Natalie Gulbis shows a little skin and gets her calendar banned at the U.S. Women's Open by the U.S. Golf Association.
On the other hand, it's sold openly and brazenly at the Canadian Open - the Canadians being a little more progressive than us rubes here in the U.S. - and the LPGA openly endorses it on its Web site.
What gives is that the LPGA has more of a business interest in showing off its players.
In fact, the LPGA, which is on the cusp of what many say will be a huge boom in women's golf, encourages its players to show different sides of themselves, other than their golfing profiles.
"We're trying to showcase our players to fans in many different dimensions," the LPGA's chief marketing officer, Karen Durkin, told TravelGolf.
Gulbis certainly has the dimensions to showcase. The 21-year-old produced the calendar herself, with the LPGA's blessing, and it's available on her personal Web site.
It shows her in various poses, wearing golf and exercise attire, as well as some saucy shots in swimsuits and one that mimics the old Marilyn Monroe classic, standing over a vent on the sidewalks of New York with her skirt billowing up around her.
Too bad it couldn't be showcased at the LPGA's biggest event. It isn't as if this is a Penthouse spread we're talking about. It's a tasteful calendar showing off a young, female athlete.
But, although the Women's Open is an official LPGA event, and counts in money and points, it's owned and operated by the USGA. Therefore, the sport's ruling body has final say on what can and cannot be displayed on the grounds.
A USGA spokesman told reporters at the Open the calendar was "not the appropriate subject matter."
If you took a poll, most golfers would probably agree with the USGA decision. Witness Golf Digest's recent centerfold photo spread of the UCLA golf team with strategically placed buckets of golf balls.
The magazine got a storm of responses, most of them negative.
The USGA is a conservative group in a conservative sport in what is essentially a conservative country - some would say prudish. So its decision may have been appropriate.
Still, it's a shame the USGA can't show a little flexibility to get on board with the LPGA's marketing savvy.
That marketing savvy probably wouldn't amount to much if there weren't so many young, attractive LPGA players burning up the sport. But, combined, the two have taken women's golf out of the doldrums.
"The buzz has never been higher than it has been in the last two years," Durkin said.
Two years ago, the LPGA came up with a new business plan, called Fan First, telling players they could improve on every one of five "points," the last including appearance.
It set two goals to meet over the next five years: to increase attendance at tournaments and to build television viewership, each by 15 percent annually.
In two years, each has grown by double digits. There are other signs the sport is becoming more profitable. Tournament sponsors continue to renew and purse levels are increasing. The LPGA now has $28 million or more in events.
Women golfers are starting to appear in magazines like Glamour, Elle and Women's Day. Annika Sorenstam gave the sport a huge, unexpected boost when she decided she could play with the men; her appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leon was the first for an LPGA player.
That opened the door for six women golfers who played in men's tournaments in 2003, and the resulting publicity refracted very favorable on the LPGA.
Young players like Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Paula Creamer, Ya-Ni Tseng - all teenagers - are drawing in young women and men alike.
It isn't as if the USGA isn't benefitting from the youth movement. It gave Wie a special exemption to the Women's Open, and enjoyed record ticket sales. That happened even though Wie, as an amateur, can't accept prize money or any kind of financial benefit from her talent, including expenses to travel to tournaments.
To the USGA's credit, it is thinking of changing that.
It might want to consider changing its attitude toward LPGA players in swimsuits. If the LPGA accepts and encourages it, the USGA should take a cue.
Remember the hubbub over Jan Stephenson almost 25 years ago when she posed nude in a bathtub full of golf balls? Is this how far we've come in a quarter-century?
July 13, 2004
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