By Teri Sporer | Chief operating officer/shareholder, Holmes Murphy 

I was recently doing a little reminiscing about my career, and one memory happened to pop in my head that occurred a very long time ago and one in which I feel has an extremely important message that should be shared.

As you may know, historically golf has been a very important "social" event where many men have conducted great deals, developed the next best strategy, solved problems, and, of course, won a lot of money and pride. I’m sure that, like me, many of you women reading this blog have been put in that awkward position of having to hit the course with your male counterparts and been expected to act and talk like one of the guys

It can be unsettling knowing that one unfortunate soul will have to share a cart or a caddie with you and drive you up to your tee box once everyone else had teed off -- not to mention help you find your balls every time you lose track of them because, honestly, you’re just trying to understand the betting. None of it ever seems very clear.

Several years ago, our largest and most influential business partner set up a lovely stewardship meeting in Kohler, Wis. It happened to be the year the men’s PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits. We were all set to play Black Wolf Run, which is an 18-hole, five-star river course. It was a beautiful day and, although other women were joining us for the stewardship meeting, I unfortunately was the only female who golfed. I could have chosen to stay at the resort and work or maybe found a shopping mall, but shopping is actually less appealing to me than working. A chance to play this course with a caddie’s help … how could I pass it up? I was psyched!

There were two foursomes in our group standing at the first hole. The other foursome was going to tee off first. The "host" from our partner company started digging in his bag, and, since we had no carts and planned to walk the entire 18 holes (6,991 yards to be exact), we were all standing a bit back from the tee box. He came out of his bag first with a box of balls and a towel for his partner and handed it to him. I thought, "Oh, that’s very nice. I wish I would have thought to bring some for my partner who was another man from their company." Well, never fear, he dug a bit deeper and, to my surprise, he also handed my partner a box of balls and a towel. At that point, I realized it wasn’t just any box of balls — they were Titleist Pro V1s, which had only been out for a few years and were just starting to be known as great distance balls. I was excited!

I saw him dig again, and then he walked up to the other foursome and talked with his boss. I thought it was sort of interesting to leave me there with anticipation, but by that point, the other guys were starting to hit so I was engrossed with watching where they ended up. I was also a little nervous and was looking for where the ladies' tee box was located. I couldn’t find it anywhere and started fixating on the fact that maybe they didn’t even have a ladies' tee box. Oh, goodness, was I going to have to hit from where they were hitting? I grew even more nervous but, of course, never let them see you sweat, right? 

Here came our guy back from the other 
group and guess what? He started digging in his bag again! Woo hoo — this is where I get to try Titleist Pro V1s for the very first time, and it won’t matter if I have to drive from the men’s tee box because of that added distance. Well, to my surprise, he pulled out a box of Ram golf balls — a brand I had never even heard about. I graciously thanked him, and again started focusing on where the heck my tee box was. I shoved those Ram balls so far to the bottom of my own bag and was determined to play my bright pink Precept balls, which I had fallen in love with that year. I was consumed for the first four or five holes with a belief that somehow those great distance balls given to all the men were something I was missing out on. How stupid of me to become that consumed with balls!

We had a fantastic round of golf. I played OK and really enjoyed having a caddie to give me the right club, ensure I was pointed in the right direction, and he and I joked several times quietly about my Ram balls. It gave credence to the fact I wasn’t overreacting when he took a Pro V1 out of my bag and handed it to me with a wink and a huge smile. To this day, I have no idea how that ball got into my bag, but it did and he understood my angst.

Two years later playing at my home course on hole No. 6 with three beautiful ladies on a Tuesday evening, I pulled one of those Ram balls out of my bag and guess what? Yes — a 141-yard hole in one! We looked for my ball for five minutes before figuring out it was in the cup. That Ram ball is now a shrine to me and a reminder of some funny principles I learned from this experience.

  • Forgive those who simply don’t "get it."
  • Never show ungrateful behavior openly.
  • Always take advantage of a great day on the golf course.
  • Don’t throw resources away just because you initially don’t know their value.
  • Live for the day you can turn a frustration into a funny story.

This gentleman, who was my host that day, meant nothing by his oversight. He most likely believed I wouldn’t even know the difference between a Pro V1 and a Ram ball, and certainly felt my golf talent was most likely unworthy of those expensive balls. Honestly, it probably was! For those of you reading this story, just remember actions speak louder than words. From that day forward, I felt very differently about this partner. It did affect my interest in working with him on difficult issues, it affected my respect for him, and it affected our business relationship for sure. He left that organization and, every now and then, he pops up in our world wanting something. If I see him again, I will be sure to help him with anything I can and give him a little wink and a smile!

Teri Sporer is the chief operating officer for the Holmes Murphy enterprise-wide property casualty division. In this position, Sporer is responsible for setting the strategic direction for the property casualty service team to ensure Holmes Murphy meets customer needs and sales commitments.Connect with Teri on LinkedIn.