The IX: Golf Thursday with Carly Grenfell, June 25, 2020
Moving women's golf forward — Interview with Rachel Mabee — Must-click links in women's golf
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Moving women’s golf forward
Without much live golf to cover the last few months, I started thinking about something. I asked myself this question: what does women’s golf need more of?
If there is anything positive to come out of this global pandemic, it’s that we’ve seen the golf community come together in some pretty big ways. The most recent example, that I talked about last week, is the #RaceForeUnity, which raised money supporting the diversity initiatives of LPGA-USGA Girls Golf and the PGA WORKS fellowship.
Here are a few thing that come to mind—of which I’ll talk about in more detail today. At the start, I worried this pandemic could ruin the LPGA forever. But now I basically feel the exact opposite.
While women’s golf has been exposed in some ways, it’s also taught us a heck of a lot more. Of course it will take time and resources to fully recover from the obvious financial hit of not being able to play events, but this pandemic has surfaced a few important topics that I think will move the women’s game forward for many years to come.
Network television coverage
Let’s begin with sponsors. Sponsors are a large piece of the LPGA’s engine that makes it run. At the PGA, I’m currently part of a “re-imagine championships” focus group where we are breaking down events, piece by piece, to see where we can certainly improve the event—but also cut back on costs. Saving money is as important as it has ever been. This is probably not an uncommon practice at this point in time for many in the sports industry, but also for many outside of it.
Mike Whan recently wrote an article for Sports Business Daily on the realities of sponsorships today. See below for probably the biggest takeaway, in my opinion.
Fewer than 7% of corporate sponsorships worldwide focus on women’s sports. But research by Nielsen found that nearly 85% of fans would be interested in watching women’s sports…Leaders speak passionately about equality, empowerment and diversity. Yet, the way they spend consumer marketing/sponsorship dollars reinforces something else. The corporate world didn’t wait until women made up 50% of board seats before expanding women’s leadership opportunities. So why would anyone think viewership and fan numbers are the only criteria for how you spend billions of marketing dollars? That logic simply doesn’t fly when you promote equality as a core tenet of your business. (via Sports Business Daily)
This is why women’s golf needs more sponsors. It needs more sponsors for events, and it needs more sponsors to support individual LPGA players. Why? Because contrary to popular belief, there is demand. There is an interest. Sports fans do care. And as Whan so rightfully put it—because it’s time that companies put their money where their mouth is and do more to promote equality.
Women’s golf needs more sponsors: check.
Women’s golf (and golf as a whole) also needs more diversity, my next point on moving the game forward. The Black Lives Matter Movement and George Floyd’s death have sparked really powerful conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion in our sport. People like GOLFTV’s Henni Zuel, Golf Channel’s Damon Hack and the PGA Tour’s Harold Varner have been strong voices from the start during a time of immense hurt for black people. These conversations are long overdue. I’m grateful we’re having them now. But even more than that, I’m grateful it seems like people are listening.
Laz Versalles, a former club professional in Minneapolis who now works in the healthcare industry in California, recently wrote an incredible essay for golf.com. It is raw, honest and eye-opening. Portions of his letter remind me of Harold Varner’s sit-down-interview PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, where he points out the fact that just because the greatest golfer of all-time is black (Tiger Woods), that doesn’t translate to more black people playing the sport.
“Today, 23 years after Tiger’s historic win at the 1997 Masters, we see Harold Varner, III Cameron Champ and Tiger Woods as the most prominent black faces in men’s professional golf. But wasn’t Tiger’s dominance supposed to open the floodgates for black golfers? Aren’t organizations like The First Tee and the grow-the-game initiatives of the PGA of America bringing people to the course who would otherwise not have access? Yes, they are. And, no, they are not.” (via golf.com)
Versalles lays out the history of other prominent black golfers, how the invention of the golf cart led to fewer black people (who often started out as caddies) on the golf course, and proves through many examples that people like him have been here before; discrimination in golf is nothing new. My favorite part of this piece is that it’s also solution-driven. Versalles speaks to how we can actually fix the issue at hand.
“But if these same clubs were to build grassroots caddy programs focusing on nearby low-income nearby neighborhoods? Now you’re talking. That’s impactful. That’s helping a family budget. That’s nurturing mentorships and relationships. That’s bonding. From my perspective we need to move the narrative away from ‘how do we get more people access to the game’ to ‘how do we get black communities more invested in the game.’” (via golf.com)
If you haven’t yet, I highly encourage you to read that full article. A lot of the history he talks about was all new, but extremely valuable, information to me.
To me, one of the best things I can do as a white person right now is listen and continue to educate myself on the barriers black people still face and are fighting today. The more open ears and open arms we have in the golf industry, the better off we’ll be. It certainly won’t be easy, and will take a lot of time and diligence, but just like equality is important and worth it—so is diversity and inclusion.
The next two things I think women’s golf needs more of are male advocates and more television coverage. Yet again, let’s look at the Justin Rose example and the snowball effect it had on women’s golf. Scenario: LET struggling because of COVID-19. Justin notices the LET struggling, is bothered by it and does something about it. Justin announces the Rose Ladies Series and it becomes big news in the UK and here in the United States. Companies read this news, and decide to take action themselves. The Rose Ladies Series suddenly has a title sponsor. Days later the Rose Ladies Series gets another boost from Computacenter, which was another 35,000 pounds to sponsor a two-day Grand Final mega purse for the eighth and final event.
