Wanna play golf, ladies? Learn to speak English.

According to a report on ESPN.com this morning, the LPGA will require players to be “effective in English starting in 2009.”

I don’t follow golf, so I’m not sure what exactly the LPGA is thinking on this one (are English speakers losing too often to their international counterparts?) but it seems ridiculous. Other sports leagues which draw large numbers of international players (hello, MLB) seem to do just fine. Does anybody know more about the politics behind this, or about other sports leagues that have instituted similar rules?

[UPDATE] This AP article has more information. Apparently current Tour players have two years to pass an oral evaluation, or they will be suspended; new players must pass the evaluation immediately. Also, in case you were wondering: Tiger has no comment. Ah, the smell of xenophobia in the morning!

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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  1. Trip Kirkpatrick · September 3, 2008 Reply

    Off the top of my head, I’d say Follow the money! The LPGA is doing this because they think their sponsors are skittish about a pool of golfers dominated (or perceived to be dominated) by Koreans. I can’t say anything intelligent about that fact/perception of player pool composition, but it seems to me that xenophobia in a literal sense is indeed at work. The LPGA wants to keep its matches telegenic, its press conferences telegenic, and its players sponsorship opportunities plentiful — in the Anglophone world. They fear becoming the de facto Korean LPGA, regardless of the rationality of that fear.

    For a contrasting example, of course, one need look no farther than Major League Baseball, which regularly hires players who need interpreters. (And some of the native English speakers could use a little help, too!) However, my suspicion is that there are enough native English-speaking players in MLB that they don’t feel concerned about it. They can produce Anglophone superstars and Hispanophone superstars not to mention native Japanese speakers and one or two Chinese speakers.

  2. Ryan · September 3, 2008 Reply

    So then, how is mandating that players be “effective” in English going to change things? It’s not going to change the looks of the players, and many will likely speak English with a heavy accent, which I would suggest will only INCREASE the “foreignness” of international players to folks whose eyes and ears are not accustomed to dealing with such difference. I think you’re right on the money with this one, Trip – I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

    As for the MLB, add in the fact that you’re talking about teams, not individuals, and that fans of MLB are probably more likely to live in a city, where they would be more exposed to a multicutural atmosphere. Baseball fans can be amazingly un-PC as well (don’t even get me started on the Atlanta Braves’ Tomahawk Chop) but I just think the dynamics and the nature of the sport give them a better chance of tolerance. Plus baseball’s just less boring than women’s golf, so there’s less time to conjure up conspiracy theories. 😀

  3. Sharon Scinicariello · September 7, 2008 Reply

    Our local newspaper covered this fairly extensively. It is very much a “follow the money” issue, although it has little to nothing to do with television or physical attractiveness. Players on the LPGA (like male players in the PGA) are expected to play pro-am rounds–and mingle at receptions–with major sponsors and local celebrities. Apparently, some of the players with weak English skills were either begging off or being excused from this duty. Since some of these players are the biggest stars right now, this is a problem for the various golf courses/clubs that host these events and need to find local sponsors, i.e., money. In addition, the women who were fulfilling these marketing duties felt they were doing a disproportionate share of the work. I don’t think you can compare this to the situation with team sports; no one expects those players to play routinely with those who fund their sports.

  4. Ryan · September 8, 2008 Reply

    awesome! thanks for the update.

  5. Ryan · September 8, 2008 Reply

    Sure, and I completely understand the league needing to stay afloat. In the article Barbara posted in her comment, a legislator was quoted as saying: “To require players to schmooze with corporate sponsors and value that over their ability to play golf is ‘very demeaning to the sport.'” Well, yes, but golf isn’t just a sport. It’s a business. And if it wasn’t a business, the golfers wouldn’t be getting paid, and most of them probably wouldn’t be golfing.

    So yes, schmoozing with sponsors is part of the business, and I understand why the LPGA needs that. But suspending players because of their language skills? That is ridiculous. Every sport, be it individual or team-based, has a small percentage of its players that serve as “ambassadors” to sponsors and the general public. And yes, some will have to do more schmoozing than others. But if marketing isn’t going well, don’t blame the players. It’s their primary job to compete, and to help out with marketing on a secondary basis. Instead, put the blame where it belongs – with the LPGA’s marketing department. Perhaps they should learn a little Korean and focus their efforts overseas.

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