News that the Ladies European Tour awarded the 2007 Solheim Cup to Sweden should be welcomed by most of the golf world. Where the news should cause great concern is in the British Isles. England, Ireland and Wales entered bids to stage the match. The fact that all three were snubbed proves the British Isles is lagging leap years behind Sweden and most of continental Europe when it comes to women’s golf.
Sweden deserves the Solheim Cup three years from now. No Solheim match on this side of the Atlantic has been as successful as Europe’s 171⁄2–101⁄2 victory over the United States at Barseback in 2003. That success is not measured by the scoreline (not a true reflection of the match since the United States graciously conceded three out of the remaining four singles matches once the match was determined). Success last year came in the thousands of Swedes who showed up to cheer the European team on.
More than 100,000 turned out to watch three days of intense competition. More importantly, more than 10,000 youngsters – the majority of them girls – were on hand to watch the action. Many had European and Swedish flags painted on their faces, some had flags wrapped around their bodies and others waved small flags as they lined the fairways.
The number of young girls who turned up at 7 a.m. to claim a good spot from which to watch the event’s opening tee shot explained why Swedish women have been such an instrumental part in Europe’s Solheim Cup success.
Of the 33 European players who have competed in the eight matches since 1990, nine have been Swedish, eight have been English and six have been Scottish, with three representatives each from France and Spain, and one each from Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Norway. That trend seems certain to continue. Only one English woman, Laura Davies, took part in last year’s match, and at the moment no bona fide English women are waiting to step into Davies’ shoes.
At least Scotland could boast about three players (Janice Moodie, Catriona Matthew and Mhari McKay) in this past year’s match. However, like England, Scotland does not have huge pools of young talent waiting in the wings. And Ireland still is waiting for its first Solheim Cup player, something that likely won’t change anytime soon.
Wales also did not have a Solheim representative last year, although many thought Becky Morgan warranted a spot on the team. She has a good chance to make it in 2005, as does former Curtis Cup player Becky Brewerton, the one young British player with a chance of securing a Solheim spot.
What should be kept in mind is that Sweden won the bid without even naming a venue. (The site won’t be named until later this year.) England, Ireland and Wales had named a host course.
Wales had been considered in some quarters as a favorite. The Vale of Glamorgan, home to the Welsh PGA, made a strong bid for the match, which was seen as a forerunner of the 2010 Ryder Cup to be played at nearby Celtic Manor.
Most galling for the Welsh bid is that it lost to a country it did not even know was in the running. Vale of Glamorgan marketing manager Paul Beddoe said his club had “been beaten by a venue which we did not even know was in the race.”
“It’s like Athens having been awarded the Olympics for 2004 only to be told that Sydney had made such a good job of it in 2000 that the Games were going back there,” Beddoe said. “We had a very strong bid, but we could have accepted being beaten to it by Ireland or England because they had entered the bidding process with us.
“I can see the rationale behind their decision to go back to Sweden – I was at Barseback in September and it was a fantastic tournament – and it is probably where they can guarantee the most financial benefit. But we were confident we could have staged something special here in Wales, too.”
Something special perhaps, but nothing like the show the Swedes will put on in 2007. Having covered the Wales WPGA Championship of Europe at Royal Porthcawl the past few years, I can tell you from experience that the Welsh haven’t exactly turned out in droves to welcome Europe’s finest women golfers. As for hordes of young Welsh girls lining the fairways, let’s just say they are conspicuous by their absence.
The sad truth is that women’s golf is struggling in the British Isles, where only 4,000 girls are registered as members of golf clubs.
And the number is shrinking.
For too long, the powers that be have neglected the falling numbers, and now they are paying the price. The proof is in the pudding: Not one British or Irish girl has made the last two Junior Solheim Cup teams, which have been filled by young continental Europeans.
The problem comes down to the stuffy image of golf in the British Isles. For too many years, children have been tolerated rather than encouraged. Most British clubhouses virtually ban juniors. Boys seem more likely to fight through that and have succeeded in spite of the system rather than because of it. Girls simply get turned off and turn their attention to activities where their presence is more welcomed.
The Scandinavian ethos is vastly different to the British attitude. In Scandinavia, girls and boys are encouraged to take up the game. Clubhouses welcome children rather than bar them. It’s the same throughout most of continental Europe. Spain has had two representatives in each of the last two matches and should add more in the coming years.
The Ladies European Tour has recognized that the future of the women’s professional game lies in Scandinavia and continental Europe, and it is right to take the matches back to Sweden.
It’s plain common sense to invest in the future rather than attempt to revive the past.