Nova Scotia: LPGA ’s language policy touches a nerve

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Sep 10 15:28:23 UTC 2008

LPGA's language policy touches a nerve

Wed. Sep 10 - 6:57 AM

GOLF REQUIRES many skills.

There's strength, touch, balance, endurance, concentration. English is
not a skill needed to play golf. So when the LPGA announced recently
players needed to be able to speak English, the reaction was swift and
predictable. Discriminatory was the word most often used to describe
the policy. Beginning next season, any player who can't pass an oral
evaluation of their English skills will face fines. Originally, the
LPGA was going to suspended players whose English was subpar, but
backed off as the rhetoric heated up.

At first glance, it may seem odd the top women's golf tour in the
world would require its players to be able to speak English. The ball
has no idea what language a player is speaking. LPGA officials are
proud their tour attracts the best players from around the world.
There are 121 international players this season, representing 26
countries. (Canadians Lorie Kane, Alena Sharp and A.J. Eathorne are
considered international players by the LPGA.)

Of the 24 individual events this season, 20 have been won by foreign
players. Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and Annika Sorenstam of Sweden have
collected multiple victories, but it's a nine-tournament stretch this
year that must have scared the LPGA into taking this step.

Of those nine events, seven were won by Asian players, including six
by South Koreans with varying grasps of the English language.

While being able to speak English means nothing when it comes to
getting the ball into the hole, the LPGA is a business venture.
Players must be able to communicate with fans, sponsors and the media.

Amateurs who pay big bucks to play in pro-ams want to be able to talk
with their professional playing partners, want to hear stories, be
entertained. A player who cannot speak English hurts the LPGA's
efforts to reach fans and attract sponsors. It also hurts the player's
own ability to market themselves.

"We depend on sponsors and their view of us, and if we don't entertain
them enough, then we might lose them," Eathorne told the Vancouver Sun
recently. "It is a worldwide tour, but it is based in the U.S. and it
is important to be able to speak the language and accept the trophy
while speaking the language."

The LPGA is not expecting fluency in English, just a basic level of
communication in the three situations that are key to the tour's
business model: the pro-am, media interviews and winner's acceptance

Caught up in this public relations storm is the private Vancouver Golf
Club, which has seen the language light shine on its English-only

"There were quite a few applications coming in with an interpreter,
and the club decided they wanted to put an end to that," general
manager Brent Gough told CBC News recently of the decision eight years

The club expects all its members to be able to communicate with each
other and understand the club's rules.

"It's been accepted everyone is welcome to our club as long as you
meet our criteria."

Just like Augusta National, which has no female members, private clubs
like Vancouver should be free to set their own membership policies.
But going your own way should also come with a price.

The Royal Canadian Golf Association should steer clear of Vancouver
when it looks for a tournament site for a national championship. The
Vancouver club should also be barred from receiving any tax breaks
that might be afforded the club as a recreation facility.

While the LPGA's English policy — or the membership matters of the
Vancouver Golf Club or Augusta National — might be unpopular and
controversial, it doesn't make them wrong.
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