Five years after Perthshire played host to the Ryder Cup, the focus of the golfing world will again be directed towards The Gleneagles Hotel from the 9th - 15th of September.
The 16th Solheim Cup will spotlight the cream of European and American talent over the PGA Centenary Course designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus, with the 12-strong home teamed captained by Scotland’s very own Catriona Matthew.
The Solheim Cup action will be screened to more than 600 million homes around the world, raising the profile of women’s golf at home and abroad.
Fronting the BBC coverage will be Perthshire’s very own Eilidh Barbour, who will present the evening highlights package from Gleneagles.
Skilled operator Eilidh (36) is in demand across the channels, primarily handling golf and football, and we sent sports journalist Gordon Bannerman to sound her out on the Solheim Cup and her passion for sport.
Hopefully having the Solheim Cup here in Scotland will encourage girls to try golf,“Hopefully having the Solheim Cup here in Scotland will encourage girls to try golf,” said Eilidh, who is a member at Blairgowrie Golf Club, a St Johnstone fan and a self-confessed golf addict.
“Women’s sport in general has enjoyed a high profile over the summer, with the football and netball World Cups.
“Whatever sport it is, it’s about making it more visible and accessible to young girls. I think girls nowadays realise that it is ok to like sport. I get to work on women’s’ golf so rarely but these Solheim Cup players are fantastic, their consistency and shot-making is incredible. They are great to watch.
“Women’s golf has developed hugely, just like football, rugby and other sports. I wish I had taken up golf much earlier. I played a bit with my parents at Dunkeld and on family holidays, with some pitch and putt thrown in.
“I dipped in and out when I was 15 or 16, playing maybe two or three times a year. You can’t really do that and expect to progress.
“The sports I loved were fast, like football and snowboarding. But it is a big regret that I didn’t learn to play when I was younger because it is so much harder now!
“Trying to get women in their twenties and thirties into sport is important because there is still a big gap in my generation when it comes to enjoying sport.
“And there is this misconception that anyone who plays and enjoys golf is good at it.
“We will see the elite at Gleneagles and hopefully it will inspire young girls and women of my age to take it up. Believe me, golf is very addictive! I would play every day if I could.”
While European team captain, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, has been tasked with winning the Solheim Cup, she admits there is a bigger picture.
“It’s an important time, not only for women’s golf, but for women’s sport in general, with a terrific tailwind right now across the world,” Matthew acknowledged.
The build-up to the biggest event in women’s golf has seen the famous trophy on display across Perth and Kinross, with Solheim Cup ambassador and the sports presenter Di Dougherty on hand to tee-up opportunities for kids to sample golf.
“It was fantastic to see the children so excited by seeing the trophy first hand and getting to try out golf for themselves,” she said, after visits to Perth and Blairgowrie.
“The Solheim Cup will be a terrific day out for families with free entry for children and a host of child-friendly activities and entertainment.”
The trophy tour has supported a 2019 Solheim Cup Educational Resource - and that has been welcomed by Allan Minto, project manager with Golf Perthshire, which was established six years ago to encourage more visitors to stay and play Big County courses.
Over a coffee in the Fair City, we sounded out Allan about the potential impact the Gleneagles tournament might have on the sport, and the Big County economy.
“Thanks to £10,000 grant support from the Solheim Development Group, we purchased 84 sets of junior clubs, with every club in Perth and Kinross getting a minimum of three sets with a view to offering kids free club hire,” he explained.
“The majority of clubs had already signed up to a family golf initiative earlier in the year.
“Golf Perthshire is primarily a tourism initiative, so growing participation at a local level is not really in my remit but as a former professional myself I am passionate about the game and I do have a soft spot for trying to give kids a chance to play golf.
“The free club hire is aimed mainly at families coming here on holiday, making golf in Perthshire more accessible and affordable to tourists but I would be thrilled if it was picked up at the local level.
The Solheim Cup might even suit the Perthshire profile better than the Ryder Cup.
“There will be a huge television audience. Across Scandinavia, Germany and France, golf is a strong market for couples, so the Solheim audience might be better matched with Perthshire’s product.
“I actually think there could be a stronger legacy from the Solheím Cup.
“There has been a lot of investment from the Scottish Government, Event Scotland, VisitScotland and Perth and Kinross Council encouraging more women and girls to play.
“Every club locally was offered several hours of free tuition to encourage this. There has been great feedback from the PGA’s ‘Get Into Golf’ taster sessions at the likes of Murrayshall and the North Inch.
“There is a big push on from all sports to try and encourage girls to participate. Role models also help, whether they are Solheim Cup stars or young amateur players like Katy Alexander, the Scottish Girls champion, making an impression.
“There is a real buzz about golf in Perthshire at all levels, with the likes of Callum Hill (Muckhart) and Danny Young (Craigie Hill) winning tournaments this season.”
One-time Musselburgh pro Allan has clocked-up more than 40 years’ experience in the golf industry, enjoying a key role nurturing the East Lothians’ successful “Scotland’s Golf Coast” marketing strategy.
“Perthshire is an entirely different challenge,” he acknowledged. “We are targeting a different market, mainly domestic. We have a completely different product from the links courses which Americans want to play but we have fantastic golf courses in scenic locations, so we try to play on that.
"There are lots of positives and our golf fits in with families on short breaks and longer holidays. We are about to introduce Golf-Plus Experiences – offering golf teamed-up with the many other outdoor and indoor activities Perth and Kinross is renowned for.
“For instance, packages featuring golf plus spas, golf plus our food and drink, golf plus our magnificent outdoors and many more examples, each tailored for couples, seniors, women and families.
“We have produced well-received promotional videos showing what a fun, family destination this is.
“We have golf courses already geared up for an international market and people serious about their golf. We also have options that might appeal to other sectors of the market, as any visitors inspired by the Solheim Cup will discover for themselves.”
Glasgow bands Twin Atlantic and Texas will perform at the gala dinner and opening ceremony respectively.
Youngsters will enjoy the prime front seats normally reserved for VIPs, emphasising that one of the main aims is to attract a “new audience” to golf and women’s golf in particular.
Meanwhile, in a sporting first, female fans at the 2019 Solheim Cup will have free access to period products, as the biggest competition in women’s golf joins the fight against period inequality.
The move sees the Solheim Cup become the first major golf competition to make sanitary products accessible and completely free of charge for spectators.
“On the Ball” campaigners Orlaith Duffy, Mikaela McKinley and Erin Slaven have warmly welcomed the move.
“We’re delighted that this is happening this year - here, in our home country, at the Gleneagles. Sport has always been a way of breaking down barriers and by providing a truly inclusive environment for women, it is again leading the way on this issue.”
*Solheim Cup tickets are priced from just £25 for adults with children under 16 admitted free of charge.
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