ORLANDO, Fla. — The 2023 LPGA season is only one day old, but controversy is already rearing its head.
At this week’s Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, the field does not have access to a player’s-only locker room. Bathrooms and showers are available in the Lake Nona clubhouse for the women to use, but no space in the facility is specifically designated for players.
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols broke the story earlier this weekand it has been a talking point on the grounds in the days since.
But GOLF.com has learned that at least some players are less concerned about the locker room situation than they are that the incident is distracting from the tournament.
“I just think it’s a silly thing to talk about when we’re here at the first week of the year for the Tournament of Champions,” Marina Alex told GOLF.com. “It’s a great event, different than anything we play in all year, and I just think we should be talking about the start of the 2023 season … The focus should be on the golf.”
The Tournament of Champions annually kicks off the LPGA season with a field of players who have won at least once in the prior two seasons. Lake Nona Golf and Country Club has played host to the event since 2019.
Plans were initially in place to create a temporary locker room in the clubhouse for player use throughout the week, according to Nichols’ reporting. But those plans were altered in the lead up to the event.
Alex was not the only player who voiced her irritation with the locker room controversy taking the spotlight away from the golf this week. Ally Ewing, a three-time LPGA winner, told GOLF.com she believes the tournament has done more than enough to be accommodating to players and put on a world-class event.
“It’s such a different week than any other week we have,” Ewing said. “There’s so much importance in the partnerships that we have with our sponsors and the LPGA. The last thing that I think a partner wants to see is something taking away from the event … I just want the focus to be in the right area and away from that.”
The Tournament of Champions is a pro-am event that features a variety of professional athletes, celebrities and other VIPs. This week’s field includes the likes of former MLB star John Smoltz, actor Alfonso Ribeiro and comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
Nelly Korda, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, said that with the unique nature of the event, a lack of designated locker room space isn’t an issue for her.
“To me this event is so unique in the sense where that stuff doesn’t really bother me,” Korda said. “You’re out here competing with different celebrities, former athletes, current athletes. To me, 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. At this event, I think there are so many different, unique, cool stories that I didn’t even think twice about it.”
Ryan O’Toole, who was quoted in Nichols’ original story, expressed frustration that the locker room saga has become such a focal point.
“I think it’s an internal issue,” O’Toole told GOLF.com. “If the lockers were an issue, I think the players should go to the Tour and we can handle it privately. But it doesn’t need to be a story that gets blown out of proportion and creates drama.”
According to Nichols’ reporting, LPGA commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan was unaware of the locker room situation at Lake Nona before Tuesday. On Wednesday, 36 temporary lockers were delivered and set up in the lower level of the clubhouse for the players.