LPGA facing backlash over locker-room situation at Lake Nona
The Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions is supposed to be a celebration of the recent winners on the LPGA Tour – along with 56 celebrities in a pro-am field – but midway through the week, the focus has shifted from honoring the best players in the sport to an oversight that’s calling into question the tour’s respect for its athletes.
On Tuesday, Golfweek senior reporter Beth Ann Nichols reported that there was no locker room for the 29 women competing at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, Florida, despite the club having a men’s locker room that was suitable for the small field.
“I got a tip on social media, as you sometimes do in a direct message, that this was the case, and as soon as I got here yesterday on property, I started to investigate more,” Nichols said Wednesday on “Golf Today.”
The revelation was immediately met with backlash, and as Tuesday turned into Wednesday, more details came to light, as well as a semi-solution to the problem.
Lake Nona has a clubhouse with two levels. For this week’s event, the top level was secured for players and their families and, originally, a plan for a temporary locker room. The club’s permanent women’s locker room is on the first floor, but it was recently damaged because of flooding during Hurricane Ian and the lockers were removed.
According to Aaron Stewart, the vice president of sports marketing at Hilton Grand Vacations, the plan for temporary lockers was canceled by the LPGA on January 11. Why? The women’s lockers would be on the second level while the players would have to shower on the first level downstairs, and the LPGA didn’t like the idea of them being on two separate floors.
Why not use the men’s locker room? Because, according to a tour spokesperson, that area is open to the public to accommodate restroom needs.
Stewart, however, told Golf Channel’s Amy Rogers that three dozen temporary lockers were being delivered to the club Wednesday afternoon – that’s enough for the 29 LPGA players, plus the female celebrity participants in the pro-am field. The lockers will be placed on the first level, but players will still have to share the space with male celebrity participants and VIPs who purchased hospitality access.
The LPGA released the following statement in response to the situation:
“Hilton Grand Vacations has been an incredible partner in supporting the LPGA to expand and enhance amenities and accommodations for our players. With the return of hospitality this year, the tournament informed us that due to a need for public bathrooms, there would not be a private and secure locker room available for the LPGA players this week. There was an option presented to have temporary lockers added to a space within the clubhouse that did not include a bathroom area. Due to a prioritization of space for other player uses, our tournament team made the decision that it was not in the best interest of the players and the event to pursue that option. Players have access to a locker room, although the space is not entirely private. We are always open to player feedback and work with our tournament partners to allocate finite space. We will continue to do so with our amazing partners from Hilton Grand Vacations moving forward.”
LPGA players Brittany Lincicome and Christina Kim texted Golf Channel’s Damon Hack that this isn’t the first time that this has happened on tour, and it’s happened before COVID restrictions provided another hoop to jump through.
At the 2022 event, it was the same situation: no player-only locker room for male or female participants.
“We didn’t have lockers last year either, but we did have lockers years prior at TOC,” Jessica Korda said in a tweet reply to Nichols’ original story.
Korda is not competing this week, but her sister, Nelly, is. The world No. 2 said she was unfazed by the locker situation.
“To me, this event is so unique in the sense where that stuff doesn’t really bother me. You’re out here competing with different celebrities, former athletes, current athletes,” Nelly Korda said on Wednesday. “To me, like, this event is so special and different that something like that doesn’t bother me at this event. Obviously, if it would be at a regular LPGA event it would bother me.”
On the LPGA, the locker-room situation can be like looking into a crystal ball and getting a peek at what’s in store for the week ahead. A veteran player told Nichols that if they were placed in the club’s men’s locker room, they automatically felt like the club supported them and was happy they were there. In those situations, players might even be left notes from the club member whose locker they were using, making the experience even more welcoming and enjoyable. Getting to use the men’s locker room has become a sign of respect for the women, especially since the men’s locker rooms at many clubs are usually nicer than the women’s space.
Longtime Lake Nona member and 10-time major winner Annika Sorenstam was asked about the situation, saying, “It’s unfortunate that that story is kind of being discussed. I just want to focus on the game, and hopefully they can sort all the logistics out and we can focus on what’s important.”
While acknowledging Sorenstam’s conflict of interest in the situation, Nichols pushed back on that mindset.
“If players feel like they’re not getting what they want when they do talk to officials – that the answer that’s coming back to them isn’t satisfactory, that this happened last year as well – sometimes you say, ‘Well, I think we need to go public with this, because I’ve reached my breaking point,’” Nichols responded.
Golf Channel’s Paige Mackenzie, a former LPGA member, cautioned against overblowing the situation.
“It’s good to remember that this event used to be with the Champions Tour and this sponsor in this tournament wanted to make it LPGA only,” Mackenzie said Wednesday on “Golf Today.” “They appreciate the athletes that are here. Obviously, they’re trying to remedy the situation as quickly as possible, but I don’t want this to be looked at as a more global statement of where we are in this game.”