In the rough: CEOs shun golf

It's been a bruising week for golf: First, the US Open in New York was practically a flood zone, with rainouts, cancellations and decidedly soggy players and spectators.

Now, USA Today reports that CEOs are shying away from the game out of fear that they'll be viewed as putting while Rome Inc. burns.

Although USA Today conducted what it referred to as an "unscientific" study on executive golf habits, anecdotal reports in the piece indicate that head honchos are scaling back their game time or making an effort to be more low-key about their green time.

The conclusion makes sense, though. The company-sponsored golf outing has been vilified as a careless frivolty. It's been well documented that companies are cutting back on lavish meetings and junkets, especially since beleaguered insurance giant AIG was called on the carpet last year for holding an executive retreat after taking billions in government bailout money. Event planners and bookers even have a term for it; they've dubbed it the "AIG Effect."Even on a smaller scale, today's corporate bigwigs are worried about feeding into that perception of business leaders as out of touch and indulging while rank-and-file workers toil away for fear of being laid off. What was once commonplace -- a few days at a resort or an afternoon on the green and away from the office -- has become a symbol of a bygone era's excess.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this sudden aversion to a former staple of charity tournaments and business networking. While ordinary Americans may appreciate CEOs' sudden consciousness of how their leisure habits reflect on their leadership capabilities, could shunning those 18 holes be more helpful than harmful?

Maybe. The golf course is valued by men and women in the professional world because it's a neutral, low-key place to network, bond and discuss topics that couldn't be hashed out as easily in a meeting. Corporate event planners like golf because it's a way to get people to relax and interact -- and it channels the potentially overbearing competitiveness of highly driven, type-A types.

There's also the issue of fund-raising. Nonprofits have already been hurt by a downturn in charitable giving as a result of the recession. Now, the corporate golf outing -- which often included a donation to the host's pet cause -- might be disappearing quicker than an ice sculpture at a resort pool party, according to USA Today.

To be sure, companies and their leaders are trying to do the right thing when they eschew golf -- and we're not saying electing not to spend the equivalent of an executive assistant's salary on a getaway at an ultraluxe golf resort is a bad thing. But like so many other corporate missteps of recent months, the root of the problem seems to be not just what they do but how much shareholder cash they spend doing it.
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