How to speak the LPGA's language
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Sat Sep 13 13:24:16 UTC 2008
How to speak the LPGA's language
By Jordan Kobritz, Courier Columnist
The reaction was swift, and almost universally critical, after
Golfweek magazine reported the LPGA policy to require players to be
conversant in English beginning next year or face suspension. Players,
politicians, the media and civil rights groups all weighed in on the
topic, most accusing the LPGA of discrimination and demanding a
retraction of a policy that was designed to benefit the tour and its
players. After two weeks of non-stop criticism, LPGA Commissioner
Carolyn F. Bivens issued a statement announcing the association would
suspend the penalty provisions contained in its "effective
The LPGA has 121 foreign-born members - 45 from South Korea alone -
representing 26 countries, some of whom can't speak a word of English.
Many players believe their responsibility to the tour begins and ends
with their golf game. What that mindset fails to acknowledge is that
the LPGA has less to do with golf than marketing and PR. To be
successful, the LPGA believes its players need to converse in English
with the media, sponsors, fans, volunteers and, most importantly, with
amateurs during pro-am tournaments. Players who are conversant in
English would also benefit from an increase in endorsement revenue.
In an interview with Christine Brennan of USA Today, Bivens said, "A
pro-am is responsible for making LPGA events possible. It is the
single largest source of revenue for a tournament. There are no
domestic TV rights fees. This is our oxygen." In a tournament pro-am,
sponsors and other high rollers pay anywhere between $4,000 and
$12,000 to spend up to six hours on course with a pro. For that kind
of money, they expect conversation, advice, stories, and memories.
What they get, all too often, is a bow and a smile at the beginning of
a round and a handshake at the end.
To emphasize the potential consequences of the situation, Bivens also
told Brennan, "I've had tournament directors tell me they are getting
complaints (about international players who cannot speak enough
English to talk to their pro-am partners). We have to be aware of
that, because we've had sponsors who say they have had a bad time and
might pull out because of it. That's our reality."
Much has been made of the fact that the LPGA is the only "major"
professional sport to institute an English language policy. While
major sports, such as the NBA, NHL and MLB, have international
players, some of whom can't speak English, those leagues involve team
sports and have no counterpart to the pro-ams that sustain an
individual sport such as golf.
The PGA, the LPGA's male counterpart, also has a number of
foreign-born players whose command of the English language is limited.
But the PGA has as much in common with the LPGA as the NBA has with
the WNBA: Same sport, but where one is major league (NBA, PGA), the
other is strictly minor league (WNBA, LPGA), at least when it comes to
What critics ignore is that the LPGA policy has nothing to do with
discrimination and everything to do with survival. Anyone who thinks -
or says - otherwise is either oblivious to reality or prefers to ride
a politically correct horse for personal gain. While the PGA is awash
in cash, the LPGA has already lost two U.S. tournaments this summer
due to sponsors' economic woes, and given the state of the economy,
the concern over losing more sponsors - and tournaments - is
Although well intentioned, the penalty provision in the LPGA's policy
may not have been in the best interests of the membership. Ten of the
tour's 33 tournaments this year are played overseas, including one
each in Singapore, China, Thailand, France, Japan and South Korea. If
those countries required players to be "conversant" in their native
tongue as a prerequisite to playing competitive golf on their soil,
tournaments would be comprised of locals only.
Perhaps the LPGA's best course of action is to enhance a three-year
old program which provides members with cross-cultural training,
including tutors and translators. That way, players will receive the
assistance they need to communicate effectively. And critics can find
another target for their politically correct agenda.
(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball
team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at
Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the
University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of
Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at jkobritz at mindspring.com.)
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