Understand This, LPGA: Sponsors Deserve Better

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

The LPGA dug itself into a hole it can't -- and shouldn't -- easily get out of. Forcing its players to either become proficient in English or face expulsion is bad enough. But neglecting to consult its sponsors about a decision so potentially controversial is inexcusable. For an organization that claims it simply wants to further communication, the LPGA is certainly doing a lousy job of it.

We won't use this space to debate the merits of the policy for the LPGA, which counts 121 international players from 26 countries in its tour -- we'll leave that to commentators on Ad Age's Big Tent blog, where the story surfaced. But we will take strong issue with both the decision to mandate the policy and the ham-handed manner the LPGA used to convey it. Neither did the sport any favors. In fact, both helped rekindle the image of golf as an exclusionary and often discriminatory club.

Comments made by LPGA Deputy Commissioner Libba Galloway to AdAge.com didn't do much to dispel that. "This was always only intended to be an internal member [matter]. We're a membership organization, and this is a matter between the LPGA and our members, and just like other matters of membership regulation, we never intended to have a public announcement of it."

That closed-door policy apparently extended to sponsors such as State Farm, which said it was "dumbfounded" by the LPGA policy and publicly blasted the move. "We don't understand this and don't know why they have done it, and we have strongly encouraged them to take another look at this," said Kip Diggs, a State Farm media-relations specialist. He said the insurer would have to consider whether to renew its sponsorship with the LPGA if it does not eradicate the policy.

It comes down to whether this was a sin of omission or arrogance -- and we'll bet on the latter. "I can only speculate that [the LPGA] didn't think this was going to be such a controversial issue; otherwise they probably would have [informed their sponsors]," said Ann Wool, senior VP-director at Ketchum Sports network. "It was probably a bad move not to."

Maybe if it had, sponsors such as State Farm might have pointed out that the proficiency requirement looks a lot like an ill-disguised threat. Is that plain English enough for you, LPGA?
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