Building on the momentum of the Women’s World Cup, another major all-female sporting event is about to kick off – and that’s the golf equivalent, The Solheim Cup.
The prestigious week-long golf championship arrives in Gleneagles, Perthshire in September and is one of the highlights of the world’s sporting calendar. It will see 24 of the best female golfers from across the globe competing in ‘the home of golf’ as Europe goes head-to-head with the United States. It’s a massive event not only for Perthshire, but for Scotland as a whole, as 600 million homes across the world will tune in to watch it being televised!
The Solheim Cup is named after Karsten Solheim, a golf club manufacturer who was the driving force behind the inception of the women’s competition which is now regarded as “the biggest event in women’s golf”.
One of the people partly-responsible for attracting The Solheim Cup to Scotland was Alan Grant, Visit Scotland’s senior golf manager who is now responsible for delivering the Solheim Cup to its widening audience.
It was almost four years ago, in October 2015, that Gleneagles won the bid to host the prestigious golf championship.
Since then, it has been all hands on deck as VisitScotland in partnership with Ladies European Tour, Perth and Kinross Council, Gleneagles Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort, Transport Scotland, Police Scotland and IGM Golf have all come together to work on behind-the-scenes preparations.
VisitScotland’s Alan Grant, a keen golfer who competed in last week’s Scottish Open Pro-Am at The Renaissance Club, East Lothian, said: “It was very much a gap in our recent golf programme, so 2019 was a great opportunity to bring it back to Scotland. We were chosen because of our abilityand track record of delivering world class events and we are confident of handing the Ladies European Tour back a product that is even bigger and better than it was.
“It is important that we position this as a bucket-list event because it deserves the same level of exposure and attention to detail as other golf events in Scotland get and we want people to be excited about it being hosted here. It is an event that people will be able to look back on in years to come and say ‘I was there’. We are welcoming 24 of the best female athletes. We are welcoming 24 of the best female athletes in the world to one of the most outstanding match play golf courses in the world and that was important.
“We are very used to staging golf championships here and, as the home of golf, that’s the way it should be. But given the 600 million homes tuning it, it not only gives us a chance to promote ourselves [Scotland] to a global audience, but gives a global audience a chance to be inspired and hopefully visit Scotland in the weeks, months and years to come.
“Having Scot Catriona Matthew our last major winner in golf, named as the European captain helped us focus on the event’s connection to Scotland too.”
With an estimated 100,000 spectators (more than 30,000-a-day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday) expected to descend of the Perthshire golf course to compete in The Solheim Cup between 9th and 15th September, it is predicted to be the “biggest Solheim ever held on European soil” and, with more than two-thirds of tickets already sold, it will naturally have a huge impact on the local economy, as VisitScotland’s golf chief explained:
“The audience is very different to a Ryder Cup as spectators for that were located a little bit further away, but this time we know a lot of the bed and breakfasts in the local area are already busy with fans, and there is still good availability in the area. We are expecting around 2,000-3,000 people from the US who will extend their trip into a holiday travelling around Scotland, while others will attend matches in the day and, in the evening, head back into Perth city centre for the restaurants and the bars, or head to Crieff or Muckhart or Stirling, or wherever they are staying.
“For Perthshire in particularly, this is a really big event – 100,000 people at a golf course in the middle of Perthshire create that opportunity. And for those who are watching The Solheim Cup on TV in 600 million homes, it profiles the area from a longer-term perspective.”
But unlike other major golf tournaments, the audience attending The Solheim Cup is very different, as it appeals to those who are golf fans, and those who are not, with a huge focus on families. In fact, organisers are billing it as “the most family-friendly golf tournament ever staged”.
As well as free entry for under 16s, there will be a family zone in the tented village with a soft play area, an undercover crèche, come & try activities, crazy golf, carnival-style games and a designated on-site family car park – where groups can drive right to the site itself – not typical activities you would expect to see at an international golf tournament!
Alan added: “It will be a festival-type atmosphere: there will be face-painting and balloon modelling, then on the Thursday, for the Opening Ceremony, we will be building up to 5pm when we will be live on TV. We will have a pipe band, highland dancers, an all-girl fiddle group, before Texas plays live on stage for one hour before Abba tribute band, Bjorn Again, perform.
