Use Youth to Catch the Enthusiasm for the 2019 Solheim Cup!

By: Eric Rule, CCM August 22, 2016

How exciting it has been watching the Summer Olympics!  Every four years we see excitement and patriotism exuding in athletes and fans around the world. In particular, we see the excitement in our youth — the magic in their eyes as they watch the women’s gymnastics teams or the men’s and women’s swimmers or golfers from their country compete at the highest level and smash records. Our young people dream of standing on the champions’ podium themselves in four, eight or twelve years.

So how can this youthful enthusiasm be harnessed in marketing the biennial golf competition, the Solheim Cup?  Founded in 1990, it has become the most prestigious international women’s professional golf team event.  It is the LPGA version of the Ryder Cup and arguably the greatest golf spectator event in the world.

In 2019, the Ladies European Tour brings the Solheim Cup to the world famous PGA Centenary Course at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire, Scotland.  The club has hosted many tournaments over the years but is best known for the extremely well run 2014 Ryder Cup Matches. The Solheim Cup should aspire to capture the successes of the Ryder Cup and make the 2019 match just as remarkable.

Solheim Cup US vs EU

The event, which brought in over 250,000 guests from 96 countries to Scotland with an economic boom of over £100M, did not go unnoticed by the government.  To create a legacy following the Ryder Cup, “Get into Golf” was created to encourage adult beginners in Scotland to take up the game.

It also fostered the Scottish Government’s continued support of ClubGolf, the national junior development program.  Providing coaching in golf clubs and schools across Scotland, since 2003, over 350,000 children have been introduced to golf through this program. More than 15%, or over 52,000 of those children have transitioned to the next level at one of 330 ClubGolf facilities across Scotland.

What can IMG, the marketing partner for the 2019 Matches, do to capitalize on the successes of the Ryder Cup and create the enthusiasm it left in Scotland?  Attracting junior golfers is the major key to driving a new and exciting level of interest.

According to the Club Managers Association of America, the number of women and junior golfers has declined 23 percent and 35 percent through 2014 from the previous five years.  With women and junior golfers in decline, this is an important time to introduce, or reintroduce them, to the game. 

I would suggest that IMG drive interest and excitement in the Solheim Cup by creating a two continent version of the “Drive, Chip and Putt” program hosted by the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America.

Solheim Cup 2013

This would be an ongoing event taking place every two years coinciding with the Solheim Cup for young women between the ages of 7-15.  The competition could be set up similarly to the United States concept, only limited to junior girls.

This event could have multinational qualifying events all over the world.  Junior golfers from each country would qualify. Public and private golf courses and facilities would be responsible for qualifying their own competitors.  These would then be pared down by the local golf districts and then by the state or region.

The real attraction to participation is holding the finals at Gleneagles the week of the Solheim Cup.  If the qualifiers were pared down to 40-60 worldwide, imagine the marketing opportunities like we saw on commercials aired during the Olympics.

Television segments could be run throughout the week portraying the competition.  It would be an event for women and marketing to those that soon will be.  I can see a partnership where the winner of the Solheim Cup competition being automatically “exempted” from the annual Driver, Chip and Putt during the Masters.

By using the affiliates and sponsors, they could create a sensational event that not only draws attention to the Solheim Cup itself but provides a vast marketing base that can be used to draw non-traditional sponsors and spectators from around the globe.   Witness the corporate sponsor image of qualifiers traveling to the event on Etihad Airlines.

Uniforms provided by Lacoste, golf balls by Srixon, hotel arrangements by YourGolfTravel, contestant award packages and timing equipment by Omega. These are just the current corporate partners affiliated with the Solheim Cup.  Imagine adding Procter and Gamble, McDonalds, Nike, MAC makeup, Sephora, Pink, Victoria’s Secret and Kate Spade.  Not only do they bring in sponsorship dollars from previously untapped markets, these corporations could also co-brand the Solheim Cup, creating, even more, recognition of the event.

Using online support such as the YouTube initiative that was launched in 2015 places the competition in an arena that fits with the youth of today.  Technology, which can be a fabulous marketing tool as well as a couch potatoes dream, is a way to reach untapped viewers.  A recent Facebook search showed twice as many people talking about the Ryder Cup as the Solheim Cup.   Engaging youth in this campaign can drive those numbers up significantly.

Of course creating this competition requires an investment but it promotes golf and with the statistics presented earlier, all of us in the golf industry should see the benefit immediately and want to take part.  Imagine the number of clubs and golf facilities that could participle with little input.  But truly, the real genius behind the concept is access to people involved in those facilities; parents, club officials, country officials and operators in both public and private golf operations. 

I understand that it takes foresight to create a movement.  The Masters, USGA and the PGA all partnered to create Drive. Chip and Putt.  This can be accomplished in this case by working with all of golf’s governing bodies.  I can see a coalition of the Ladies Professional Golfers Association, Ladies European Tour, The European Tour, PGA of America, the United States Golf Association and IMG to successfully pull this together.

It is an investment that will add unique and non-traditional marketing potential for the Solheim Cup and women’s golf.  But the greatest dividend would be in our youth.  By extending the Drive, Chip and Putt competition concept internationally, interest and participation in women’s golf will soar to unforeseen heights.

As evidence, Rochester, New York has hosted 17 men’s and women’s championships which have been played on the well-manicured grounds of Oak Hill Country Club, the Country Club of Rochester and Locust Hill County Club.  With a population of slightly over 200,000, US Opens, The PGA Championship, the United States Amateur, Senior Championships, Women’s Opens, LPGA Championships, and the 1995 Ryder Cup have all been contested in our relatively small but very strong market.

Exposition Swing

As the General Manager at Oak Hill Country Club for 27 years, I can attest that these large events required our medium-sized community getting inventive and work together in many ways to pull off these spectacular championships.  National, state and local governmental agencies banded together with the club and the PGA to stage a dramatic and congenial two continent competition.  It will always be remembered as the crowning sporting event in Rochester’s history.

The results of the Master’s Drive, Chip and Putt competition are immeasurable.  But no one can deny the impact on the youth who have participated.   Tom O’Toole Jr., immediate past president of the USGA stated about the event “The joy of success on a child’s face after making a great chip shot or sinking a 12-foot putt is why the USGA is actively engaged in this program.”

We know success leads to confidence, and confidence leads to a lifelong love of our game.”  Isn’t that what we all would like to see?  Imagine thousands of youth girls abandoning the couch to watch television or their phone to play video games and practicing outside for hours in the fresh air and tranquility of a golf course or for that matter just honing their skills at a driving range.

Women’s golf is being represented much stronger than men’s golf in this year’s Olympics.  Six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking chose not to play in the Olympics for various reasons but the top nine players in the Rolex Ranking will tee it up in Rio this week.

Such a strong field is another indication of the marketing opportunities that can be garnered and the competitive spirit that the women bring to the sport. The last woman to compete in the Olympics was American Margaret Abbott in 1900.  While medals were not part of the Olympics at that time, she stood on the podium and accepted the porcelain bowl with pride as the Paris games were the first in which women were allowed to participate.

Catch the enthusiasm of the Olympics and the legacy of the Ryder Cup.  Create a dream that endures.