Success in 18

I wasn’t brought up with a lot of money. We were pretty average middle-class kids brought up in an entrepreneurial environment. We didn’t want for much but we certainly weren’t wealthy. We knew the pain and stress of the mortgage being due and not being able to have some of the fancy designer clothes we believed ‘every kid in America had but us.’ So when I met my first ‘millionaire’, I knew that I wanted to pay attention. I knew that there were things this person knew that hadn’t been passed down through my bloodline.

I remember getting up the courage to ask him what the secret to success was. “Golf,” he said. That was it. One word. I was a sophomore in high school and that really meant nothing at the time. Neither parent golfed. It wasn’t a course offered at my all girl private school that I was graced to attend. It certainly wasn’t something I saw as a trait of successful business leaders. If anything, golf was something you got to do more of the more successful you were. His word was lost on me. My brief moment of courage that was displayed in an effort to seek out the secret to a glamorous life – was gone. I didn’t realize this gentlemen’s sage advice at the time, instead, I mistook it for a flip comment he threw out to a pestering 15-year-old in a plaid skirt and knee socks.

The next several years I’d started to recognize golf as a reward for hard work and money earned. I learned the sport for just that reason. I had worked hard and I thought I should know how to reap the reward. Turns out, I loved the sport and hated it simultaneously. I loved that it brought me fresh air, great company, relaxing exercise and a fun social afternoon. I loved that after golfing my head always felt clearer. I felt refreshed and reminded of how beautiful the earth is. I loved that it seemed like I could slow down in a sped up world just by toting around a bag of clubs.

I hated that it kept me humble. As an athlete, I expected to go out and get better every single time I played. Thankfully no one I ever played with expected the same from me.

It wasn’t until I was 29 and met a relentless pair of salesmen on a train from NYC to New Haven that I started to realize what I was missing. I ended up playing golf with one of them weeks later to learn about his success (he was currently a VP at a top insurance company and would go on to become the head of his own multi-million dollar empire – and a mentor.) Golfing with him made me better – but in ways you wouldn’t expect. We golfed with a variety of partners, but what I learned about business in 18 holes was invaluable! I learned about leadership, overcoming adversity, motivation, sales, and execution. I learned from their mistakes and successes and from their stories and their technique. I made connections I still have and ones that I cherish. To me, these golf outings had been better teachers than any class I could recall.

A year later I started to take the ferry back from Port Jeff weekly as my job took me to Long Island on a regular basis. It was during the crossing that I met leader after leader who had spent the day golfing on Long Island. Every Friday, like clockwork, I’d find this ferry filled with successful business leaders ending a “hard” day on the course. I’d hear of the deals they closed and I swear there was never a Friday that I didn’t find a bar full of celebratory clinks on the passage home. As I learned more, I found all different industries and leaders of different positions and statuses clinking their glasses. It wasn’t all about sales; it was about getting things done. Not shy, I jumped into the conversation like I was still 15 and wearing those navy blue knee socks. One older gentleman said to me, “too bad you’re a woman because if you really want to get somewhere you’d get on the golf course with us.” (Thank God times have changed!) Someone else said, “Colleen, you get a couple of the right people on a golf course and that’s when you’ll really get things done.” I had a boss who would tell me, “Colleen, it’s not about the meeting, it’s about the scotch after the meeting. You either need to learn to drink or take up golf.”

The picture started to become clearer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t (I believed) good enough to play for business but it was very clear that the advice that I received when I was 15 was far better than I had known. This fact would soon help me:

63% of all golfers shoot in the 90’s or worse (NGF 2010)
As a matter of fact, only 5% shoot under 80 and most players don’t mind playing with someone who’s only a stroke behind each hole.

Here’s what I also didn’t factor in:

It’s easier to get a meeting on a golf course than anywhere else
There’s a lot of down time in a round of golf. It’s perfect to talk, build relationships, and listen. No one is rushed to get to his or her next meeting. It creates a more enjoyable and productive meeting.
It forces you to slow down. You can’t speed it up or rush ahead. It’s the most productive meditative brain session you’ll ever experience.
Golfers earn more. I didn’t understand it – or even believe it – at first. It’s true.

Mathematically you’ll never have 3 meetings in a 4 hour period and still be relaxed, get to know people as well, nurture relationships, or feel as relaxed coming out of them.
The invitation is the hardest part. In corporate America, I waited to be invited. When I started inviting, things became a lot more fun. Add one game to your routine every week and you will change your success rates. For a thousand different reasons, slowing down will help you speed up. Better relationships will make you smarter, better and faster.
Here’s to the 2017 golf season. May the greens be lush, the wind gentle, and your conversations rich.

Colleen Bader is the President of Network&Golf ( and Small Business USA. Network&Golf is helping business leaders meet on the golf course while helping golfers of all levels learn, golf with leaders with similar skill levels, and grow their business. Join free at