The Solheim Cup at Gleneagles draws ever nearer. With the biggest team event in women’s golf taking place over The PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire from 9 – 15 September, we sat down with the European captain, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew, to talk all things golf in an exclusive Q&A.
While the focus is rightly on the event, an innovative partnership between The 2019 Solheim Cup and Golf Perthshire is seeing budding junior golfers benefit from free golf and access to free golf equipment across the region.
In a bid to make Perth & Kinross the most family-friendly golf destination in the world, Matthew is delighted more than 80 sets of junior golf equipment have been distributed to all 26 golf courses in the area thanks to a £10,000 grant from The 2019 Solheim Cup Golf Development Programme.
Catriona said: “I think it’s a great initiative. Sometimes there is the inaccessibility of actual golf clubs. If you just want to try the sport out, parents aren’t going to go out and buy a whole new set of clubs. To have the clubs at the course, kids can go down, get them out and try it a few times. As a parent myself, you don’t want them going out, getting all the equipment, playing once and then not liking it! It’s great, it gives them the opportunity to try golf and then if they do like it parents can perhaps invest in some clubs.
“I think it’s great for all the Perthshire clubs doing it, trying to get juniors and families into clubs and promoting it. I think golf clubs have realised probably in the past 10 years that youth is their future membership, so they’re trying everything they can to get children and families involved.”
Catriona, how much have you experienced Perthshire golf down the years?
“I went to University in Stirling just south of Perthshire, and it’s quite a different scenery and setting to down here on the coast at my home in North Berwick. It’s lovely up there. Every October, we used to go on a week’s holiday to Crieff Hydro, stayed in one of the chalets, with my mum and dad and brothers, so I spent a lot of time up there. I’ve played a few courses, like Dunblane, Gleneagles and Crieff. There are a lot of good golf courses. It’s not your typical links, but there are still great golf courses.”
You have a great affinity with Gleneagles after your first professional win on Scottish soil over The King’s Course at the McDonald’s WPGA Championship of Europe in 1998.
“It’s a great memory to look back on. Laura Davies and Helen Alfredsson were up there. It was a great field. I remember the weather being great coming down over the hill on the 18th. I won by five shots so it was one of those wins you could actually enjoy, come down the last and know you had won it. Having the home crowd there was nice too. It was a long time ago but I still do remember it!
“I played a few events at Gleneagles. The LET had an international matchplay event there as well, on The PGA Centenary, and obviously I played the European Golf Team Championships last year. How can you not like it at Gleneagles? It’s a fabulous setting. I’ve been up there a few times in the run up to the Solheim Cup. I love going there.”
With the Solheim Cup now fast approaching, do you feel an extra buzz?
“I think, definitely. Even just arriving at the airports, you can see some of the signage beginning to go up. You are getting that buzz coming up now. The weather is starting to get nicer, people are out playing golf more and the summer holidays are coming up so kids can be out golfing too. I think it’s definitely ramping up and the excitement is growing.
“Even some of the families living here, and seeing them at school, they are starting to talk about it. These next two or three months it will really come to the forefront.
“The Solheim Cup is the main event, but there are lots of other initiatives around the event to try and get people into golf. I think that is what the Solheim Cup, being at Gleneagles in Scotland has brought, all the other initiatives that perhaps people don’t see behind the main event.”
You know The PGA Centenary Course well. How is the course looking, five years after holding a superb Ryder Cup?
“The course will be in great shape. They have a great staff at Gleneagles. They are used to having events. They had the Johnnie Walker Championship there for a long time, they have had the Ryder Cup and ladies’ events as well. They know how to get a course ready. I certainly have no concerns about how good the golf course is going to be.
“I’ll look to do a few little things here and there, but the course is in such good shape anyway you really don’t need to do much to it.”
How is your team shaping up?
“I’m sure there will be a few twists and turns and surprises, but I would say in general the team is shaping up really well. We’ve had some really good results. Bronte and Charley played well on the LPGA in California at the start of May, Azahara (Munoz) has been great this year, very consistent, Celine (Boutier) winning in Australia, Carlotta (Ciganda) is playing well. I would say the team is looking good.”
The US team won at Des Moines in 2017 and history favours them. Do you go in as underdogs?
“The Americans are going to be strong, they always are. They might have a slightly different team this year, but they will still be formidable. We are going to have a strong team and we will be going in very confident. I think the home advantage definitely helps, getting the crowd behind you. If you can get that momentum, that is the biggest thing. You can see it swing one way or the other very quickly.”
Can you pick out your top three Solheim Cup highlights?
Finally, what would you say to anyone who is thinking about coming along to the Solheim Cup but has not purchased a ticket yet?
“Definitely come along. Even if you don’t know anything about golf, or you haven’t golfed before, come along and watch. It’s matchplay, it all happens that day, you can follow a match or you can go to the tented village where there will be all sorts of non-golf activities as well. The atmosphere you will get from when you are there will be superb, the excitement from the crowd, all the cheering, the chants and the colours. To be so fortunate to have that on your doorstep, it would be a shame to miss out.”
Solheim Cup organisers are urging fans to be there to experience the action at Gleneagles, with tickets available from just £10 and children being admitted free of charge. Visit www.solheimcup2019.com for more information!