I’ve got a confession to make.
In almost 14 years as a full-time golf writer, I’ve never covered a Solheim Cup. Not in person.
Since I started my career in 2004, six of them have taken place. But I’ve never been.
I’ve covered majors, Ryder Cups, Walker Cups and more European Tour events than I care to remember. I’ve been to Open Qualifying and the PGA Cup.
But never the Solheim.
This week, that changes. I’m currently sitting in the media centre at Des Moines Golf & Country Club – a sprawling complex just a short drive from the centre of the state capital that brings Caddyshack immediately to mind. It’s got its own tennis courts, a gigantic swimming pool and a car park so big that it would make the owners of NCP blush. That said, with 1,500-plus members, it can ill afford to scrimp on spaces.
Vehicle provisions aside, the club is all about the golf. The practice area is absolutely immense and calls to mind the facilities at Loch Lomond.
The course itself? It’s vast and, unusually for Iowa (a pretty flat State, in the main), it’s quite undulating. For me, it’s too soon to say how good it is. I walked several of the holes yesterday but have already largely forgotten most of them. That’s probably not a good sign. It’s just a typical American course: big, green, manicured. People will wax lyrical about how it’s in “great condition”. So it should be. It’s hosting one of the premier events in women’s golf this week. “Great condition” should be the minimum requirement.
From what I gather, the course only closed to members last Friday, which might explain why there are some divots on the first tee. They typically need a minimum of three weeks to begin to repair. When they watch back the TV footage, I think the club’s officialdom might regret not shutting down sooner.
In terms of scale, the whole event feels more comparable to a Scottish Open than a Ryder Cup. The media centre, for example, is about a quarter of the size of the equivalent facility at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. That, in itself, is a sign of the challenge facing the match. It has all the makings of a world-class sporting event – in many ways, it is a world-class sporting event – but it needs more support.
There’s clearly a latent demand. A record crowd of more than 150,000 people are expected to attend this week but, like so much to do with golf, it’s as though the Solheim Cup exists within its own microcosm. Let me explain it this way: I’ve watched a lot of ESPN Sports Centre (or ‘Center’, whatever) the past few days. I know everything there is to know about why the Miami Dolphins are taking a calculated risk on Jay Cutler, why Floyd Mayweather will deliver a ‘beat-down’ of epic proportions on Conor McGregor and why Aaron Judge is the hero the New York Yankees need right now. The Solheim Cup? I haven’t heard it mentioned. Hopefully that changes as the week goes on.
The spectator experience looks broadly excellent. The stage for tonight’s Opening Ceremony looks fantastic and the organisers are even laying on concerts after play concludes on Friday and Saturday night to keep people entertained. That’s a pretty cool idea and food for thought, perhaps, for the team organising the 2019 match at Gleneagles. I wonder if they can find a place for Twin Atlantic or Amy MacDonald?
The merchandise pavilion is good, albeit largely over-priced. $42 for a basic head cover and $29 for a pin flag doesn’t strike me as especially good value. Still, I’m told that the organisers expect to ring through $2million worth of sales this week. That’s dwarfed by the reported $45m that Augusta National rings through its tills during the Masters but still, $2m is $2m.
It’s also worth noting how relaxed the environment is. The volunteers are efficient and courteous, and the fans – whilst clearly partisan – are good natured. I’m told Iowans love sport. They just don’t get much of it. There are no NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL franchises to speak of so the Solheim Cup represents a good opportunity for them to clear their diaries and their throats, and enjoy some first-rate action on their doorstep.
It all gets underway tomorrow morning. May the best team win.