It’s rare that the cover of Golf Digest gets thrown into the headlines, but that’s exactly where the magazine finds itself thanks to its latest “fitness issue” and cover girl Paulina Gretzky.  What’s the daughter of a hockey legend doing on the cover of a golf magazine?  It’s a question that was asked enough yesterday for Golf Digest to publicly defend the choice, saying The Great One’s daughter “ranks at the high end of the golf celebrity scene.”  There was even a helpful link to the entire photo shoot featuring Gretzky in revealing workout clothes to go with it.

Why is Paulina Gretzky on the “high end of the golf celebrity scene”?  It’s quite simple, really.  Her connection to golf is that she’s extremely attractive, has a famous last name, and happens to be engaged to Dustin Johnson.  Did I mention that she’s extremely attractive and her Instagram is the default homepage for bros everywhere?

Golf Digest putting Paulina Gretzky on their cover is no different than the hundreds of internet sites and sports blogs that use Gretzky’s bikini photos for cheap clicks.  The Daily Caller, a website founded by political personality Tucker Carlson, calls itself, “is a 24-hour news publication providing its audience with original reporting, in-depth investigations, thought-provoking commentary and breaking news.”  One wonders if this Paulina Gretzky slideshow falls into the in-depth investigation or thought-provoking commentary category.  If you were really looking to dive deep into this story, you could always read 14 Reasons Why Paulina Gretzky’s Golf Digest Cover is a Hole in One, which is, you guessed it, a bikini pic slideshow.  (Clever headline, by the way.)

This kind of low-hanging fruit is commonplace on the internet for sites that don’t have to answer to an editorial standard and are just looking for pageviews.  And that’s fine, that’s their choice in the open marketplace and it’s obviously good for business in a world that targets young men.

But when a respected industry publication wants to go down that same route to sell magazines, it reeks of a double standard and a cheap publicity ploy that amounts to “hot girls posing with golf clubs.”  (And yes, you can fling the same arrows at Sports Illustrated for their annual swimsuit issue or ESPN for their Body Issue.)  The top female golfers in the world clearly see right through the game Golf Digest is playing.

Inbee Park, who won 3 consecutive majors last season and is the top ranked female golfer in the world, has never appeared on the cover of Golf Digest.  She told the New York Times:

“I think I’ve been in many Golf Digests in Korea,” she said. “I think that still counts as a Golf Digest.”  Shrugging, Park added, “That’s just been the way it is for over 20, 30 years.”

Stacy Lewis, the top ranked American golfer in the world and a 2-time major winner was equally bemused:

“It’s frustrating for female golfers. It’s kind of the state of where we’ve always been. We don’t get respect for being the golfers that we are. Obviously, Golf Digest is trying to sell magazines. But at the same time you’d like to see a little respect for the women’s game.

According to the Times, a female golfer has not appeared on the cover of Golf Digest since Lorena Ochoa in August 2008.

What’s the message Golf Digest is sending to young female golfers out there in the world?  By going in the Paulina yoga pants direction, Golf Digest is telling female golfers everywhere you’re only going to matter because of your looks or who you date.  What does it say that the two most recent females to appear on the cover of Golf Digest are Paulina Gretzky and Kate Upton?  If LPGA players can’t get any respect from a magazine dedicated to covering the sport of golf, how are they supposed to get respect from elsewhere in the sports landscape?

If Golf Digest wants to promote Paulina Gretzky as a way to make golf “cool” or “hot” then that’s one thing.  A magazine looking to sell issues by any means necessary isn’t exactly earth-shattering.  But to do so at the complete expense of LPGA pros is the real issue here.

What makes it worse is that the LPGA has always had to fight this uphill battle.  Imagine a question like “Can the LPGA survive without marketing sex appeal?” appearing in relation to any other sport.  It would never happen.  It’s unfortunate that the world’s best female golfers, many of whom are marketable and attractive in their own right, have to play a bit part to someone from the “golf celebrity scene.”  Who do you think TaylorMade featured in a recent ad – Paula Creamer or Paulina Gretzky?

What’s the message Golf Digest is sending?  Being the #1 ranked golfer in the world doesn’t matter as much as the popularity of your Instagram page or how good you look in workout clothes.  That is a sad message to send to young female athletes everywhere.

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