The central principle of golf is found inside the front cover of the rulebook. It tells players this: “Play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and if you cannot do either, do what is fair.” That simple concept can be applied off the golf course to develop customer loyalty.

Play the ball as it lies….
Sometimes in golf, our best shot takes an unfortunate roll behind a tree or into a hazard. We find ourselves with a “bad lie” with no way to advance the ball toward our intended objective — sinking it in the hole. As tempting as it might be to kick the ball to a more advantageous spot, moving our ball is cheating and not fair to ourselves or other players — even if no one else is looking. Instead, we must either hit the ball sideways or backwards to put our ball in position to advance toward the hole, or imagine and take a shot we’ve never tried before to get closer to the hole. It may take more strokes than we hoped to sink the ball in the hole, or more time and practice before we perfect that new shot, but learning and improving from a bad lie makes a player better. That is also the fair thing to do, while moving the ball is cheating.

In business, the same rule applies. We can take our best shot and find ourselves in a bad spot, unable to advance toward our intended objective. Whether the objective is a sale, the design or introduction of a product improvement or the implementation of a marketing strategy to gain more leads, someday we will find ourselves unable to advance toward our goal because an immovable object or hazard is blocking our way. The temptation may be to ignore the problem and kick it aside, but it will still exist.

Sometimes we must take a step backwards before we can go forward. Maybe we need more sales training, a tweak in the product design or a campaign with more appeal to our intended target. Trying new ways to get toward our target takes practice and may fail, but learning new skills and tactics may eventually allow us to reach our goal. Kicking the problem away and pretending our shortcomings do not exist will not.

Play the course as you find it…
The primary message here is; the player cannot make the course better to gain a potential advantage. Although players can do much to improve their score, they simply cannot “improve” certain protected areas on the course relative to the stroke they are about to make. Specifically, players can’t change where they intend to stand, swing or drop a ball by pressing a club into the ground or moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed. They can’t smooth out the path to the hole or brush away sand or loose soil. They can’t even remove dew, frost or casual water to gain a potential advantage.

Although a businessperson can do much to improve profits, there are simply some things they cannot do to gain a potential advantage. For instance, they cannot bend or break laws or building codes or otherwise deceive clients, regulatory agents or inspectors to allow them a better opportunity to make a sale or product.

As one example, when a home is built prior to 1978, disturbing lead-based paint may be part of replacing windows. Avoiding the law to test and perform proper handling of lead-based paint when found is not fair to installers or property owners.

If you cannot do either, do what is fair…
Although “fair” can mean pale as in “fair-haired” or adequate as in “fair to middling,” in the rules of golf and my “Top 10 Ways to Earn Customer Loyalty,” fair means just, reasonable, impartial, rational, evenhanded, non-discriminatory and open-minded.

When, in the course of business, it is impossible to play the ball as it lies or the course as you found it, the businessperson seeking loyal customer relations must do what is fair. If the launch of a new product failed to meet normal standards, it is time to put on big boy pants and fix the problem in the field or provide new. When a salesperson misrepresents a product’s functionality or has not included what was verbally stated in the written contract, it is time to live up to the handshake. When an installer or an assembler has a bad day, it is time for customer service to take the lead and make things right by the customer.

“The Rules of Golf” include recommendations for the proper etiquette of players to make the game safe, enjoyable and equal for all. Life isn’t always “fair,” and since business is a big part of life, we will find ourselves in unfortunate positions – bad lies. Going sideways or backwards is sometimes the best way to get back on course and move forward. Learning new ways to get closer to our goals makes us better. Better as human beings and better as business people.

Playing fair leads to long, dependable relationships in business and in life… Sooner or later, cheaters are usually found out — and left out. Be fair with others if you want to stay in the game with your clients and on course toward earning their loyalty.

Please read my previous posts to learn more about the “Top 10 Ways to Earn Customer Loyalty”.

I also urge you to read an earlier post about golf as it relates to business: “I Never Got This Far in My Dreams”


  1. Mark – very nice article

  2. Nice Article! Can’t wait for your next blog.

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