Visit a local golf course, and you're likely to bump into couples like the Petersons. With workdays stretching ever longer, many dual-career partners are finding that five hours on the fairway can be a great chance to reconnect -- and lower their handicap at the same time. Golf widows who sit home on the weekends or go shopping with girlfriends while their husbands hit the links will never disappear. But more women are climbing the corporate ladder than ever, and many are learning golf to keep up with their male colleagues at the country club. Suddenly, they're joining their husbands for tee time, too.
This can lead to some interesting role-reversal. For years, wives tagged along with their husbands when they entertained clients or dined with the boss. Now, some hubbies are playing that role on the green. John Peterson sometimes accompanies Jill when she hosts customers at golf. The game has helped Jill develop new business for Bank One.
NO POINTERS, PLEASE. Earlier this year, she closed a $350,000 loan with a well-off individual whom she met while golfing with a client and two of his friends. That new customer may also refinance his two homes through the bank -- and he has already invited Jill to golf with him and a few of his buddies. "And he belongs to an even nicer country club," she adds.
Husbands and wives often follow the same rules on the golf course that have helped them manage other facets of marriage. First and foremost, many spouses say, don't be a critic. If a man won't stop for directions when he's lost in a car, chances are he won't appreciate pointers from his wife when his ball is stuck in a sand trap.
Women may be cool to tips as well. "She doesn't want me to be an instructor," says Sean Sullivan, a 64-year-old public-relations executive from Darien, Conn., about his golf partner and wife, Rita. When a suggestion slips out, Rita doesn't hesitate to yell back and tell her husband to keep his trap shut. "He just can't help himself," she sighs.
LESS DRIVE. Still, some of the differences that show up when it's husbands vs. wives instead of all guys can be refreshing. Sean Sullivan often plays for a buck a hole when he's with his buddies. There's no such testosterone-charged competition with Rita, a director at Verizon Investment Management, the pension arm of the telecommunications giant. They're out to get some exercise and relax, he says, not beat each other's score.
Even when their manliness isn't at stake, some men still can't shake their intensity on the links. Women, on the other hand, tend to socialize more than analyze. "Jill will start thinking 30 seconds before she hits the ball. I'm more focused on the shots," says John Peterson. Thanks to the influence of his wife, "I'm trying to mellow out and not be so hard on myself," he says. Jill is all for that: "If he's not having a good game, it's not much fun."
Some women who've taken up golf strictly for pleasure have reaped professional dividends as well. Elizabeth Scanlon Bils, owner of public-relations firm Scanlon Corporate Communications in Chicago, started playing so she and her husband, Scott, could spend more time together.
"NOT ALL BUSINESS." However, when she meets with potential business clients -- mostly male CEOs -- she often mentions that she's a golfer. Soon they're engaged in a conversation about courses, handicaps, and other less-weighty matters. "They realize that I'm not all business," says Bils, 32.
Golf hasn't helped Bils land any new clients yet, but that's O.K. with her. She's content to work on her 25 handicap whenever she and Scott, a former consultant at McKinsey & Co., can squeeze in a round. "You have to carve out time as a couple," says Scott. For many couples who are juggling careers and everything else, that quality time might as weel be on the green. By Jennifer Gill in New York