With women making up just 14 per cent of club members, nation is like ‘a developing country’, LET chief tells Martin Dempster
The 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles may see Scotland deliver another “sporting spectacle”, but its main aim, according to Ladies European Tour chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh, is to try and address a “shocking” statistic in the home of golf.
Just 14 per cent of golf club members in Scotland are women, making it like a “developing country” in that respect in the eyes of Khodabakhsh, who is hoping a determined effort by all the stakeholders can possibly double that figure after what will be the third Solheim Cup in this country.
“We are very comfortable in terms of the package that Scotland will deliver for 2019, but for us, and I have to emphasise this, the reason, we are in Scotland for the Solheim Cup again wasn’t just the confidence of having a great sporting spectacle for three days,” the German told Scotland on Sunday.
“The main reason was that, while Scotland is a very mature golf market, it is shocking that we are talking about 14 per cent female membership in this country. From that perspective, it is almost like a developing country, and this is something that Scotland is very aware of, all the way from the First Minister and the sports minister down to VisitScotland and all the other stakeholders.”
Described by Khodabakhsh as an “iconic” figure, 47-year-old Catriona Matthew continues to do Scotland proud on the global stage, and there’s a strong chance the North Berwick woman will get the opportunity to cap a successful Solheim Cup career by captaining Europe on home soil. That would be a huge boost for Scottish women’s golf, as would be the likes of Pamela Pretswell, Kylie Henry, Gemma Dryburgh, Carly Booth, Sally Watson, Kelsey Macdonald, Vikki Laing and Michele Thomson making their mark on the LET between now and that match against the Americans.
“For us, it is a four-year journey, which we are already one year into, to make a change,” added Khodabakhsh. “We have a development department for education and also working with juniors, and we very much believe that we can contribute from our side. Not just to make that Solheim Cup a three-day spectacle for women’s golf but to make a contribution to a change of attitude in the country towards women’s golf. There are lots of other stakeholders working on it.
“The R&A, for example, has been doing a great job and is a great partner for us. You see pressure on some of the golf clubs to change their attitude. If, after 2019, we can turn round and say we helped double the membership level, that’s the greater story than either Europe or the US winning the match. It would be a greater contribution from the Ladies European Tour.”
Before the Solheim Cup spotlight shines on it, Gleneagles will also stage an exciting new event that will see men and women professionals join forces for their nations. Taking place at the Perthshire resort next August, the first European Team Championships are part of a multi-sport event being hosted jointly by Glasgow and Berlin. Golf is the only new event in 2018 and will involve men’s and women’s tournaments along with a mixed one.
“This is a project we have been working on with the European Tour since 2013,” said Khodabakhsh, who was involved in both athletics and boxing before taking up his current post. “This is a project that I actually knew of before I joined the LET and I think it is an amazing opportunity.
“It was great to see golfers competing in the Olympics again and, by having this event every four years as well, we can make sure that golf is on public TV every two years to a broader audience. The fact that we also have a mixed event (which the Olympics didn’t when it made its return to the Games in Rio last summer after more than 100 years) makes it much more compelling.”
Meanwhile, a compelling fortnight is in store this summer when the world’s top players tee up in back-to-back events in this country. The Aberdeen Asset Ladies Scottish Open, being held at Dundonald Links for the third year running, has had its status elevated by now being co-sanctioned between the LET and the LPGA.
It is followed by the Ricoh Women’s British Open heading to Kingsbarns for the first time.
“We had the agreement as part of the Solheim Cup deal that the Ladies Scottish Open was guaranteed. However, we then got the opportunity for the event to become co-sanctioned with the LPGA and we can now tell that exciting story over a longer period,” said Khodabakhsh.