Need I say more? Women’s golf needs more players like Justin Rose to advocate for them. Playing on the PGA Tour is not like playing on the LPGA Tour where you have to scratch and claw your way to the top to make a decent living. The bottom line is there is more money, there is more opportunity and there is more exposure for PGA Tour players. This makes them valuable assets to women’s golf. Golf is golf; it’s a team. Do you think we would be talking about Justin Rose today if he wasn’t on television every week? And if major news outlets didn’t cover men’s golf week to week?
Some might say “well he was former World No. 1, obviously he’s built up that reputation.” But I’d argue otherwise. I guarantee if you asked 100 people who the World No. 1 golfer on the LPGA is today, only 20% (and that’s being generous) would know the answer. The reality is that women’s golf doesn’t have the platform—yet—that men’s golf does. So the day we consistently start seeing the LPGA on network TV, and not for just a round or two here and there, is the day we probably won’t need to rely on our male counterparts as much.
There is zero harm for either the men or women to be in the fight for equality, for more sponsors, for more diversity and for more coverage together. I just wish it wasn’t so darn difficult for the industry to grasp that, or for more people to feel empowered enough to do something about it. I probably sound like a broken record, as these topics are ones I constantly hammer home. But I’m passionate about them because I know that each of these factors are where the magic will happen for women’s golf.
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This Week in Women’s Golf
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Reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champ Gabi Ruffels to play in men’s event in Florida. (via Golf Channel)
The LET-LPGA is a positive partnership for all, writes Meghan MacLaren. (via LPGA.com)
Efforts to diversify golf haven’t worked. It’s time for a new approach. (via golf.com)
Female threesome Kathryn Tappen (NBC Sports reporter), Kira Dixon (2015 Miss America) and Troy Mullins (World Long Drive champion) are joining the fun at this year’s American Century Classic.
From Mike Whan: it’s reset time for sports and sponsorship. (via Sports Business Journal)
Maria Fassi adjusting to life on the LPGA Tour. (via WholeHogSports)
LPGA dreamed big for Inverness event. (via The Toledo Blade)
So Yeon Ryu donated her entire earnings from last week’s event to COVID-19 relief. (via LPGA.com)
How the #RaceForeUnity demonstrated the power of sport. (via LPGA.com)
How players in golf used their peloton bikes to support diversity in golf. (via Golfworld)
LPGA’s NW Arkansas event increases purse by $300,000. (via Golf Channel)
Rose Ladies Series gets big boost from additional sponsors. (via Golfweek)
LPGA players rally around caddies to provide them financial support. (via Yahoo Sports)
The dream team: LPGA star Brooke Henderson salutes her dad, mom and sister. (via Ottawa Sun)
Aditi Ashok is learning how to be ambidextrous in lockdown. (via Sportstar)
Cheyenne Woods talks about race, how the history runs deep in golf. (via The Guardian)
Testing will get more rigorous on the PGA Tour, but golf will continue. (via Golfweek)
This 15-year-old just played in her third Korn Ferry Tour event. (via Golfweek)
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Rachel Mabee
Rachel Mabee is the PGA WORKS Program Specialist at the PGA of America, which was one of the programs the #RaceForeUnity benefited. I asked her some questions specifically surrounding diversity and inclusion efforts in golf, and got her reaction to the event itself.
I. Why is diversity important in the golf industry? Diversity in all aspects of the game is mission critical. Evolving our demographic composition to best reflect the communities we serve is crucial to preserving this game for years to come. The more representation from diverse backgrounds we have in our sport and in the business of golf, the more we will continue to inspire and engage diverse communities in golf. Ultimately we want our industry to reflect what modern day America looks like.
II. What was your role in helping bring #RaceForeUnity to life? This was Morgan Pressel, JeeHae Lee, Henni Zuel and Tif Joh’s baby and I was honored to be along for the ride (pun intended). But in short, I helped Morgan with any of the PGA WORKS content, outreach, logistics and any promotions that were needed for the event.
III. What was your reaction to the event and the total money raised? My initial reaction, as you can imagine, was excitement, but it moved just being really honored to be thought about as a beneficiary for this incredible event. Inclusion and Diversity are hard subjects to talk about, oftentimes uncomfortable, and because of that, it can often be “overlooked.” But when Morgan said she wanted the beneficiaries to be directly associated with growing inclusion and diversity and golf and we were top of mind, it was a really happy, proud and honored moment.
IV. How do we use this momentum to continue conversations of diversity and inclusion in our sport? This is not just a moment in time, this is a movement…a movement to seize the initiative. This is a movement where peoples eyes and minds are open to having authentic and uncomfortable dialogue about the systemic racism that exists and helping to be a part of a truly meaningful, impactful and sustainable change. Because it is not about education or skills or knowledge that sets us apart from our “majority” counterparts, it is about opportunity and access, and we are on the path to ensuring that those opportunities are now more readily available than ever.
V. What’s the most important thing we (white people who work in golf) can do to create a more inclusive environment for people of diverse backgrounds? You have to truly recognize the existence of the barriers that exist and the historical context behind them. You have to know what is there in order to be truly vested into making a change. Be an ally, be antiracist not just anti-racism, acknowledge your privilege and use it to make change, uplift minority voices and gives those voices validity, but most importantly, listen. Listen just to listen and not solely to reply, because “in order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it, and not how you imagine their experience to be.” -Brene Brown