Editors' BlogSeptember 4, 2008

LPGA English Policy: Responding to Bivens

Michael Suvalle of Framingham, Mass., is the latest to address the LPGA's new English-language policy. He takes on Bivens' statements in Golf World this week:

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Carolyn Biven's explanation to Golf World regarding the recently announced is as out of bounds as the policy itself. What she meant to say was not that the players would lose corporate and endorsement opportunities (their choice, by the way) but that the LPGA might lose corporate and endorsement opportunities because so many players don't speak English. The New York Times got it right--it's not only offensive but potentially self destructive. Where would the LPGA be if all these players decided to leave and start their own tour?

But Suvalle is in the minority. A slim majority of letters to Golf Digest and Golf World support Bivens. Though State Farm Insurance, one of the sponsors whom Bivens sought to please with the new policy, asked yesterday that Bivens reconsider, many readers like the rule that requires English and threatens suspension for those who don't speak it. Here are Californians Tom Harper and Dave Crow on the subject:

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I applaud Carolyn Bivens for her stand on speaking English to play on the LPGA. It is about time that we as an English-speaking country take a stand. The players have two simple choices: Learn English and play or don't play. >

Tom Harper

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Ms. Bivens did the right thing by implementing the English proficiency standards for the LPGA.. So what if it is unpopular with the New York Times? >

Dave Crow>

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Being an old Peace Corps volunteer myself and a supporter of golf in the Olympics--a cause handily undermined by the new policy--I liked this letter from Clara Yu, president of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, where they teach lots of languages:

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Walk a Mile in My Golf Shoes

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The Ladies Professional Golf Association's decision to require all golferswho have been on tour for two years to pass a test of spoken English has set off a firestorm.

Some have painted this as a blatant act of discrimination against players of a certain nationality; others ask, "What if American athletes had to pass a language test when they played abroad?" But the controversy exposes an important reality: whether we like it or not, the ability to communicate in another language has become a necessary club in the professional's bag, even in a sport as quiet as golf.

There is a place in the United States where golf and language acquisition are equally renowned: the Monterey Peninsula of California. With its 12 golf courses, including the world famous Pebble Beach Golf Links. Monterey is also known as the "Language Capital of the World," where year after year, more hours of language learning happen than anywhere else in the world. The LPGA will do well to offer a customized "English for Golfers" service to its members through the Monterey Institute of International Studies, well known for its language teaching and interpretation programs. Providing language learning opportunities, rather than merely requiring proficiency, will accrue many benefits to the LPGA, not the least of which is a reputation for cultural sensitivity. At the Monterey Institute, we teach our students that in order to understand another culture they need to know the language. And only then can they really understand, with proper respect, what it's like to be "different" from themselves. I call this process "walking in another's shoes."

So whether they are traditional Korean "Dang Hye" or Nike golf spikes, we are all for learning how others think, feel, and communicate. This is the best way we know of building bridges between cultures. And in this world, whether walking 18 holes, or walking up to a lectern at the United Nations, isn't speaking another language a worthwhile skill to possess?

Clara Yu

Ms. Yu's letter makes a great point, I think. This entire effort could have been a positive thing for the LPGA had the initiative been couched differently. In a sentence: "We're an international tour and because we are, we're making lessons available to all of our players so that they can add English, Korean, Chinese or any other language they think they need to play and represent us and the game in the countries in which they compete."

Check out the posts on this blog as well. We've got several on the subject.

--Bob Carney

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