In Defense of Play Golf Designs

Do me a favor. Before reading further, take a look at the photos of Play Golf Designs professionals we've posted here over the last couple years by clicking this link. It will open in a new window so you won't be taken away from this post. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Back? OK, good. Now, what did you see? You saw glamour shots, right? You did not see anything risque, anything revealing (in a physical sense), anything exploitative, anything in poor taste, anything - for lack of a better word - skanky.

Right? Right. Glamour shots. Simple glamour shots.

What's the point of this intro? Recently, a writer for Time.com penned an attack on Play Golf Designs that was headlined, "Lady Golfers for Rent: Escort Service for Duffers?"

In fairness to that writer, Sean Gregory, he almost certainly had nothing to do with that insulting and very stupid headline. He did, however, make a reference to escort services himself within the body of the article.

The article is a screed against the notion that female athletes (and the leagues they belong to) might use their looks to gain attention and new fans. Not exactly an original subject; that debate has been going on for decades.

Let me just state before continuing that I am aware of the irony in a site called Golf Babes offering a defense against charges of exploitation of female athletes. But my positive content and the steady stream of always positive feedback I get from women touring professional golfers leaves my conscience clear.

I'm also aware of the irony of a writer composing a none-too-original piece criticizing the marketing of female athletes deciding he'll "sex it up" with a gratuitous and insulting comparison of some of those athletes to "escorts." Well played, Mr. Gregory. Out of one side of his mouth he gets to tell the world of his moral rectitude and respect for women; out of the other side he gets to call some of those women whores. Jackass.

If Mr. Gregory really wants to show off his credentials as a defender of women against exploitation in the sports world, perhaps he should write something about Time's sister publication Sports Illustrated. Word on the street is that once a year SI - owned by Time, Inc. - publishes an issue full of nothing but scantily clad, barely clad, sometimes semi-nude women ... for no discernible reason other than corporate greed. And they use these images to the hilt with major yearround play on the magazine's Web site, plus lots of video, DVDs and even TV specials.

Hey, it's not like male athletes aren't out there selling a look. Sports marketing is all about selling a look. How many fashion spreads in GQ have athletes done over the years? How many football and basketball players have posed for posters?

There's a big difference, though, between male athletes and women athletes when it comes to marketing, and that is the huge deficit that exists between the money and attention available to each.

There's just not much money (relatively speaking) available in women's athletics in the United States. The entire purse of a Duramed Futures Tour tournament is often smaller than the winner's share only at a Nationwide Tour event.

If Mr. Gregory can click his heels, crinkle his nose, blink his eyes, snap his fingers and make these disparities disappear, well, what's he waiting for? If his delicate sensibilities are offended by a female athlete posing for a simple glamour shot (or posing in a bikini for his corporate cohort's annual flesh-fest), maybe he should start campaigning for more sponsorship opportunities for those athletes rather than attacking their entrepreneurialism.

Mr. Gregory looks at a few glamour shots on the Play Golf Designs Web site and imagines escort services. Who's doing the stereotyping? Who is betraying an inability to recognize women for something other than their looks?

The touring professionals who work with Play Golf Designs are independent contractors. They are businesswomen responsible for their own financial success or failure. They don't have an annual salary or paid healthcare and vacation time like employees of Time. They don't have the big-dollar opportunities available in men's golf; in fact, many of them play on developmental tours where the check for finishing 15th might not even cover the hotel bill for the week.

And Mr. Gregory attacks them over a few glamour shots. He must walk through life cringing at the site of skirts above the knee, averting his eyes if - gasp! - a little cleavage enters his field of vision.

Grow up.

I've had the good fortune to be acquainted with Play Golf Designs founder Nisha Sadekar, and several other of the Play Golf Designs golfers, for several years. All the women who work for Play Golf Designs are professional in every sense of the word. They are fierce competitors. The are all intelligent (Yale and Stanford are among the schools present on their resumes) and extremely hard workers.

"I personally have hosted several PGD golf outings, and I can assure you that Nisha Sadekar runs her events with class and only the utmost professionalism," says Kim Kouwabunpat, one of the PGD professionals. "We are professional athletes who compete at the highest level and all of us take our professional image very seriously. If you were to profile the 22 athletes on the PGD roster you would find that they consist of former top collegiate golfers from leading Division I universities such as Stanford, Duke, UCLA, and the University of Texas; former NCAA champions, current LPGA touring professionals, and top developmental tour players. I highly doubt that any one of these professional golfers, whom are very highly respected amongst their peers and colleagues, would ever join or even be associated with an organization that could be construed as an 'escort service'."

Nisha herself is a whipsmart businesswoman who has built from scratch a very successful company in a short amount of time.

And yes, her company is marketed in a fun, flirty way. There are many such companies out there, companies that match up professional golfers with corporate outings - Mr. Gregory may not be aware of it, but every player in golf, up to and including Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer, hires himself or herself out for corporate events. These management companies also match their clients with club events, with clinics, with other "appearance fee" opportunities. It's one way the bigshots in the game pad their bank accounts; it's one way the up-and-comers try to make ends meet. (Mr. Gregory manages to throw "bachelor parties" into his article, while failing to mention all the charity events that PGD professionals attend. Again, who has the dirty mind here?)

Play Golf Design's "hook," so to speak, is that its roster of professionals is comprised entirely of women. And if all of those women happen to be smart, funny, and attractive? In what industry, in what line of work, would that not be played up in the company marketing plan?

"Why isn't it OK to dress fashionably and be proud of our femininity without being criticized?" asks Kouwabunpat. "A polished, well-rounded look is marketable and a marketable image is good business."

If you read the Time.com article you're given the impression that something dirty is going on at the Play Golf Designs Web site. But anyone who then clicks over to the PGD Web site will be left wondering, "What in the world was that guy talking about?"

Glamour shots. The horror.