Yesterday, I received the new issue of Golf Digest, and it’s as awful as I’d been warned. I called to cancel my subscription.
The May issue features Lexi Thompson on the cover. Lexi Thompson is an LPGA player who hits the ball farther than I or any other average male golfer. In the photo, she has what looks like a towel slung over her naked torso. At least they gave her a golf glove.
Gender bias exists in many sports. Basketball, soccer and baseball/softball all treat women as lesser, especially when it comes to TV coverage. But it goes deeper in golf, where discrimination is part of the history of the game.
Augusta National Golf Club, home of last weekend’s Masters tournament, did not admit women until 2012. It admitted its third last year. Progress feels slower than a five-hour round of golf.
Augusta wasn’t a lone holdout, of course. Golf clubs around the country were the playgrounds of men for decades. Women made strides in the workplace, in politics, in society, but not on the links. Some golf clubs stubbornly remain men-only.
Even where women are allowed to play, they often are treated as second-class golfers. Clubs reserve the best morning tee times for men. Women play on “Ladies’ Day” (often Tuesday) or in the afternoon. That does not work so well for female business leaders hoping to do some business on the green.
Golf Digest perpetuates that sexism.
Most months, Golf Digest‘s cover features a male professional or celebrity golfer. Usually he holds a golf club and is dressed in a golf shirt (you can find their archived covers here).
Then it gets around to putting a woman on the cover and things go laughably wrong in an age in which Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The editors forget about golf and go Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. A year ago, Golf Digest earned the ire of evolved golfers when it featured a sexy golf picture of Paulina Gretzky. She isn’t a professional golfer, but she is blonde, fit and looks good in a sports bra and tights. A year before that, it was a scantily clad Holly Sonders swinging the club in the magazine’s pages that sparked outrage.
The editors did not learn their lesson. Instead, they doubled-down with a topless model this year. Indeed, the photo of Thompson was shot by Sports Illustrated Swimsuit veteran Walter Iooss, Jr.
In fairness, the magazine’s cover featured male golfer Rory McIlroy with his shirt off last month. That was shocking because it was the exception. This month’s is shocking because it is the embarrassing norm.
Things got no better inside this month’s edition. The story that went with the cover photo featured more pictures of professional women golfers working out in tight clothing. Perhaps the irony of the article that followed a few pages later was lost on editors: “Need more T? Increasing your testosterone will help you hit bigger drives.” (I am not making this up.)
Editor Jerry Tarde tried to head off controversy printing a “Mea Culpa, Ladies” letter at the front of the issue. In other words, he knew the cover was problematic, and went ahead with it anyway.
As an apology, it lacked culpa. Tarde was downright proud of his cover. He called it “historic” and claimed there’s nothing wrong with it because Thompson’s mother was at the photo shoot and she didn’t mind.
Meanwhile a picture of LPGA star Michelle Wie in a skin-tight dress dominated the page. “Have you ever seen anyone more fit in evening wear?” Tarde unironically asked. (Again, not making this up. He really is that tone-deaf.)
He concluded his letter, “PLAY LIKE A GIRL has become our new mantra.” Not like a woman, mind you, and that’s the problem. In Golf Digest‘s world, female golfers are girls. They are cute or fit, suitable for looking at as long as they don’t get in the way of the men.
Golf will continue to struggle with widespread acceptance as long as it treats half of the potential players as objects rather than athletes.
Women and all golfers deserve a real mea culpa from Golf Digest’s publisher Condé Nast. It can start by firing Tarde, who has shown he lacks the editorial judgment to serve all golfers.