Scottish golfing public gear up for ‘Ryder Cup-esque’ Solheim clash

“It is Ryder Cup-esque, which might shock people in terms of size and scale,” said Paul Bush, VisitScotland’s director of events, about the 16th Solheim Cup at Gleneagles, the countdown for which is just about to be cranked up.

The third staging of the biennial bout in the game’s cradle is just six weeks away and appetites will be whetted over the next fortnight as this week’s AIG Women’s British Open at Woburn is followed by the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.

By the end of those two events, European captain Catriona Matthew will know her eight automatic qualifiers and, on Monday 12 August, she will complete her line up to take on Juli Inkster’s US side, revealing her four wildcards at a press conference at Gleneagles.

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The excitement will then start to build and rightly so because there’s nothing that really beats team golf at the top level. But, will it really be on the same scale as that 2014 Ryder Cup, which ticked box after box after box and did the country proud, at the same venue?

European team captain Catriona Matthew with the Solheim Cup outside the Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Tristan Jones

In terms of spectator numbers, the answer will be no, but that is only because Paul McGinley’s side was cheered to victory by a staggering crowd of 240,000 during a week to remember on various fronts, including the fact Mother Nature shone on the event as the sun rose above the Ochil Hills just before the opening shot was struck and stayed out for three days.

Nonetheless, ticket sales for the Solheim Cup are shaping up well, with 63,000 having been bought in advance and the organisers are feeling optimistic that a target of 100,000 might be hit. To put that into perspective, the 2000 match at Loch Lomond attracted a crowd of 50,000 while the 2011 clash in Ireland had 65,000-70,000 through the gates and the one in Germany in 2015 recorded an attendance of 80,000.

“We are in great shape,” admitted Bush. “If we held the event tomorrow, we’d have around 63,000 people there which, for a women’s golf event and women’s sport in Scotland, is pretty impressive, and 85,000-90,000 would be a fantastic turnout. Spectators will be able to park on site, helping create a family environment.”

When Dalmahoy staged the second contest and first on this side of the Atlantic in 1992, it wasn’t really on the radar of the majority of Scottish golf fans, as a fairly modest attendance testified. It was still very much in the shadow of the Ryder Cup when the event paid that visit to Loch Lomond.

Nineteen years on, this Solheim Cup deserves to be showcased like the men’s equivalent. “Women’s sport is on the up,” opined Bush, using the recent success of World Cups in both football and netball, as well as a memorable women’s Wimbledon final between Simona Halep and Serena Williams as examples. “Hopefully, by the time we get to September there will be a real focus.”

Glasgow bands Twin Atlantic and Texas will perform at the gala dinner and opening ceremony respectively. Some “reverse engineering” will see young members of the public sitting at the front at the latter instead of dignitaries and VIPs, which is a brilliant idea because one of the main aims of the event is to try to attract a “new audience” to golf and women’s golf in particular.

“We’re pushing it really hard when the kids go back to school in August,” said Bush of that drive. “The conversion time is really tight for families because they don’t think about it until they have to. Under-16s going free was one of the very early decisions and we are 300 per cent over target for the number of under-16s registered.”

In terms of the first tee experience, spectator village and on-course facilities, it will indeed be “Ryder Cup-esque” and, having upped the bar with that Ryder Cup before seeing it raised again in France last year, the aim is to do likewise with the Solheim Cup. “We want to send it back to the LPGA and LET as a much stronger brand, and we think we did that in 2014,” said Bush.

Encouragingly, awareness of the event is up to 33 per cent, having been at just 10 per cent a a year ago, and well done to the European Tour for showing its support by allowing a huge Solheim Cup banner to be on display during the recent Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.

Keen to grow the women’s game, the R&A has also offered support in helping to promote the event though its databases, meaning there can simply no excuse for the Scottish golfing public not to be aware of this world-class sporting event coming to town.