EXACTLY a year on from the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the Perthshire venue is being put under the microscope by a delegation which will choose between Scotland and Sweden in the head-to-head battle to stage the 2019 Solheim Cup.
Fronted by Ivan Kodabaksch, the chief executive officer of the Ladies European Tour, the deputation spent yesterday at the five-star resort, where they carried out a full site visit and also listened to a series of presentations from Scotland’s bid team.
The group, which also includes Solheim Cup director Mark Casey plus LET representatives Roland Spector, Sally McPherson and Ben Gordon-Smith, will conclude the Gleneagles leg of their visit this morning before heading to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for a meeting with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Ten countries expressed an initial interest in hosting the biennial event in four years’ time before the LET announced that the final phase of the process would involve just Scotland and Sweden, which has selected Bro Hof Slott Golf Club, home of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour, as its selected venue.
“We’ve got huge respect for Sweden obviously, having successfully hosted the event twice since 2003,” said Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, as he prepared to host the delegation. “But, if Scotland wins this bid, the LET is buying into huge experience. For the last decade, Scotland and the UK have delivered events on time and on budget. Without any arrogance, we probably delivered two of the best events ever last year in the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. So, for the LET, we are a safe pair of hands.
“We also believe we can give the Solheim Cup back – not that we own it, of course – to the LET with a stronger brand value than when we receive it. The European Tour left Gleneagles after the Ryder Cup in a very healthy state, having received great TV viewing figures, great numbers through the gates and everyone had a fantastic time.”
So impressed was Andy North, one of Tom Watson’s vice-captains for the match, with last year’s Ryder Cup – the first to be held in the home of golf in more than 40 years – that he reckoned Gleneagles should become a permanent venue for the match on this side of the Atlantic. “I think the success of last year’s Ryder Cup is very important because all the key-decision makers in this process were at Gleneagles last September,” added Bush. “It is interesting, for example, that Ivan had said before last year’s Ryder Cup he was worried about the transport set up, but he was amazed how good the whole thing was in that respect. We feel confident we can repeat that. Having a hotel on site is also important from the point of view of the players. The new owners of Gleneagles, Ennismore, sent two people out to Germany last week so they are hungry for an event like the Solheim Cup. It would be exciting to have another major golf event in Scotland and this bid, in which we are looking at staging the event in late August/early September, is the next natural step after last year’s Ryder Cup.”
Like Sweden, Scotland has staged the biennial match on two previous occasions – the first one to be held on this side of Atlantic at Dalmahoy in 1992 then at Loch Lomond eight years later. Both resulted in wins for Europe.
“We consider our USPs to be factors like having huge Scottish Government backing,” said Bush. “That is led from the First Minister down, the previous one [Alex Salmond] and now Nicola Sturgeon, who has fully supported the bid. We showed at the Ryder Cup that we were able to pull that whole Government machinery, whether it be Transport Scotland, Police Scotland, VisitScotland or SportScotland, together and make it work. I think very few countries can do that.”
In a week’s time, the new amalgamated body to run the amateur game in Scotland will come into effect. The timing of that could well be helpful when the LET Board makes its decision at the end of next month.
“I think that the upcoming amalgamation is pivotal,” said Bush. “They picked a fantastic new chair in Eleanor Cannon, who is coming along to the dinner during the visit, and I think Scottish golf has a real platform to move forward now.
“Were we to be successful with this bid, we’d be aiming to seize the opportunity as I think there are some real challenges for golf. For instance, what is the 2020 version of golf? One of the drivers of this bid is around equality and we would be looking at ways of trying to get more girls into golf and also building a family golf product, which I know that the new body is keen to do.
“Mountain-biking is an interesting example in terms of getting families involved in sport. It was once considered to be a chauvinistic male-dominated sport but you’d be amazed at the number of people that go mountain biking now as a family in Scotland.”