Golf Digest's Paulina Gretzky cover isn't the end of the world
Golf Culture

Golf Digest’s Paulina Gretzky cover isn’t the end of the world

They owe you nothing.

I hear that a lot, typically on Twitter, from readers and followers when I bark about the lack of transparency from certain players (read: Tiger Woods) and their ailments. The most ardent Woods supporters, or maybe they're undiscovered savvy media critics, say the 14-time major winner doesn't have to tell me or anyone in the media anything he doesn't want to share.

They're right. But they shouldn't get mad, then, at Golf Digest.

The venerable Digest put Paulina Gretzky on the cover of its May issue, its second-annual "Fit Issue." Gretzky, who is engaged to PGA Tour player Dustin Johnson, is on the cover wearing a white sportsbra and tight workout pants. There's a golf club somewhere in there. It may as well have been a stripper pole. Inside the magazine, the Great One's daughter, a newbie golfer, proffers tips to improve your game -- six of them, in fact.

Let's be very clear. Paulina Gretzky should be teaching me about golf just as much as I should be teaching people how to style hair. It makes no sense. The cynic clearly sees this for what it is: an attention-whoring cover to get people to stop, pick up the magazine and buy it, or better still, subscribe to it.

The backlash has been surprisingly swift and loud.

"How dare Golf Digest put a sexy woman, barely a golfer, on the cover of their magazine?"

"Why didn't Golf Digest feature an LPGA player in skimpy workout clothes? Hello, Natalie Gulbis!"

"How about a little something for the ladies? Where's that steamy Adam Scott pictorial?"

All of these complaints are valid, yet simultaneously completely irrelevant.

Golf Digest is a magazine. It's published by a for-profit company, Conde Nast Publications. Their goal -- the goal above all else -- is to make money. To entertain, inform, distract, they're all nice-to-haves so long as they have your dollar.

Putting Paulina Gretzky on their cover was a business decision. Just as it was to put the lovely, kind and talented -- and hot -- Holly Sonders on the cover of the same issue a year ago. It turns out the Golf Digest audience likes women in their 20s in workout gear, golfer or not. Gretzky barely qualifies as a golfer, but she is one, so that box is checked too for their readership.

Every article and accompanying photo in that magazine is a business decision. It's a creative one, too. What a magazine should cover is typically a guessing game. There are some topics and stories so evident to cover that they can't be avoided. Tiger withdrawing from the Masters is one. Is the impact on the Ryder Cup one? That's their call to make, just the same as whether or not the Eisenhower Tree deserves a 500-word obit or a notes column mention.

Publishers publish hoping that what they think is newsworthy or worth your time -- and they're not mutually exclusive -- agrees with what you believe qualifies as either of those two things. Golf Digest knows the Hot List resonates with their audience. Two tries into their Fit Issue, it's not so clear.

But Golf Digest doesn't owe you, the non-paying reader, anything. They don't have to cover Texas Open winner Steven Bowditch and his heart-wrenching story of perseverance through mental health issues. They don't have to ask a "fit" LPGA players to strip down to her workout clothes for the sake of promoting the women's professional game. They could have asked Paulina Gretzky to wear an oversized L.A. Kings T-shirt and sweatpants for the cover, but they didn't.

The beauty of all this relationship between publisher and consumer is the recourse for a reader.

If their subscribers don't like it, they have the option of canceling. If you're a person on the Internet who doesn't fork over money to Digest for their product, then you can stop paying attention to them. If you love it and don't pay, then you're forking a few dollars over away from having a parcel from them every month.

It sounds crazy, but it's economics. Digest supplies what they think the most people want. If it matches market demand, they win. If not, they fail.

ECON101 aside, however, a couple of key points needs to be addressed.

Golf Digest needs to own this. If they want to put a scantily-clad woman on the cover of their magazine once a year, don't try to mask it as anything other than a stunt. It's completely fine. Sports Illustrated has done it on a grander scale for a long time now. There's no need for Jerry Tarde, or anyone at the publication, to try to explain the decision.

Using the phrase "ranks at the high end of the golf celebrity scene" is "Scandal"-grade B.S. "We did it, and we thought you'd like it. If not, sorry, but not sorry." That's sufficient.

And the clamoring from some in the world of women's professional golf is somewhat disingenuous. Some LPGA players would have preferred Golf Digest to have featured a touring pro on the cover... so they could then suggest they only get coverage when a little cleavage is involved? That's a bad idea, too. The LPGA wants coverage in any way they can get it; I understand. But ideally, they get coverage for their players' skills, personalities, stories and looks, in that order of priority. In my view, that kind of coverage is warranted and Golf Digest provides it.

However, it's been six years since a female pro has been on the cover of that particular publication. Don't think of the cover, though, as highlighting the most important story in a magazine. Think of it as a free billboard the magazine has to connect with the most people who wouldn't otherwise read that issue. For better or worse (in my view worse), Paulina Gretzky has broader mass appeal than any LPGA player, probably living or dead, at the moment.

Some LPGA players are not the only culprits in what has become a rather infuriating trend in the game. Aside from Geoff Ogilvy, there's an expectation from players and officials that the golf media is simply to cheerlead the sport. Laud every new committee. Fall head-over-heels for FootGolf, even if it's not their bag. (I like it, but whatever.) Promote lesser-known players and stories with the same vigor as Tiger Woods' ankles cracking the wrong way. We lose credibility taking up every new flag and waving it in lockstep with you.

The golf media owes nothing to golf at large. That's how it works. The media decides, rightly or wrongly for their bottom line and collective livelihood, what to cover. If people consume it, then fine. If not, the media suffers. That's why we post GIFs and outlandish predictions. That's why trick-shot videos are all the rage. Most of you consume them.

If you stop, then we stop.

About the author


Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]

Ryan occasionally links to merchants of his choosing, and GNN may earn a commission from sales generated by those links. See more in GNN's affiliate disclosure.

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