“There will be lots of things going on for families to experience a golf tournament in slightly different way.
“We want a match that will ignite people’s excitement beyond an audience that would normally be engaging with it.”
On the golf course itself a 2,500-seater grandstand will be erected at the first tee while spectators on the ground will be able to get up close to the players during the competition’s 28 matches over three days.
Under the captaincy of Scotland’s own Catriona Matthew (European) and Juli Inkster (USA), the greatest female golfers competing in The Solheim Cup are expected to inspire a new generation of young players and increase female participation in the sport as a whole – in the same way the Women’s World Cup did with aspiring female footballers.
It is, in fact, the last all-female event on the global sporting calendar following on from the World Cup, last week’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool, the Women’s Ashes, the UEFA Women’s Under-19s Championship, and the first-ever Women’s Tour of Scotland cycling event next month.
Alan added: “That crest of the wave is gathering swell and we hope to ride that over the next few weeks and hope that The Solheim Cup continues to raise awareness and engagement in women’s sport and the engagement in people coming out to watch professional athletes. It’s giving these elite female athletes a chance to be seen.”
Also as part of The Solheim Cup, The Ping Junior Solheim Cup will be staged on Tuesday 10th and Wednesday 11th where 12 of golf’s rising young players will be on the Gleneagles fairways.
Among the up-and-coming swing stars is 16-year-old Hannah Darling, who could be selected for the junior team, while England’s Georgia Hall and Dutch golfer Anne Van Dam are hopeful of a place on the women’s European team, captained by Scotland’s very own Catriona.
As Europe has won every time The Solheim Cup has been staged on Scottish soil, Alan is naturally hoping for a home win, he added: “We can definitely be hopeful. The European players are doing very well. It’s a home event so the crowd will be on their side, which is important. The Europeans are also more familiar with the course as many have played it before and Catriona will be able to influence the course set up to benefit her team, so we’re already in a good position.”
*For your chance to be part of The Solheim Cup, you can book tickets (priced from £25 for adults and up to six children) by visiting The Solheim Cup 2019 website by clicking here.
How the Solheim Cup is inspiring the next generation of female golfers:
There has never been a better time to take up golf with a number of programmes and initiatives in place to challenge the perceptions of the sport.
More women than ever are discovering that as well as being competitive, golf is “at its heart a sociable, fun, outdoor, healthy sport”, according to VisitScotland’s senior golf manager, Alan Grant.
Clubs are now recognising that women are the decision makers in the family, so make the environment more family-friendly, encouraging them to not only take up the sport and play all 18 holes, but come for a day out at the golf club or to use the driving range or play nine holes or pitch and putt.
In a bid to increase participation in women’s golf, VisitScotland has with the Royal & Ancient (R&A) invested in a new development role through The Solheim Cup Project. That role saw Carol Harvey being appointed as a women and young person’s golf development officer for three years.
Now 18 months in post, Carol is driving forward initiatives within golf clubs across Scotland to make them more accessible and appealing to encourage women and girls to be part of the golf community.
Another initiative that was launched on the back of The Solheim Cup coming to Gleneagles was GolfSixes, a team-game for young golfers playing six-holes against other clubs. And there has been a huge uptake, with more than 50 GolfSixes leagues now running in 20 regions of Scotland today!
Plus, more than £20,000 was allocated by Perth and Kinross Council to encourage women and girls to take up golf ahead of the tournament. The £22,000 came from the council’s Solheim Community Fund and is to be granted to a number of clubs specifically targeting women, including Strathmore and Perth Ladies.
Young female golfers will also be inspired by the youth spin-off of The Solheim Cup which will see 12 leading European girl golfers competing in The Ping Solheim Cup Juniors team on the first few days of the week-long event.
This contest for under-18s should give young players, particularly girls, an insight into what can be achieved.
Alan added: “For young girls to see that there is another young girl out there playing golf at a very high level – and that it’s not an old man’s sport or a boy’s sport – it creates that peer connection and drives more girls to play.”
Currently rising up the ranks are Shannon MacWilliam, Hannah McCook, and Hazel McGarvey, who are all aged between 16 and 22, and are already making a name for themselves in the sport.