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Is it Bye Bye Bivens?

By: Nancy Berkley


As the U.S. Women's Open begins in Bethlehem, Pa., LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens' ability to lead the tour is becoming even more uncertain. Whether Bivens resigns or she takes a buyout or tries to stick it out, she's in trouble. When I wrote this article a few days ago for Cybergolf, I titled it "Is the LPGA's Bivens a Leader?" Leadership is still the issue.

Leadership is a mystery. What makes someone a leader? Can you study to become one? These questions are the subjects of thousands of books and essays. But we all recognize leadership qualities when we see them. When we hear a leader speak, we want to follow and believe in him or her because we believe in their vision and the experience behind it.

The analogy I always go back to is when I was stuck in a white-out at the top of Vail Mountain many years ago. I didn't know if or how I was ever going to ski down that slope. Then I heard someone say, "I know the way - follow me - I know this mountain."

Back to Bivens. When Carolyn assumed the role of commissioner she brought a strong marketing background. And the LPGA needed - and still needs - that. But she lacked experience in the golf industry and with professional golfers in general. And this deficiency showed early in her tenure.

Many will recall that early on she tried to limit reporters' access to LPGA Tour players. She had to back down. That was an early mistake and set her in "negative" confidence territory. She has never fully recovered. It is hard to believe in someone that you have doubts about. That's the bottom line.

I went back over some of her speeches looking for leadership signals. There were lots of reports of accomplishments. There were also snippets of vision. The LPGA was going to be "international." But what does that really mean? How will it play out? How will it create sponsorships? How will it affect the U.S. players and television time?

Every vision is weak on details. A leader using vision-speak must have the confidence of their audience and constituents. You have to believe that the leader speaking knows how to solve those problems and fill in the details. If they don't have the confidence of their constituents, the vision-thing backfires. And that's what's happening to Bivens now. Can she repair her image and trust? That will depend on whether she can deliver on something really great. In this economy with her track record dragging behind, I'm just not sure that can happen.

At the same time that Bivens is struggling, the world's top female players will be attempting to win one of women golf's majors: the USGA Women's Open Championship this week at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. No Tour players will be talking about Bivens. In fact, as reported in USA Today, Christie Kerr, the 2007 Women's Open champion, began her press conference by stating that questions about Bivens were off-limits.

And an even larger question looms. What is the future of women's golf in the United States, and does it even depend on the LPGA? I'm not sure about that either.

What matters most is the perception that women have of the game. If it continues to be one played mostly by men, where the speakers in the TV booth for men's events are mostly men, and where the PGA of America's gatekeepers at most courses are mostly men along with the mostly-male instructors, it's going to be an uphill battle trying to convince more women that golf is a game for them. I firmly believe that women's golf needs a new message. And it even may need a new messenger - perhaps a few of them.

Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is a regular contributor to Cybergolf and 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 source for marketing golf to women. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and marketing advice on her website www.nancyberkley.com. She chaired a panel at the World Scientific Congress of Golf in Phoenix, Ariz., in March 2008, and was a guest speaker at the Northern California Business Women's Conference at Poppyridge Golf Course in Livermore, Calif., in June 2008. Nancy also consults with golf facilities on how to attract more women golfers and families to the game. She was a contributing editor of Golf for Women magazine and is the Chair of the Advisory Board of Golfer Girl Magazine, where she also writes a series about careers in the golf industry. Her articles also appear on www.ladiesgolfjourney.com. Nancy provides a Free Help Line on her website for those seeking marketing advice in the golf industry.