The most talented women golfers from across Europe and the USA will go head to head at Gleneagles, with more than 60,000 advance ticket sales – and numbers rising week on week - ensuring the atmosphere will be reminiscent of the 2014 Ryder Cup at the same venue.
In a summer when the profile of women’s football soared, with France hosting a World Cup won by the USA, women’s golf is also set for a major boost. Thousands of schoolchildren across Perth and Kinross are getting the opportunity to get up close and personal with a piece of sporting history thanks to the Solheim Cup Schools Trophy Tour ahead of the event running from September 9-15.
Sparking the imagination of young girls and maintaining their interest in sport has always proved challenging.
To celebrate the return to Scotland for the first time in almost 20 years, the iconic trophy is visiting schools and VisitScotland centres as organisers look to inspire the next generation of golfers in the region.
Small City wanted in on the action, and so we asked local Sport Journalist, Gordon Bannerman, to have a chat with a couple of Perthshire youngsters who have embraced the sport Scotland gifted to the world.
Blairgowrie Golf Club member Katy Alexander (18) was crowned the Scottish Girls Amateur champion recently, leading the way on her home turf.
Meanwhile, Strathmore Golf Club’s Kirsten Miller – just 15 - is not only fine-honing her skills but making time to encourage younger kids into the game.
“My parents took my brother and I to Strathmore Golf Centre and we joined the nine-hole wee course when I was nine-years-old,” recalled Katy, who has been flying the flag for Scotland at this month’s Home Internationals.
“My first handicap was 54 but it is currently -0.5,” she said, underlining the giant strides she has taken since first swinging a club with her folks.
"My biggest influences are probably my parents. They are always there to support and encourage me and from the beginning they both made golf fun.
“I don’t really have any golfing heroes but when I was younger it was Swedish star Henrik Stenson because he gave me a ball marker. That was at Carnoustie for the Dunhill Cup. It wasn’t long after the Ryder Cup and it was one of the tournament ball markers he gave me.
“I like the individuality of golf. It is solely up to you how you score. I would definitely encourage young girls to take up golf. It's a great way to make new friends and you can play events all over Scotland and beyond.
“At the moment I am playing just about every day. I am usually at the practice area for about an hour and I then go and play a few holes on the course. My best result has to be winning the Scottish girls championship this year. And I was thrilled to be representing Scotland at the Home Internationals. It was one of my goals at the start of the season.”
As for the Solheim Cup, just try keeping Katy away!
“I will be there to watch the singles. I wasn't at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles but I did see the Junior Ryder Cup at Blairgowrie. It was great to watch.”
Katy is bound for Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University next month and hopes to make an impact on the student golf scene.
Meanwhile, Perth Academy pupil Kirsten plans to look, listen and learn when she makes a beeline for Gleneagles.
The 15-year-old, who hails from Balbeggie, says much decorated professionals like last year’s British Open winner Georgia Hall are perfect role models for tempting young girls to sample the sport.
But despite her tender years, the Strathmore Golf Club member, who plays off 11 and has her sights trained on getting down to single figures before season end, falls into that bracket herself.
Not only is she dedicating hours every week to improving her game, Kirsten finds time to coach kids new to a sport she has fallen in love with.
“I will be at the Solheim Cup every day, watching and helping out,” she said. "I got onto the Young Persons Golf Panel for Scottish Golf. On the two days for the Junior Solheim Cup there are 1500 school kids from Perth and Kinross coming down to Gleneagles. We have been asked if we can help out and share our experience. That is really exciting. It will be the highlight of the year for me.
“I really like Georgia Hall and seeing her win the British Open last year was great to witness. At Gleneagles, I will look at how Georgia and the other players react to the bad shots. I will watch what they do closely because it is what I aspire to be.
It is great having role models like Georgia. I would hope that she inspires more girls to take up golf.
So how did Kirsten discover she had a passion for golf?
“I went along to a few parent and child lessons with my dad at Murrayshall when I was nine and I just fell in love with it right from the start. I tried my best to hit the ball and there were a few boys around my age starting out and we were on much the same level. Eventually I got more consistent and my love for the game has just kept growing.
“I enjoy the competitive aspect and the fact you meet so many new people and each day is a new challenge, No two games are the same and you are always learning. You are trying to beat yourself and your opponents.
"I have been at Strathmore for four years now and I have been helping out with the coaching for the last 18 months. We had a chance to do a Golf Leadership Award run by Live Active at Perth Academy.
“Ian Butchart is our junior convener and he encourages the youngsters. I had to do 20 hours volunteering so I asked our pro Gareth Cousins if I could help out with the junior lessons. I love seeing how they are improving and doing what I can to give something back to the people who have helped me. We have 10 youngsters in each group, with three sessions on a Monday night and on a Saturday morning. I try to help out as often as I can."
“Saturdays are competition days and I play after the coaching sessions. I am out practicing pretty much straight from school. I have also helped coach local primary schools with taster sessions.
“It is great that youngsters and especially girls are getting a chance to sample golf and maybe take it further. A lot of girls in my class are into dance and a few play football. But sometimes I am asked why I play a game that is for old men.
“That is a stereotype but that’s why it is best to try and get them involved when they are still at primary school.”
Team USA go into the Gleneagles tournament as favourites to repeat their win on home soil two years ago. But don’t write off Scottish captain Catriona Matthews’ 12-strong team, warn the girls.
“Match play is a totally different thinking game from stroke play and hopefully this year Europe will win,” said Katy, who is an ambassador for the Barrie Douglas Foundation.
Kirsten added: “I would like to think the Europeans will have a chance on home soil and I’ll be backing them all the way against Team USA.”
The Scottish Government’s aspiration is that The 2019 Solheim Cup will prove to be the biggest ever European edition of the event and the most family-focused golf event in history. Tickets are priced from just £10 for adults with children under-16 admitted free of charge.
More info on the Solheim Cup.
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