Issue 2, 2012. April-May

   

GOLF IN GEORGIA: A 21ST CENTURY SUPRA FOR NETWORKING AND BUSINESS?

A professional, 18-hole golf course is planned for Tbilisi. Investor.ge spoke with CEOs, high ranking business managers, anthropologists and sociologists to determine if the Georgian businesses' networking tradition of the supra, could be challenged by the western allure of talking shop while putting on the green.

Eteri Maisuradze


The networking feast

When Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez visited Georgia in 2010, he had several business and other traditional networking meetings. But he was also the guest of honor at a traditional supra.

The supra, that focuses as much on toasts as it does on food, gave business leaders a chance to introduce Mr. Verde to Georgian culture and find a common language to discuss the issues they face with trade, market development and commerce.

For centuries Georgians have turned to the table and their legendary gift of food, wine and toast-making, to celebrate family, relations, tradition and business.

The spread of Georgian food, the intricate culture of the Tamada (toastmaster) and the intimate atmosphere of the shared experience is a powerful vehicle for creating ties, noted anthropologist Florian Mühlfried.

In his paper "Celebrating Identities in Post-Soviet Georgia", Mühlfried underlined the importance of the supra, describing it as "a privileged place for creating networks, reinforcing alliances and trading information..." even during the Soviet period.

Today it continues to play a role in how Georgians discuss business, but Mühlfried found there is a movement, particularly among younger generations, to seek other means for socializing, and networking.

"When it comes to the younger generations, the situation is far more complex. Many young people (especially from urban contexts) overtly dislike and discredit the Georgian supra," he wrote.

"Their reasons are based on changing gender roles, an attributed backwardness of customs like the supra in the face of pro-Western orientation, and a differing understanding of authenticity."

Golf: the new supra for business?

A golf course planned in Tbilisi could offer professionals a new outlet for networking, noted Alexander Bolkvadze a partner at BLC Law office.

"... gradually it could become a successful business in Georgia, especially if it's not expensive," he said, adding it will likely be popular with middle aged men.

"I think that golf will be more popular as a part of business meetings than as a game itself."

The cost and potential audience for golf is still a matter of debate and could be a deciding factor on who is able or willing to take up the sport.

"While talking about golf, rich people always come to my mind, meeting each other on golf courses and speaking about their business," commented Nino Giorgobiani, PR Manager for Airzena Airlines.

While the origins of golf are less clear than those of the Georgian supra, the role the game plays in business and networking in United States and other countries is obvious.

A 2009 report on the relation between CEOs at U.S. based companies playing golf and their average salary found that executives who play golf well earn up to 17 percent more than their non-golf-playing peers.

"The evidence supports our claim that CEOs who are regular golfers earn more than those who are not," the authors said, "the effect is economically large - 17% less in pay just because the CEO does not play golf or does not play golf regularly enough to have a decent handicap."

The 18-hole course, planned by Spanish development companies, Grupo Pastor, LV Salamanca, and Getinsa, is scheduled to open in 2013. No one from any of the companies responded to several requests for comment.

The game is catching on in other developing countries: in China, for example, the first golf course opened in 1984. By 2009 the country boasted 600 golf courses and resorts and has ambitions for international golf tournaments.

It remains to be seen, however, if the sport will take off in Georgia where the passion and tempo of the supra is a far cry from the quiet competition of hitting small balls into holes.

"I think this sport isn't for Georgians. The main problem is in the Georgian character and culture," Giorgobiani said.

"Georgians are emotional hot-tempered people; we are interested in mostly active sports, while golf is for quiet and balanced people."

Irakli Baidashvili, the senior vice president of GMT Group, has golfed overseas and is "fond" of playing.

But while he welcomes the opportunity to play golf at home, he warned that it cannot take the place of the supra for doing business.

"The supra has previously been a good networking occasion because of the specific nature of Georgian feasting - it's all about emotions, passion and sharing," he said, "I don't think that golf can ever take its place, because it lacks all these three essential components and elements."