Golf was an utter obsession for me as a teenager, the blistered hands testament to the fact that my mates and I would think nothing of playing 36 or even 54 holes in a day through the school hols.
So here are 5 golfing lessons I learned that could help you as a property investor …
1 – Discipline
My teenage mates and I were always thrilled by watching John “Wild Thing” Daly play golf with his “grip it and rip it” mantra.
An eccentric anti-establishment character, Daly drove coaches and administrators to distraction with his non-conformist behaviour, and against all the odds won two major championships including the British Open itself at the home of golf, St. Andrews.
As young lads, Daly appealed to our young male egos.
He belted the golf ball a proverbial mile with his ‘Killer Whale’ driver and a bit like us he was rebellious, drank lots of beer and had a terrible haircut.
As a general rule, though, major-winning golfers are not like John Daly.
Ian Woosnam reportedly enjoyed a pint, and some golfers periodically over-indulge in food or other 19th hole pleasures, but most pro golfers at the peak of their game are relatively fastidious in their discipline and detailed preparation
Routine, preparation, discipline.
Discipline is the first rule of successful investment.
Take the stylised example of a person aged 25 who earns $50,000 per annum and receives annual pay increases of 3.5% through their working career.
Thanks to compounding growth, even at only 3.5% annual pay increases their total cumulative gross earnings could be far, far higher than you might intuitively expect (click chart).
It’s not fashionable to say so, but wages growth has outpaced inflation for years in Australia across all income brackets, and on average folk have more disposable income than in years gone by.
It takes a level of commitment and discipline, sure, but the fact of the matter is that most people with a full-time job should be able to save and invest something for the future.
You tend to make some enemies pointing this out, but there’s nothing like living in a Third World country for a couple of years to change your perspective and realise just how blessed we are to live in a country of abundant wealth such as Australia.
The first rule of investing is to establish the discipline to spend less money on junk that we don’t need and set aside money to invest.
One of the scariest things about working in professional practice where there are many high income earners is seeing people work for decades yet setting aside nothing for the future (often in Britain, not even a pension contribution).
2 – Sacrifice
In a similar vein, the greatest golfers through history have made huge sacrifices to reach the top echelons of the game.
Instead of idolising John Daly or the eccentric genius of Severiano Ballesteros, in hindsight as youngsters we should have been learning from the unstinting work ethic of the single-minded Sir Nick Faldo.
From a very young age Faldo was driven by a “quest for excellence”, and dedicated countless thousands of hours to being the finest and most thoroughly prepared player that he could be.
A golfer of incredible mental fortitude, Faldo took the unthinkable step for an Order of Merit winner of remodeling his swing under the watchful gaze of David Leadbetter in the mid-1980s.
After enduring several frustrating years in the relative wilderness, the brave step paid dividends and Faldo went on to win no fewer than six major championships, becoming a true golfing great and fulfilling his quest for excellence.
Outstanding results in all spheres almost always require sacrifice and a willingness to go the extra mile.
3 – Patience
At the major championships, pro golfers aim to get themselves into contention by keeping the ball in play and making few costly errors, perhaps looking to pick up a few birdies on the par 5 holes.
As a rule, professionals don’t go out on to the course aiming to shoot a 62, instead they focus on playing the percentages, approaching each shot in isolation and playing every situation on its merits.
Golfing legend and 8 time major winner Tom Watson aged 64 incredibly recently shot his age – a round of 64 – by applying precisely this disciplined approach.
If a player is on course to miss the cut towards the end of the second round they may take a few more calculated risks, but generally major championship golf is a percentages game and being too aggressive can backfire.
Golf psychologists therefore tend to use phrases like “control the controllables”, “routine, routine, routine” and “beat them with patience”.
I recall the junior golfers at our club frequently annoyed senior members by knocking them out of Matchplay events where points are awarded for winning individual holes, yet were rarely so successful in the Medal tournaments where cumulative strokes are instead recorded.
Being a good investor is more akin to a Medal competition than a Matchplay event…but it often takes an early defeat or two to understand this.
The first time I went to a casino I won £690 and I thought it was brilliant (bad news).
The next time we went I lost the lot which was a salutary lesson, and funnily enough I’ve gambled in casinos very rarely since!
It also took me a hefty $50,000 loss on speculative mining shares to realise that there is no need to go down that path again.
Investing should be fundamentally simple for those of a patient temperament and an accumulators mentality.
Why speculate in low quality companies which have never made a profit or buy property in remote mining towns to chase a fast buck?
Far better to aim to continue accumulating high quality assets such as shares in dividend-paying blue chip companies, index funds or well-located capital city properties, which will continue to deliver returns in perpetuity.
4 – Leverage
I’m not sure about you but I can’t move my hands particularly fast.
Yet when a supreme athlete such as Tiger Woods hits a golf ball, it really stays hit and the clubhead speed generated can top an awesome 120mph.
How so? The reason is due to leverage.
Using the longest club in the bag, the ‘1 wood’ or driver, there are golfers out there who can hit the golf ball extraordinary distances…up to half a kilometre in some cases! As Archimedes said: “give me a lever long enough lever and I shall moved the world”.
Of course, in tournament play, one will rarely see a golfer hit a ball in such a manner, due to the necessary lack of control.
All golfers use leverage to their advantage, but it must be utilised with a level of restraint and control, and a bit of common sense.
Leverage is the principle reason that average investors look to investment property – residential real estate is the one asset class which allows them to use the greatest leverage.
I recall as a nipper my parents selling their house which they’d bought for £4,000 in Sheffield for more than double the amount they had paid for it.
They upgraded and later bought a house for £30,000 which they’d negotiated down by £1,500.
Even as a youngster I was struck by three things.
Firstly, the sheer size of the numbers involved as compared to my old man’s reasonably modest pay cheque.
Secondly, how even for a family where funds were pretty tight – a family of five boys supported on my Dad’s probation officer salary – it was possible to build thousands of pounds of equity over time as a property owner.
And thirdly, how each time my parents moved house, prices had moved higher – much higher – and that wasn’t only because they were trading up.
That’s the combined power of leverage and compound growth at work, which allows sensible homeowners to build up significant equity or net worth over time.
In my case, I intuitively looked to investment property when I was in my 20s because it allowed me to invest with millions of dollars that I could not otherwise have done.
It should go without saying, however, that leverage is a double-edged sword and should only be used sensibly and with a long-term outlook, since while gains can be magnified, so too can losses.
The anti-real estate contingent frequently tend to oscillate interchangeably between two lines of argument: that property has not been a good investment (demonstrably false, if you have invested sensibly) and that property investment is unethical or socially useless.
The fact of the matter is, if you know what you’re doing, property can be an outstanding investment as part of a balanced portfolio.
5 – Risk Management
If you were watching the British Open carefully, you’d have seen the brilliant Rory McIlroy decline to use his driver on the 72nd hole, instead opting to hit a more conservative long iron.
Why would a guy who had been melting it up to 400 yards off the tee across the hard links turf not use his biggest club?
McIlroy had already taken calculated risks earlier in the tournament and now was using less leverage and eliminating risk.
It worked a treat and he took out the claret jug as the Open Championship winner.
Successful investing is very much like a 72 hole golf tournament in the the winners must avoid making catastrophic mistakes and manage risk.
Moreover, it generally pays to be a bit more aggressive and invest in what are perceived as ‘riskier’ growth or ownership when you are younger and have time on your side.
Later in the game you may elect to deleverage or transition towards income assets, but the key is to get yourself into the happy position of having these choices.