Study abroad course teaches students how to sell on the golf course in Scotland

A student golfs in Scotland. Photo provided by Dr. Deborah Gray.

Rolling hills of lush, green grass located in the birthplace of golf provided a course like no other for 18 Central Michigan University business students. In Scotland the golf course was the setting for the study abroad course, "Intercultural Business Communication Abroad."

Focused heavily on the relationship between conducting business and golfing, BIS 342 instructor Deborah Gray said the iconic locations were used as classrooms for the class she called “Selling on the Green.”

Building relationships is essential to be successful in business, Gray said. Golf courses are where a lot of business relationships are built and nurtured. According to Gray, 90 percent of CEOs golf. People who are golfers also make an average of 17 percent more in salary than non-golfers, according to Forbes

An avid golfer herself, Gray contributed a chapter to the book, "Selling on the Green: The Art of Building Trusted Relationships and Growing Your Business on the Golf Course.” Gray wants students to appreciate the important impact golf can have on their careers.

“As I was writing the chapter I had an idea: why can’t I create a class that covers the ideas in this book?,” she said. 

Gray didn’t want to teach a golfing course, but a course that taught students the right way to conduct business while golfing. Specifically, she wanted students to understand how much planning is actually required. Students, who were required to know how to play, learned that building relationships on the green is about finding commonalities with people, and finding areas of someone’s life they can connect with outside of golf and business.

Port Austin junior Jake Ayeman said the class helped him build his interpersonal communication skills.

“It’s about developing relationships. Moving forward in management, golf is essential to build those relationships,” Ayeman said. "I learned how to communicate on the golf course."

Throughout the class, Gray stressed that students should be patient when it comes to discussing business, and focus on the person they’re golfing with. In fact, business shouldn't be brought up until the 19th hole.

“A lot of people want to talk business the whole time. What you should do is learn as much as you can about that person to build a relationship with them. The goal is to get them to trust you and want to do business with you.” 

Scotland is widely recognized as the home of modern golf. The game is very much ingrained in Scottish culture. Traveling to Scotland was “the natural choice,” Gray said  because students were able to learn about Scottish history and culture through the lens of the sport. 

In Scotland, everybody golfs. Not only is it an excellent form of exercise and socialization, but it is an extremely versatile sport, Gray said. The game's style and length of time can be modified to the players' choice. Gray said it can accommodate any age or skill level.

BIS 342 students pose with the CMU flag in Scotland. Photo provided by Dr. Deborah Gray.

The class golfed at many of the country’s oldest courses, such as St. Andrews, one of the most historic and significant courses in the nation. The course is so popular that the class had to wake up at 1:30 a.m. and wait in line to golf on it. The class also went to Kingarrock Hickory Golf Course, where they used 200-year-old hickory golf sticks and original feather golf balls. Gray said the experience felt like going back in time hundreds of years.

CMU’s women’s golf head coach Cheryl Stacy acted as co-leader for the course. Going to Scotland had always been a “bucket list item” for her Stacy said because of the country’s beauty and its relationship with golf. 

“Culturally, it’s very different. They don’t use carts, everyone walks. The grass was less manicured and (the courses) were more like parks,” Stacy said. “The courses are pet friendly and much more inclusive than here, where golf courses can be exclusive places. It’s more pleasant over there.” 

Although the majority of the students’ time was spent golfing, they had opportunities to explore Scotland and see some of the country’s landmarks. The class went on a castle tour, a walking history tour of downtown Edinborough, they went to a British golf museum and a whiskey tasting with a demonstration of how whiskey is made. During the trip, students lived in houses and had to go to foreign grocery stores to provide for themselves during the day.

Gray plans to teach the same course in 2019. While she plans to keep the class size the same, she wants to give students more free time so they’re able to see more of what they want in Scotland. If you would like more information about this study abroad course, contact Gray at