By Francesca Di Meglio Along with her load of required classes, Amanda Thompson, a 2005 MBA graduate of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., filled some holes in her program. She took a noncredit golf elective in the fall of 2004 when the school started offering it to graduate students.
Thompson says she's a big sports fan, so having the opportunity to blend a hobby with professional networking appealed to her. She adds that she also wanted to improve her swing, so she could make a good impression with the boss someday.
Playing golf, a favorite pastime in corporate America, is one way to get to know and network with people outside of the office. That's why the Professional Golfers' Association of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes the sport, is happy to teach its fundamentals to MBA students as part of a course titled "Golf: For Business and Life."
WAITING LIST. "MBAs have a purpose when taking the course: They don't want to make fools of themselves [on the golf course] in front of the boss someday," says Daniel M. Ross, course instructor and head PGA professional at Purdue's Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex.
Every year at Krannert about 75 MBAs enroll in one of three sections of the golf elective offered in the fall and spring. Each class has about 25 students and is taught by two or three PGA golf professionals to ensure that everyone gets some personal attention. In addition, students practice at the driving range, learn about golf etiquette, and spend time on the course (see BW, 6/20/05, "Slide Show: Get Your Golf Game In Gear").
Although administrators were at first reluctant to offer a course that has graduate students literally playing games, the class -- also available to undergraduates in a similar format -- has had as many as 150 people on the waiting list.
GUEST SPEAKERS. Other students around the country are also learning how to play golf in preparation for their future in business. Students who are already good at the sport are helping create "Golf: For Business and Life" programs at their school, and some of them are even offering instruction to novice classmates.
The sport's popularity in B-school, where the average student is 28 years old, isn't surprising. Last year, 18-to-29 year olds accounted for over 2.3 million core golfers, or those who play at least eight times a year, according to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla. That's a little more than 18% of all core golfers in the U.S.
To make the course -- originally designed for undergraduates -- more relevant to graduate students, Krannert added a guest speaker component, which brings successful businesspeople into the classroom to share stories about how golf has influenced their professional achievements.
WINNERS SHARE PURSES. The class is a natural fit for graduate business students, say administrators. "Golf is an honorable game that teaches ethical behavior -- counting all strokes, playing by the rules," says Thomas Templin, head of Purdue's Department of Health and Kinesiology, where the undergrad course began in 1998.
Since the launch of Purdue's program, more than 50 other universities have started similar courses. More and more graduate students are showing interest, according to Earnie Ellison, director of business and community relations for PGA of America, though he doesn't have an exact number of participants nationwide.
The PGA keeps the college initiative growing by having winners of the annual Ryder Cup tournament share $100,000 of their purse with their alma maters to set up golf programs. So far, the group has invested nearly $5 million at universities across the country.
RECRUITING TOOL. Students in the golf club at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business recently pitched the idea for the course to administrators. Thanks to a $180,000 donation from golf star and former Stanford University student athlete Tiger Woods, the university was able to offer sections of the course for all students through the physical education department. The Stanford GSB Golf Club organizes three classes for about 30 students each quarter.
Even those schools without the PGA program are getting in the golf game. Members of the MBA Golf Assn. at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin often invite recruiters to play a round of golf with students who are interested in their particular industry. "It gives students a chance to show their skills, and recruiters can use the time as a behavioral interview," says second-year student Michael Sedlak.
In some cases, the key element of the course is just learning about golf etiquette, so MBAs don't blow an opportunity by talking at an inappropriate time or by throwing a temper tantrum. Another goal is uniting groups that might not otherwise get to know each other -- from women to international students.
BEYOND "EXECUTION." In the name of bringing people together, the golf club at the the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School at Chapel Hill has a Golden Tee video-game tournament, so those who are shy about trying the sport out on the green can take a virtual shot instead.
Students say the golf course and the corporate world have many parallels. "It's not all about the execution," says Jeff Gartland, president of the University of Texas MBA golf club. "Planning and strategy are also necessary in golf -- and the boardroom."
And for keen observers, a round on the course is a great way to find out if a client or potential hire is on par with you. Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in Fort Lee, N.J.