The Social Media Science Behind Paulina Gretzky's Golf Digest Cover

                                            Golf Digest
The LPGA is transcending golf this weekend, thanks not to a killer leaderboard at their season's first major, but to a photogenic celebutante with incredible abs and a sizzling/slash/scandalous social media presence.  

Paulina Gretzky isn't a professional golfer or even a particularly avid fan of the sport. She's a rather good singer though, and she's the daughter of a great Great hockey player. Additionally, as fiancee to a top PGA Tour player, Dustin Johnson, Paulina is a genuine golf WAG and, according to Sam Weinman, web editor at, "a certified celebrity within the golf world". 

It's a nuanced balance of the above elements that led the athletic Instagram queen onto the May cover of Golf Digest... and provoked an outcry that has golf... and the LPGA ...being discussed in places that rarely notice women's golf.  The controversial cover model, plus some of the ensuing reporting and reaction from golf pundits, officials and industry insiders... most notably LPGA Tour commissioner, Mike Whan and several top LPGA tour players... has been discussed in AdWeek, The New York Times, Mashable and Business Insider as well as countless other non-golf outlets. TV morning shows and radio programs picked up the story as well... and on social media, where uncensored opinionating and viral sharing can amplify a timely topic exponentially, an animated debate is ongoing and has reached well beyond the golf niche. Which brings us to a cynical, well-worn cliche that today is more pertinent than ever: there's no such thing as bad publicity.    

It's very rare that Golf Digest features a woman on its cover, and for them to choose an aspiring entertainer as opposed to a professional female golfer has created a substantial backlash.  However, you don't get the impression it's a particularly unwelcome backlash, nor that it came as a surprise to the editors. In fact, some would surmise that... coming just weeks after the launch of a Golf Digest Video Channel and days after a major homepage redesign... the controversial move was, in fact, highly calculated. --MORE-->

With DJ & a random pachyderm -- Paulina Gretzky on Instagram
Any publication that wishes to thrive (or even survive) in today's fragmented media/entertainment landscape is seeking to expand its audience. Golf Digest has been quite open about their desire to reach younger, casual golfers and golf fans. They're consciously seeking to increase their readership beyond that core audience of avid golfers and golf purists who still get most of their golf news and information from traditional media. Because that market just isn't large enough to sustain the "fully integrated media and marketing company operating across a multitude of platforms" that GD has evolved into.  

To stand a chance of reaching... and retaining... their youthful target audience, the editors surely realize that social media strength is vital. They've also seen that... in many cases... controversial content equals social media success. In selecting Paulina Gretzky for their cover they got a very attractive woman who in addition to her peripheral golf connection, is an established internet uber-celebrity. Clearly, Paulina's digital fame was at least as important as her sex-appeal in sealing the now famous cover deal... and the argument that one of many extremely beautiful, incredibly talented LPGA Tour players would have been a better choice doesn't take that attribute into consideration. 

To avid LPGA fans, myself included, who have long lamented the tour's sparse lack of media coverage, this decision by golf's most widely read publication is obviously disappointing. However the brand has not gone to great lengths to feature women in the past so it shouldn't be surprising... given the current climate of content overload and shortened attention spans... that Golf Digest chose Paulina.

Meanwhile, heading into the final round of this season's first major, two of the LPGA's most marketable stars Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson, share the lead. Let's hope the Paulina Gretzky/Golf Digest cover kerfuffle inspires social media golf fans to check out the action at the Kraft Nabisco Classic today. They may even spot a future cover girl.  


  1. I can think of dozens of LPGA players who are more attractive than Paulina Gretzky. As you mention in your article it's her "internet fame" that sets her apart and unfortunately that kind of fame only seems possible through bad behavior, think: Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan. Um, no thanks.

  2. Great post Patricia, even I sat up and noticed the cover :)

  3. ....................what you have here is why MERMAIDs are no longer enchanting (they are too little woman to make love to and too much fish to fry)

    MRS GRETSKY wouldn't even get a look here in ft liqourdale if the NOVA college woman's team SHARKs were anywhere nearby on the golf course (and YES we secretly hosted PRES oBaMa here a few weeks back at GRANDE OAKS), and GOLF DIGEST has had it's circulation SINK so low that even if it featured ALL of theTIGGER's (as in theDONALD) seventeen girlfriends' in one edition it won't dig itself out if the divot it's in

    as a comparision, SNOOKIs new baby got more ink, good and bad of course, and that screwball has NO talent (and isn't even ITALIAN !)

    anyway that's that


  4. ..............and FULL disclosure i would like to think i had something to do with being a pain to KING KLEIN at GOLF DIGEST and while it didn't end with this post this feud is what got me booted by him and his from that site:

    frank_D Guest Re:USGA member demands change after 'travesty'
    « Reply #111 on: June 26, 2004, 10:47:51 AM »
    Quote from: Brad Klein on June 24, 2004, 12:41:00 PM
    The newspaper is just giving this kook a free ad by running this article. By the way, there is no phone listing in Coral Gables (area code 305) for an attorney named Jack Thompson. Too bad.

