LPGA says “English Only” to foreign golfers

Asian American ad man and marketing guru Bill Imada comments on Ad Age‘s lively “Big Tent” blog (he’s one of a group of contributors) about how the LPGA is requiring English language proficiency for foreign golfers on the LPGA tour.

For those of you who do not follow golf nor sporting news, LPGA leaders recently decided to require their non-English-speaking members, many of whom have been on the LPGA Tour for two years or more, to be proficient in English before they are allowed to participate in LPGA-sanctioned events. In other words, the LPGA is asking its card-holding members who participate in the golf tournament circuit to be able to pass an exam in English or face suspension from LPGA play.

Well, the last time I checked, the LPGA is an organization that has sponsors based in the U.S. and other countries. Its membership is truly international and includes 121 golfers from outside of the U.S., representing more than two dozen countries. And, while the LPGA has its roots in the Western Hemisphere, it has benefited heavily from the growing interest in golf in a number of major industrialized countries as well as developing countries around the world — including nations in Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.

Requiring that its members and players be proficient in English makes no sense. And the thought of suspending members who aren’t proficient in English seems unnecessarily harsh and, even worse, discriminatory and unlawful. The LPGA should be ashamed of itself.


The comments that follow are split between people who are offended by this move, and those who say that the LPGA has every right to make this requirement because sponsors need their star athletes to speak English in interviews.

I can certainly understand the money-related reasons outlined by those marketing-based commenters who are concerned about their English-centric payoffs.

But in so many other situations including sports, arts and diplomacy, interpreters are perfectly acceptable in media situations. How many Japanese baseball players have a translator an arm’s length away at all times? I wonder if English-speaking athletes are required to learn, say Chinese, or Japanese, when they’re given sponsorships for products in those countries?

This move is so based in the profit-motive and not in sportsmanship, talent or cross-cultural understanding that it reflects and reinforces the common worldwide image of America as a unilateral, monolithic and mono-cultural society.

It’s a pity. And, it’s an ugly ehco of the times not so long ago, when people of color and Jews weren’t allowed into “nice” country clubs to even play golf. If I were an multi-national company sponsoring the LPGA, I’d back out.

Bill thinks this move might be because of the rise of dominating golfers from Korea (and we’re not talking Korean American golfers like Michelle Wie).

I think Bill’s observations are right-on, and his suggestions solid. What do you think?

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