Golf is the perfect business device, as it guarantees you four hours alone with a client and plenty of leeway for conversation (golf, in fact, is one of the few sports that encourages conversation). And even if you don't conduct business on the fairway, the relationship you build on the greens can easily carry over to the workday world.

That said, the devil is in the details.

Whether you call it "business golf," "customer golf" or "client golf," the sport is nothing like typical golf. "In real golf, you play strictly by the rules," observes Jerry Grove, executive director of the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce and a longtime player. "You don't take mulligans. You play it as it lies. You don't nudge."

Business golf is another matter entirely, notes Grove. "Customer golf is bending the rules. You let them take shots over. If a customer hits badly, you say, 'Go ahead, take that mulligan.' It's quite a different game."

Long before tee time, you need to develop your business golf strategy — including, most notably, whether you are going to allow your client to win or lose (or whether that's even a factor).

"Consider it a four-and-a-half-hour sales call," says Margie Nolting, vice president for marketing and business development at the Golf Center at Kings Island. Nolting suggests you arrive well before tee time and check out the client's pro bag. "If you see Pebble Beach and all those nice courses on the bag, you know you are playing a good golfer. With good golfers, it's better for you to play badly than to play slowly. Keep up."

If you're the excellent golfer, on the other hand, that may be a reason to stay away from customer golf, at least if you know your clients are mediocre players. "There are some partnerships I have that have thrived simply because I choose not to play golf with the client," says one executive. "You have to be able to see when golf is benefiting the alliance, or potentially harming it through the stress on the course."

Some other tips collected from Cincinnati executives who conduct business on the golf course:

Turn off your cell phone, even though you are on company time.

Put playing first. Let your customer bring up business.

If you are in doubt about a rule or its interpretation, ask your customer and abide by his or her decision even if you're positive it's wrong. If your business contact decides you are trustworthy on the golf course, he or she is more likely to do business with you down the road.

Don't ever get angry, no matter how just the cause. Even if the client later decides you were angry or disagreed for the right reasons, he or she may still question how you could calmly tackle a workplace crisis.

Let your client go first to set the example of play (see next item).

Don't take a mulligan on the first tee unless your client does first.

If you're invited to play on a team, and you're a bad player, decline.

Budget your time so that you can invite the client out to eat (or drink) after the round is over. That's the best time to follow up on business that might have been discussed in the slightest of detail on the course.