Backspin for LPGA's Bivens

By: Nancy Berkley

Responding to wide-spread criticism, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, retracted the policy requiring Tour players to effectively communicate in English. (For more background, visit

Instead, the LPGA will take another look at its objectives, which as they report are primarily about getting sponsors. The commissioner plans to come up with another communication policy by year's end.

Particularly troubling for the LPGA is that this is another backtracking for Bivens, who has been forced to retract other decisions she's made since appointed commissioner in 2005. Sometimes a good backspin sends the ball into the hole and produces victory. But Bivens is not a golfer, and this latest incident is an embarrassment for the LPGA.

What surprises me is that Bivens comes from a successful marketing career at USA Today. She knows that "know your customer" is the first rule of marketing. The problem is that with the English-only policy, she was only thinking about one customer: the sponsor.

There are other customers out there: the viewing audience of casual golf fans who turn on their TVs or computers and attend an LPGA tournament in person. The real challenge is to turn these occasional and casual observers - and maybe nothing-better-on-TV viewers - into committed fans of the LPGA. Those are the customers to focus on.

If more fans watch more LPGA tournaments, then the sponsors should follow. Of course, if all sponsors want is a chance to play with LPGA players - preferably English-speaking apparently, then there are a lot more choices to be made and maybe traditional TV tournaments aren't the answer for the LPGA at all.

In a presentation I attended given by the LPGA's chief marketing officer, Bill Susetka, back in March of this year, he identified another challenge for the LPGA. That is overcoming the low awareness levels of the tour's players. If I had been in the room when the English-only decision was made, my guess is that it was intended to be an awareness solution. It backfired for a variety of valid reasons.

So, what's the LPGA to do? One important direction should be to figure out a way to make their players more appealing to fans. Every golfer playing at these high levels has a story of commitment and sacrifice. During the Olympics, powerful portrayals put us in the minds and hearts of great athletes - sometimes from countries speaking languages we had never even heard of. There are some lessons here.

It's back to the drawing board for the LPGA commissioner. My heartfelt suggestion is to go back to the primary customer - the fan, and ask, "Who is that customer? What does he or she want?

Frankly, I'm tired of announcers who describe the shots in great technicality using words that I'm sure many viewers don't understand. Instead, I would like to hear more about that golfer. What do she and I have in common? What inspiration can I find in my game by watching her game and listening to her describe her love of the game - even if those explanations are in subtitles?

If we had more of that, the LPGA would have an easier time finding sponsors. Both customers - the fans and sponsors - would be satisfied and the LPGA would have a brighter future.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Consulting, is an expert on women's golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference on marketing golf to women. She is a contributor to Golf for Women magazine and Chair of the Advisory Board for Golfer Girl Magazine where she writes a special series on careers in the golf industry. She chaired a panel at the World Scientific Congress of Golf in Phoenix in March 2008 and was a guest speaker at the Northern California Business Women's Conference held at Poppyridge Golf Course in Livermore, Calif., in June 2008. Nancy also consults with golf facilities on how to attract more women golfers. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and marketing advice on her website Nancy also offers a Quick Question-Free Help Line on her website. After a career as a lawyer and business executive, Nancy founded Berkley Golf Consulting and The Woman's Only GuideŽ to Golf to share her long-time passion for golf and to help grow the game. Nancy describes herself as a bogey golfer who is too busy to play enough golf. Contact Nancy at or on