EVERYONE knows the old saying, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it”, but is it always appropriate to flaunt it, even on the golf course? The LPGA Tour thinks most definitely not. It is the right decision if you consider the factors surrounding the matter and if they do not want the game and its players to be brought into disrepute.

By implementing the new dress code rules, the LPGA Tour clearly wants to protect the integrity of the players and the traditions of the game. However it would be impractical to fail to acknowledge the proven method of ‘sex sells’ marketing. There is no doubt that the blatant use of an attractive person’s image is highly effective in marketing, sales and promotion. There is a way to have it both ways and keep the game in line with its conservative ways plus allow for sexy elements of the game to remain alive.

Recently the LPGA Tour released a new policy on dress code, including “no low-cut tops”, “skirts must cover the bottom area” and “no racerback tops”. This is a fair call. After all, we are talking about golf attire, on a golf course, not inside a gym or on a tennis court where the environment is fitting for fewer clothes.

Michelle WieSome of the more glamorous female professionals, like Michelle Wie [left], have been pushing the limits with skin-tight clothing and super short skirts. Wie looks fantastic in her Nike outfits as she has a body to die for, but she would look just as nice with a little more material on her athletically gifted body. It is possible to wear fashionable, snug fitting golf attire without exposing too much skin or, dare I say it, the “bottom area”.

There is a time and place for sexy clothing and showcasing a more glamorous image, and it is away from tournament golf and off the golf course. When on the course it should be a case of “let the golf do the talking”. Glamour or sexy marketing of LPGA Tour players should be reserved for magazine articles, photo shoots for promotional purposes, websites and social media marketing photos. Of course, public driving ranges are places where dresscodes do not exist so represent another opportunity for practising professionals to wear whatever they choose.

Women are entitled to flaunt their good looks and athletic bodies that they have worked so hard to sculpt. But keep it for off the course. There have been plenty of professional athletes who have been the subject of photo shoots for magazines completely naked – this is not frowned upon and nor should they be ‘body shamed’. If an athlete is comfortable in her skin and wants to promote herself away from the golf course, she is perfectly within her rights to do so. On the course, it really should be about getting the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible and a low-cut top shouldn’t get a single mention.

Michelle Wie
Michelle Wie’s choice of attire has turned heads.

The problem with exposing too much skin on the course is that it can look incongruous and detracts from the wonderful golf these women play. Plus, it is not practical – where do tees, gloves and ball markers go while wearing lycra?

LPGA players are role models for young girls. First and foremost, young girls should admire LPGA Tour players for their golf ability and not their beautiful looks. Players have an obligation to send the right message to the next generation and the youth of the sport.

There has been much conjecture surrounding this topic, as there is merit in suggesting that relaxing the dress code would bring more women, particularly young women, to the game. The dress code should most definitely be relaxed but not to the extreme lengths of racerback tops and skirts that expose one’s bottom. More suitable suggestions for relaxing the dress code would be skirts that can be worn shorter than a few inches above the knee and allowing Chinese collar shirts, like we see on the men’s circuits.

Golf attire does not need to change to lifestyle wear or fitness wear to avoid being labelled dowdy or dorky, and golf-specific clothing will always be in vogue. LPGA Tour players can rest assured, as there will always be ample opportunities to showcase their beauty and marketability. But on the course, stick to clothes that are appropriate and specifically designed for playing golf and let performance be the priority.

The Email That Sparked The Fluster

The e-mail circulated to all LPGA members was sent on July 2 from LPGA player president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman and was marked as “important”.

Here’s the new dress code as it appeared in the e-mail (all the capitalisation is the LPGA’s, not ours):

Plunging necklines like Paige Spiranac’s are now a no-no on the LPGA Tour.
Plunging necklines like Paige Spiranac’s are now a no-no on the LPGA Tour.

• Racerbacks with a mock or regular collar are allowed (no collar = no racerback).

• Plunging necklines are NOT allowed.

• Leggings, unless under a skort or shorts, are NOT allowed.

• Length of skirt, skort and shorts MUST be long enough to not see your bottom area (even if covered by undershorts) at any time, standing or bent over.

• Appropriate attire should be worn to pro-am parties. You should be dressing yourself to present a professional image. Unless otherwise told “no”, golf clothes are acceptable. Dressy jeans are allowed, but cut-offs or jeans with holes are NOT allowed.

• Workout gear and jeans (all colours) NOT allowed inside the ropes.

• Joggers are NOT allowed.

Goetze-Ackerman went on to explain that it’s an LPGA Tour player’s “job” to notify her clothing sponsors of this new policy, and that “penalties for violating the dress code will be a $1,000 and it will double with each offence”.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Michelle?

Michelle WieThe great Don Bradman once commented that even if you can’t be a good cricketer, you at least should attempt to look like one. It’s a sentiment the LPGA would echo given the organisation’s recent decision to apply a stricter dress code for tour players.

The boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable have been brought to a head by the on-course apparel of Michelle Wie. The 27-year-old from Hawaii has been the protagonist in this evolving drama for what we can only assume are her ill-considered scantily clad outfits.

Wie’s bare-shouldered tops, plunging necklines and butt-hugging skorts got tongues wagging on the LPGA Tour. What may look stunning on the body of a 6-foot-1 Glamazon may not necessarily look as fetching on a physically less attractive player.

But the real agenda of the LPGA appears to be a need to differentiate itself from all the wannabes and attention-seekers that now use golf and sex as a vehicle for their own self-promotion.

A bevy of blonde babes have become Instagram sensations with their penchant for swinging a golf club while wearing next to nothing. Paulina Gretzky, Paige Spiranac and semi-retired pro Natalie Gulbis lead the way. Cobra Puma Golf even ran an advertising campaign featuring professional golfer Blair O’Neal in a bikini and high heels.

Paulina GretskyThe sexualisation of women’s golf has become an issue for the LPGA. In terms of growing its brand, the LPGA has made substantial progress in the eight years since the removal of Carolyn Bivens as commissioner. With 34 tournaments now on the schedule, the LPGA would be mindful of any activity/behaviour that could undo all of its hard work.

That’s particularly pertinent in the Asia-Pacific where the tour has expanded its global reach to 10 events in 2017. The LPGA is attracting more commercial sponsors from Asia where the audience is inclined to be more conservative when it comes to flaunting sexuality.

However, the LPGA could be accused of being a little hypocritical. When American Golf Digest featured Gretzky [above, left] on the cover with skin-tight leggings and a bare midriff, the LPGA demanded that one of its top players be given a cover opportunity.

Lexi ThompsonNot long afterwards, Wie appeared on the cover with a tank top and bare midriff. Then Lexi Thompson [right] posed topless with a white towel draped over her breasts. Very risqué, and the LPGA didn’t seem to voice any strong disapproval.

On the one hand it encourages players to display their athleticism and femininity to broaden the tour’s appeal. But it now appears the LPGA is taking a little step backwards – wary that a provocative precedent has been set. What is more surprising is that it took so long for the LPGA to send a strong message. The e-mail for players to dress in an appropriate manner at official LPGA events could also be interpreted as a warning to tread carefully on social media.

The message is clear. LPGA Tour players have to be aware of who they are and the reputation of a game that provides them with a good living. The image of the game needs to be protected, so guidelines about what can be worn while competing are justifiable.

As an LPGA insider mentioned: “It’s not tennis, it’s not a swimwear competition or beach volleyball. It’s golf … The LPGA should have strict rules in place.”

– Rohan Clarke