Golf Digest's Paulina Gretzky Cover Sparks Controversy

Gabe Zaldivar@gabezalPop Culture Lead WriterApril 4, 2014


If you are in the business of moving magazines from checkout aisles, a controversial cover shot always come in handy. With that in mind, Golf Digest's Paulina Gretzky issue is already a roaring success. 

Gretzky, the daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky and fiancé of PGA player Dustin Johnson, graced the cover of the popular golf magazine recently. Although, there is hardly anything graceful about it. 

Her presence was received like a giant thud around some circles, leading to a wealth of quotes from LPGA players furious over an amateur golfer with a famous name getting the sport's spotlight. 

Stacy Lewis, a former No. 1 golfer, told The New York Times, "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."

That disrespect, if you were wondering, comes in the form of this image via Golf Digest

And another: 

I stand flummoxed trying to remember the last time Golf Digest was featured in a national story, yet here is the publication getting coverage by the likes of ESPN, The New York TimesBusiness Insider, Yahoo! Sports and Sportress of Blogitude

All over the country, you can bet many are wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, as reported widely, some of the more pointed quotes regarding Gretzky and her cover—one that, in 2014, is hardly provocative—has sent shock waves around the sport nonetheless. 

The New York Times' Karen Crouse culled some thoughts on the cover, getting the likes of Lewis and Juli Inkster, winner of seven majors and a Hall of Fame inductee, to sound off. The 53-year-old had this to say: 

It’s frustrating because it’s Golf Digest; it’s not Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. I think they should maybe recognize some of the great women golfers that we have. It’s like, What do you have to do to get a little respect? I’m guaranteeing you right now, it was not a woman editor who chose that cover.


O.K., so I think next month the cover should be Paula Creamer’s fiancé, who’s a fighter pilot, or Brittany Lincicome’s hot boyfriend, who’s a long-drive hitter. Put one of them on there.

The answer to who approved the cover is answered in Crouse's article as well. The magazine's editor in chief, Jerry Tarde, explained the Gretzky feature:

Sports figures, celebrities and models have appeared on Golf Digest covers since the magazine’s beginning. Paulina ranks at the high end of the golf celebrity scene today, and she has a compelling story to tell. She also might get some new people interested in the game.

Translation: Look, we've done it before, and we are just trying to use the cover to draw attention to the magazine and the sport. 

KAPALUA, HI - JANUARY 08:  Paulina Gretzky walks along the 17th hole during the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on January 8, 2013 in Kapalua, Hawaii.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Golfer Angela Stanford questioned this logic in a piece by USA Today

The question is who are they trying to sell to? If the answer is men 25 years old through 45 years old, then I guess that's what they have to do. You know the old saying, sex sells. And nobody can argue with that. It's just the way it is. But the LPGA has some attractive women and very fit women, so why not use them? I'm just baffled by it.

Golf Digest's Sam Weinman attempts to answer some of that in an article aptly titled, "What's Paulina Gretzky Doing on the Cover of Golf Digest?" Here is a part of the piece: 

Nonetheless, 25-year-old Paulina, daughter of hockey great Wayne, fiancee of PGA Tour star Dustin Johnson, is a certified celebrity within the golf world, as much a subject of fascination at tournaments as the guy she's there watching. Now factor in that she's an attractive, fit woman who—like many of our prospective readers—is fairly new to golf, and she seemed a natural cover subject for our second annual issue devoted to fitness.

Gretzky, as best we can tell, hasn't yet sounded off on her thoughts of the uproar. We could only spot this gleeful Instagram post from the 25-year-old: 

The caption reads, "So Excited To Be On The New Cover Of @golfdigestmag!! Check It Out Now On Golfdigest.com ♡." 

Could Golf Digest have gone in a different direction? You bet, and they would have been right to do so, furthering the exposure of the sport's athletes. 

I am willing to wager a small sum that the hypothetical alternative would have garnered but a modicum of this buzz. Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski puts it rather nicely:

Then again, there is LPGA coverage inside Golf Digest. And having Paulina Gretzky on the cover would increase the likelihood that someone that doesn’t pick up Golf Digest on the regular might do so. Which means good things for golf’s exposure, one assumes.

And so we are right back at the start: selling magazines. 

The cover of any magazine is but the titillating allure and promise of far more substantial items within. Golf Digest would have done the right thing by putting a female professional golfer on the cover, but that's not really their problem. 

Marco Garcia

The issue is that a great many fans would have passed by that cover with but a shrug, which is really a shame. Until what the masses finds captivating changes, magazines will continue to market as they have. Consumers, as we have for what seems like eons, will gravitate to sensational headlines, beautiful people, gossip and the like as if we were cats chasing a laser pointer. 

Whether this helps or hurts the sport is open to a grand debate. But Gretzky, with her seemingly innocuous stance working in tandem with her flirtatious attire, has just about everyone talking. 

By design, and by demand, Golf Digest put Gretzky front and center. And they pretty much nailed it. 

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