    brother brad klein
    as an "esteemed" author i would have thought you were better at RESEARCH - see tommy naccarato's posts here #18 and #25
    this "kook" as you say happens to be right - stay tuned and you will see
    no hard feelings - its not personal just business - the entire catholic church labeled galileo a heretic kook - and it wasn't until 1998 that they saw the light
    my schadenfreude will last only until you post an apology to mr thompson - who was subsequently gracious enough to come onto this site and express his position - which would be my advise to you to do

    [PS i knew of attorney thompson of MIAMI who had earlier pursued HOWARD STERN to great effect and was at that time pursuing the USGA in a lawsuit over an issue that arose during a USOpen and knew as well BRAD KLEIN was pissed because thompson was stealing all the attention on that site and myself and tommy naccarato's were "resposible" for introducing thompson to that site causing KING KLEIN to get all hissy - what KLEIN didn't know was that i had already consulted with RON WHITTEN on the issue and whitten and i shared views on the issue and others including KLEIN himself]

  5. ...........okay so here is the final PUBLIC post with me and KING KLEIN (contributing editor of GOLFDIGEST at the time) on GolfClubAtlas site;

    frank_D Guest Re:USGA member demands change after 'travesty'
    « Reply #169 on: June 30, 2004, 11:32:47 AM »
    Quote from: DMoriarty on June 26, 2004, 06:34:04 PM
    Quote from: Brad Klein on June 24, 2004, 12:41:00 PM
    The newspaper is just giving this kook a free ad by running this article. By the way, there is no phone listing in Coral Gables (area code 305) for an attorney named Jack Thompson. Too bad.

    Quote from: Brad Klein on June 26, 2004, 03:20:02 PM
    This whole thing sure looks like extremism to me. Haven't we learned that zealotry and fanaticism bring down everyone in their wake? Anyone who really cares about defending the game of golf would run and hide from the tone of these broadsides. Mr. Thompson sounds to me like an ideologue, and I'm sorry (but not at all surprised) to see Tommy Naccarato taking up his cause as a p.r. flak. It's especially warming to see Tommy's reminder that we not engage in personal insults or character assassination (reply #107). I wonder how many posts that would that require him to rewrite if he took his own advice seriously?

    What's up with these two posts, Mr. Klein? Hardly journalism at is finest. Setting aside what your post says about your research skills, why mention that you tried to look up the guy's number, and that it was "too bad" that you couldnt find it?

    brother DMoriarty
    WHEREAS -i'm relieved to see i wasn't the only one smelling the stench of hypocracy from brother brad klein (see my posts here #17 and #117) - it's obvious he doesn't do his own research
    FURTHER - if only those critics with him in their ivory tower here would as avidly demand a explaining follow up statement from Marty Parkes of the USGA to his statement "obviously we weren't happy with the conditions of the golf course either" as they do of mr thompson - we would be getting somewhere here
    WHEREAS - mr thompson is really onto something here but it can only be flushed out with the USGA fully disclosing their side - it's obvious to me that they lied and i would like to know why - and then compare both sides of the discussion - right now all i heard from the USGA to date was "I DID NOT HAVE SEX WITH THAT WOMAN"
    ORDERED - so let's see what happens next
    FURTHERMORE - mr thompson is not the kook as brad klein thinks he is - he may come on to strong for some here - but when cooler heads prevail here - well - you'll see some progress on the topic
    REMEMBER - mr thompson was insulted here by brad klein and others before he posted - so i would have expected his hair to be up on the nape of his neck comming in here
    WHEREAS - tommy took a different approach - and came away with a different feeling of him - and then tommy was attacked as mr thompson's "PR" man
    further affiant saith naught


  6. I think it'll be difficult for any of the top women's golf professionals to achieve anywhere near the popularity of a Paulina Gretzky... or Kim Kardashian, or Miley Cyrus. It's too bad that's what's needed to get onto the cover of Golf Digest. Well Frank, maybe Snookie's baby will take up golf so I guess there's hope. ;-)

  7. SNOOKI tells the priest that she is pregnant..the father asks, "how about marriage ?"........snooki says "its the SECOND COMING ! ! " do you know that ? asks the priest..............snooki "because i swallowed the first coming"

  8. .............anyway my beef with the EDITORs judgement is that with relatively few excepts those people are clowns and the run in i had with KING KLEIN proved to me my position and opinion is based on solid it's no surprise to see MRS GRETSKY, who certainly wouldn't stand-out down here in SOUTH BEACH, on the cover of GOLF DIGEST

    i have a cigar to get to


  9. I saw the cover, but didn't pick it up. I'd be curious to know what insight she provided for the article in which she was featured. As you said, it's unfortunate that a female golfer wasn't selected especially when females are rarely chosen. Great insight and thanks for sharing!

  10. Great article and analysis. The only thing I could think of to do about this (other than complain) was write a letter to the editor, see here:

  11. I understand why they pick Paulina for the Golf Digest cover (SALES). I bet they didn't think they would be getting this much of media coverage from it (BONUS).


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