Golf Digest’s May issue is absurdly sexist. Again.

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.

Golf Digest's May 2015 cover.

Golf Digest‘s May 2015 cover.

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).

Golf Digest covers (top to bottom) featuring Rory McIlroy (April 2015), Paulina Gretzky (May, 2014) and Jordan Spieth (February 2015).

Golf Digest covers (top to bottom) featuring Rory McIlroy (April 2015), Paulina Gretzky (May, 2014) and Jordan Spieth (February 2015).

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.


Christian Trejbal is a freelance editorial writer, editor and political consultant based in Portland, Ore. He wrote exclusively for The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times before founding Opinion in a Pinch. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation and is open government chairman. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal and facebook.

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  • Caleb Becker

    Ah outrage pron. Anybody care what the athlete thinks? Or are we really at that point where any picture of a woman is somehow sexist? She posed for many pictures, this was one of them, she’s cool with it. You can read her words for yourselves… http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/more-sports/lexi-thompson-defends-topless-golf-digest-cover-article-1.2176671 There are many things in this world to be upset about, this ain’t one of them.

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  • BillFromPA

    As a subscriber to this mag I have to say that the cover this month melds perfectly with all the ED pharmaceutical adds on the inside.

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  • atalex

    The one positive aspect of global climate change is that eventually, it will destroy golf as a sport. Most of the Western states are at risk for mega-droughts, and eventually, people will acknowledge what a ridiculous waste of scarce resources it is to keep 18-hole courses watered all year long for the benefit of geriatric fossils in ugly pants.

  • Guest

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  • Janet Simon

    When, when, when will women stop thinking that strength comes from their mammary glands and their genitalia. Lexi did not show me how strong she is, but just how weak she is to have to stoop to this level. Don’t show me your boobs, show me your abilities. Do you not
    realize how hard it is to convince young girls that strength comes from inside and not what your body looks like. Thanks for setting us back Lexi. We have not come a long way baby, we are still way back.

  • DRoseDARs

    I think I see what you’re getting it. It’s a long stretch, though. Most associate the imagery you’re referring to to things like football or baseball locker rooms, filled with sweaty guys sporting just a towel around their waist and one slung over their shoulders. Most people aren’t going to associate golf with that imagery, and I think that’s where this cover falls flat if your theory is what it was aiming for. As for Ms. Thompson’s part in this, I have to imagine she had to sign off on the final image chosen.

  • Indigo

    Welcome to suburbia and its discontents.

  • The next cover should be Jordan Spieth with a towel over his junk.

  • I’m with Chris. It’s crass and sexist. The one with Paula Gretzky is even worse. And the story on the one rare exception with Rory McIlroy? “Confessions of a Cart Girl”?

    It might be one thing if we were talking exception, but looking through their archived covers using the link Chris included, it’s clear this is how Golf Digest rolls: Men are shown in classic non-sexy portrait shots, the women are shown in porn-star poses.

  • Indigo

    Golf? Qu’est que ce ça?

  • At this point it doesn’t matter we’re all doomed.

  • 2karmanot

    OK..here’s a try: Locker room icon every bit as powerful as her male counterparts. It’s so simple and obvious, perhaps the ‘satire’ isn’t ironic enough.

  • Within the context of the magazine’s and the sport’s history of treating women poorly, I’m afraid the satire is lost on me. I’m genuinely interested, though, in what you believe is being satirized and what the message here is supposed to be. Would you please elaborate?

  • 2karmanot

    I disagree Chris, not about the misogyny which usually frames GOLF Digest’s pathetic covers and which you point out so well, but with the front cover of Lexi Thompson. I think it is witty, snarky and I say ” you go! “, the satire is powerful, entertaining and a teaching moment totally lost on the humorless and easily agitated PC fuss budgets.

  • GarySFBCN

    Shame on you for supporting golf. Golf courses consume huge amounts of water, use tons of pesticides and fertilizers and erode biodiversity. They are enemies of the environment.

  • nicho

    I live in an area with dozens of golf courses. I would say that about 99 percent of the regular golfers look nothing like the people on the covers of those magazines. Most of them look like “before” pictures from the Weight Watchers magazine.

  • mirth

    I doubt anyone put a gun to Lexi’s head and told her to pose nearly undressed for the cover. Point some of your indignation her way.

  • Jimmy

    Agreed. If they had refused to put her on the cover for saying no then take to social media to make them pay.

  • JaneE

    Working out in tight clothing or wearing compression workout clothes? I won’t try to defend nudity or evening wear, but workout clothing is tight for a reason.

  • Quilla

    Advice for Lexi Thompson: Just say, “NO!”

    Magazines like these don’t publish sexist covers without the consent of the model. Shame on all of them.

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