09 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — For many, golf is more than a game — it's a business opportunity. That's why Washington University in St. Louis is helping students take up a sport that can be a powerful networking tool.

The university started offering international students a course on how to play golf last year, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. It's so popular that all 20 spots in this year's class were claimed within 12 minutes, and the wait list includes 60 students.

Students from India, China, Iran, Romania, South Korea and Mexico broke away from studying law, chemistry, business or engineering to learn how to swing a club.

Instructor Mark Lewis, club pro at the Highlands Golf and Tennis Center in Forest Park, leads the class and starts from the beginning: how to hold the club. Soon, students got their first cracks at hitting yellow range balls.

Some whiffed, others' balls dribbled only a few feet off the tee. Some sliced into a small ravine, but a few flew relatively straight.

"That's it," Lewis said to four smiling grad students from India. "That's exactly it. You guys ever play cricket?"

Michael Chapin, a competitive golfer and assistant director of the university's Career Center, runs the golf outings. He told the students golf is key to making business contacts, networking and interviewing for jobs.

"You can say your name, but if you can mention a common denominator, such as golf, you can include that in the conversation," Chapin said.

Other universities have similar programs. The University of Maryland has a Business Golf Club, with a mission "to promote a casual and social environment while learning the basics of conducting business on the golf course." The Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh also has a golf club.

After taking hacks on the driving range, the Washington University students went to the practice green. Assistant club pro Chris Liszewski offered tips.

Meanwhile, Chapin looked over a list of golf networking tips from Forbes columnist Cheryl Conner, checking off those that apply to his program. Among them: Exchange business cards before the end of play, never cheat, no cursing or throwing clubs and be pleasant to golf partners and course employees.

"These are certainly needed for career development," Chapin said. "Beyond those skills, golf gives the opportunity for great communications and interpersonal skills."

Participants include doctoral candidates in various studies, though most are MBA students. Among them is Manish George, 28, from Kerala, India. He has found that U.S. business discussions generally begin with talk about football, baseball or golf.

A cricket player, George said his first golf lesson "gave me the idea of how to hold the paddle," quickly correcting himself to say he meant "club."

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