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September 15, 2022 // Tom Smith  //       //  Opinion

Lessons Learned from Golf Sabbatical

I recently went on a golf trip to Scotland for 16 days, thanks to Allison+Partners giving me a sabbatical and a chance to remove myself from day-to-day work. My leave was more than just traveling to Scotland – it was about learning, discovering, and improving my mindset – I just happened to use golf as the tool.  

Of course, the golf was terrific as I played the top 10 courses in Scotland (St. Andrew’s Old Course, Kingsbarns, Carnoustie, Muirfield, etc.), had the privilege to play with LPGA tour player Mao Saigo at St. Andrew’s Old Course and met so many friendly people in Scotland. I wanted to share some lessons I learned from this sabbatical that could be applied to anyone’s working life. 

Collaboration is important 

So, how did I manage to play St. Andrew’s Old Course? It required collaboration and fortitude. Unfortunately for me and a friend, the only way to play St. Andrew’s Old Course was to use the daily walk-up process. We had to stand in line for open spots the night before. We asked what time, and someone said 10 p.m. will work. So, we got there at 7:15 p.m. just to be sure. We walked to the pavilion where you wait, set our golf bags down, took a seat on a bench outside the front door and began the 13-hour journey until the pavilion opened. The temperature at 7:15 p.m. was 60 degrees. By 2 a.m., it dropped to 45 degrees with a gentle breeze. Though not fun, I was excited to play and at the world’s oldest golf course a week after the Open tournament.  

The night was long as the hours felt like days. I had to collaborate with friends to bring food, drink and blankets. I will never forget that experience. We met other people from around the world doing the same thing. Everyone talked about the experience, where we were from and why we were doing it.  Around midnight, I wanted to try to sleep, so I grabbed a spot on the concrete pavement in front of a bench. It was cold, hard and uncomfortable. I could not fall asleep, but I did manage to keep my eyes closed for a couple of hours. When 6:15 a.m. finally arrived and the pavilion doors opened, we were the first to get our tee times for that day. We had choices play 6:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. or 3:30 p.m., and we decided to take the 12:30 pm slot. Then were asked to see our GHIN handicaps and were told the 12:30 p.m. slot was special, as we would play with LGPA tour player Mao Saigo. And she was awesome! I learned a lot from watching her play, and we even collaborated on a few different shots throughout the round. 

Golf is a competitive sport both individually and as a team. People often think of golf as an individual sport. But playing golf requires collaboration (whether that be with a caddie or playing partner) – talking, listening and thinking about how to approach and execute a shot to achieve the best result. Collaboration in the workplace, which happens to be one of Allison+Partners’ core values, is essential to having fun, building culture and accomplishing goals. Without it, a company’s culture will suffer, and results will be limited. 

Outside elements and pressures happen – make the most of each situation  

Weather (rain, cold, wind, etc.) is a part of the game, and it can frustrate any golfer. Learning to overcome and work with the elements and pressures can truly make someone become a better golfer. Pressure is also a part of the game. And learnings how to cope with it is vital. Once you understand how to control the pressure, you will perform to your ability. Pressure in the field of public relations is constant. Learning to cope and overcome daily pressure is an important part of the job. 

Be humble, everyone makes mistakes   

Golf also requires skill, and even the best players in the world make mistakes. I watched Mao make mistakes, though not many. The game constantly tests you mentally and physically. Shaking off a bad shot and focusing on the next one is important. Be humble, respect the game and understand that during 18 holes, things will not always go according to plan.  

Golfers must often take shots from the worst imaginable locations. For example, I hit a bad shot at Kingsbarns’ 16th hole into the gorse, a nasty bush, trying to finish a great round. After hitting the bad shot, instead of getting upset, blaming the elements or the noise I heard, I just pushed forward. Frustrated, yes, but I knew I could recover if I could shoot out of the gorse. Luckily, I found my ball and visualized a shot. Out of the bad situation, I recovered, hit the green and made a par. Getting upset wouldn’t have accomplished anything. This taught me we need to accept tough situations we find ourselves in, strategize and do what we think needs to be accomplished to achieve the best outcome. At work, it is crucial to learn from others and share experiences and challenges and what it takes to overcome them.  

Luck is great, but hard work is more important. I now understand why I can only accomplish so much as a weekend golfer. I played a lot of golf during my sabbatical, almost every day and sometimes twice a day. I realized how my game improved and how the work I was putting into the game was translating on the course. Did I have lucky breaks throughout a round? Yes, but the hard work, practice, and consistent play allowed me to make difficult shots much easier. Hard work leads to more confidence and better results. Work is no different; everyone needs to put in the time to learn from new skills and experiences, which leads to confidence, which then often leads to better outcomes. 

Visualization is valuable in various situations and environments, including the golf course. Before swinging, it helps to visualize the golf shot and what will happen to the ball after it is hit. The final product will not always look like what you might imagine, but this strategy can lead to better results. Professionals in all walks of life use visualization to help them succeed. They believe visualization gives them a competitive edge. But, more than that, it's a tool that allows people to believe it their abilities. If visualization can work on the golf course and for professionals, why not at work?  

Golf is a series of swings, but each swing aims for one specific goal, hit your target. Golfers need to know where and how they plan to get there. The same can be said of pursuing a career or any other significant purpose. Focus on what you want to do in your career and set goals. Once they are accomplished, set new goals. Your career should constantly evolve to hit your target. 

So, my sabbatical was more than golf. It taught me some important lessons – that I love my family, golf, people, culture, freedom, exploring, learning and, most importantly, a dessert called sticky toffee pudding.  

Thanks, Allison+Partners, for allowing me to escape the working world for a few weeks. It was an incredible experience I will never forget and has allowed me to re-enter the workforce refreshed and energized. 

Tom Smith is a strategic, highly skilled corporate communications professional with a proven 24-plus-year track record of leading and implementing corporate campaign programs. He has led numerous multi-million-dollar global accounts and as president of Allison+Partners' North American corporate practice, he brings deep capability in numerous industries, including financial services, hospitality, professional services, technology, education, healthcare and industrial supply. His specialties include integrated communications, corporate brand positioning, thought leadership, executive visibility, B2B marketing, influencer management, media relations and investor relations. 

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