A Match Made in Golfing Heaven?

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The Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup double header proved to be magnificent spectacles. But could golf’s greatest team events benefit from closer cooperation and consecutive staging like tennis? ‘No,’ says LANDMARK’s Sarah Gwynn, who attended both.

I was fortunate to be at the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup venues in September for LANDMARK clients.

Having been part of the media team for a number of Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup matches between 2010 and 2019, it was interesting to see how the two events have changed and grown since then.

On reflection, three things have struck me since returning:

Fragmented organisation of the Solheim Cup holds it back

Who actually runs the Solheim Cup?

There are several different organising bodies and stakeholders involved, and some change with each edition.

There’s the Solheim family – Karsten, who founded PING, and his wife Louise were the driving forces behind the event’s creation in the late 1980s, and their grandson John K. is the current PING CEO, one of the tournament’s global partners.

Then there’s the Ladies European Tour and America’s LPGA.

Throw in the Spanish Golf Federation, the Real Federacion Andaluza de Golf and a Spanish contractor and you have a lot of cooks.

This year’s edition drew criticism for basic issues such as food and drink outlets being understocked and no water stations to refill bottles, plus bottlenecks on an undulating resort course that’s designed for buggies, not walking.

With the men’s event, it’s run by Ryder Cup Europe and the PGA of America. That’s it. Every time. That continuity is crucial.

The venue in Rome had its organisational challenges, but the end product was a huge success because of the people who have consistently delivered this event over the years. 

Promisingly, steps are being taken to ensure the fundamental issues we saw at Finca Cortesin do not recur. The LET has agreed a joint venture with IMG to deliver the event in Europe until 2036, so the same experienced people will be at the helm.

The LET will also be under pressure to change its television provider because of the widespread criticism of this year’s coverage, with a lack of yardages and tracer technology and inaccurate captioning. An improved viewer experience is essential. Watch this space.

Match play is the best play

There’s something about match play that creates an atmosphere like no other in golf.

It brings out the best in players and whips the crowds into a patriotic frenzy.

Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say, but the quality of golf at the Solheim Cup is every bit as good as the Ryder Cup. Ditto the levels of excitement, drama and rivalry.

So why does it not hold the same commercial value or appeal to sponsors?

The Ryder Cup has secured significant worldwide partnership deals with seven sponsors including BMW, Hilton and Capgemini. 

The Solheim Cup could do with another global partner to join PING and Rolex to pump in significant investment, much like Barclays has done with the Women’s Super League in football, to break the cycle. To give the Solheim Cup players the platform they deserve.

There were 100,000 passionate supporters in Spain and an average of 795,000 watching the live broadcast in the US on the Sunday. And that was despite the logistical problems on site and haphazard coverage. 

There is clearly a dedicated, loyal fan base for this event, and enormous potential for it to grow.

Would a joint event work?

It was the first time the two events have been played in consecutive weeks, and it was a golden opportunity to unite the sport and somehow bring together two passionate and patriotic sets of fans.

Iain Carter, the BBC’s Golf Correspondent, said golf’s biggest problem is that it’s treated like men’s golf and women’s golf. 

He referenced the grand slams in tennis, where the players compete alongside one another with equal standing and remuneration.

The Solheim Cup organisers tried to collaborate with the Ryder Cup, but their enquiries were reportedly rebuffed, with the LPGA citing, “logistical complications presented with bringing together two organisations”. 

USA Captain Stacy Lewis admitted she had spent a lot of time pursuing the opportunity to no avail.

It’s easy to see why. The 2023 Ryder Cup had an average of 785,000 television viewers in the UK (up 30% from 2021) and 1.4 million in the US, plus more than 600 million post impressions and page views across its social media channels. 

To share that platform for a week would be huge for the women’s game. 

However, in rugby, separating the Six Nations into men’s and women’s events, rather than running the two competitions concurrently, has been a big success, allowing organisers to “do so much more” with each event.

In football, if anyone suggested the FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was such a huge success this summer, should merge with the men’s equivalent they would be laughed out of town. It has become a brilliant global spectacle in its own right.

Cricket has shown with The Hundred that men’s and women’s team competitions can run together successfully – each match is a double header at the same venue, with tickets giving access to both the men’s and women’s game – but this was a new format introduced in 2021 and run by one organisation.

It’s hard to see how a joint event Solheim/Ryder would work, given the separate organisational, stakeholder and commercial structures, and if either would retain its stature by joining forces à la tennis – which let’s not forget is an individual sport. It would surely diminish one or both.

My view is that golf already has enough on its plate, and should concentrate on keeping the Ryder Cup great – and on making the Solheim Cup greater.

There is room for both.