If you’re known for indulging in a spot of the high life and frequently seal deals on the smooth, manicured greenery of a golf lawn, then you could be forgiven for smugly stating that you’ve “made it.” But where are the best deals of the 21st century made these days? Has road cycling become the new golf? And if yes, why the change of scenery?
Eighteen times the fear of failure, time pressure, and tired muscles
The Alcanada golf course in the northern part of Mallorca was designed by Robert Trent Jones Junior, who’s arguably seen as the Giorgio Armani of the golfing world. And given the complexity of its holes, it’s not a course for beginners – except no one told us that as we rolled up on our road bikes, blissfully unaware of Europe’s most well-regarded golf course.
Ever considered teeing off in cycling apparel? Clearly the receptionist hadn’t. She cast a quick gaze over my get-up, her brusque look informing me just how close the Rapha outfit was teetering on the brink of expulsion. But I passed muster, and we were let through the lobby to be greeted by the golf club’s director. Pro golfer John Verhappen guided us onto the driving range, throwing us straight into the firing line. For those unfamiliar with the beautiful game, it’s often underestimated, but it demands control, a cool head, and a hell of a lot of technique. “Not everyone can hold a golf club in their hand,” explains John, gesturing around the perfectly sculptured green. “You have to build your status first in order to come and play at an exclusive club like this one.”
A round of golf has eighteen holes, and each hit of the ball requires instantaneous, pin-sharp calculations of power, terrain, and wind conditions. Players keep a natural distance between themselves; after all, they’re competitors. Mental strength is therefore just as crucial as fitness in order to maintain your composure when surrounded by the small talk, corporate crusading and, of course, the game.
Having assiduously followed articles in the Financial Times, The Telegraph, and Forbes Magazine amongst others, you’ll have noticed that road cycling has become the on-trend sport for today’s crop of CEOs. So what sparked this shift off the green and onto the tarmac?
Fitness, big data, and charting progress
These days, managers are used to structure and stats that chart progress. They thrive on measurable data that can be relied upon to optimize their workflow and their lives. Today’s business elite are on board with fitness trends and quantifiable performance gains. Thus, it was perhaps inevitable in today’s frantically paced business world that the pace and efficiency of cycling could push the contemplative peace of the golf course into the background.
Cycling can be an individual’s sport. It’s not only flexible and scalable, but it has also captured the zeitgeist in which sustainable principles and measurable success are key. Thanks to the likes of Strava and Garmin, you can appraise how you rode, and share the performance on social media.
However, the best thing about cycling isn’t just the participation in this lung-burning, sweat-inducing sport and the subsequent demonstration of just how willing you are to dig deep and suffer; it’s about bringing yourself out of the barricaded clubhouse. While riding, you’re just a cyclist rather than a CEO of a global business. On the bike, you aren’t bound by the etiquette of the golf club. Your status symbols are far more subliminal, unless, of course, you trade in your caddie for a bottle-bearing domestique or even a Porsche as support car.
Relationship question: Who wins?
Viewed pragmatically, cycling is the better golf when it comes to meetings, staff incentives, and corporate events. It’s a win based on the fact that there’s simply no winner: you’re riding alongside each other, battling the wind and suffering the same gradients, letting the sweat drip down your brows in unison. Cycling humanizes us, quite simply. It goes beyond skin-tight lycra, creating skin-tight bonds between those on each ride. While friendships are cemented on the bike, it takes game after game of golf to reach the same level of intimacy. There’s no time for a poker face when the lactate builds in your legs.
Silence is golden
Small talk becomes hard work when your thoughts are circulating elsewhere, when there are no real shared interests, and when the weather conditions are battering on your pain threshold. Small talk on a bike, however, is far simpler. There are more things to talk about: dissecting a golf club’s components would only take a moment compared to the virtually endless opportunities to philosophize over a bike’s spec. Then there are trends and kit choices to discuss, the experiences on the ride, the coffee stops, the fellow road users, and the impatient drivers, not to mention the pro peloton and big races. And if the conversation ever dries up, isn’t that why one created the aero tuck?
Ultimately, it doesn’t come down to a choice between cycling or golf. Business doesn’t end when the ride does or when the final putt has been made. Healthy, fruitful (business) ties are built on the time spent recounting and philosophizing upon the day’s events and its ups and downs over a post-sport beer. Clearly, in the 21st century, business, sport, and friendship have never been so closely tied.
Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Julian Mittelstädt