20 September 2011
The Solheim Cup - Ready to Explode
Interviewed by Philip Reid, the man behind bringing The Solheim Cup to Ireland, Roddy Carr, reveals the reasoning – and the emotions – behind bringing the biggest even in women's golf to these shores.
As you sit and listen to Roddy Carr, the man charged with ensuring this year’s historic Solheim Cup at Killeen Castle goes off without a hitch, there’s no mistaking his enthusiasm for the task. In his eyes, it’s not a hard sell; far from it, in fact. It’s more about bringing a match – pitting the best women golfers from the United States against those from Europe – that encapsulates all that is great about the sport.
He talks of the gladiatorial combat, and of war paint. These analogies are used to demonstrate how passionate the players are about The Solheim Cup, but equally he warmly recalls the 2009 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, outside Chicago, where the USA claimed a third consecutive win by a 16-12 margin that was very much closer than the final scoreline indicated.
It wasn’t so much the final score, though, that remained with Carr as he made the transatlantic journey home. No. The memories that stayed with Carr were of the sheer joy which players – American and European – brought with them to the first tee and out onto the course. Of how they engaged with each other, and with the crowd.
“I had been to Sweden [for the Solheim Cup in 2007] and the event had evolved as a Swedish event. It had developed its own personality which was a Swedish model, basically like going back to the old Belfry days [of the Ryder Cup] where spectators came with their back packs, ladders and sandwiches. There was zero hospitality but there were 100,000 people there cheering the match in a conservative manner. I was surprised by the depth of the following without being blown away by it. I still went away thinking, ‘wow’, this is quite serious,” recalled Carr.
But his experience of Rich Harvest Farm went above and beyond the match in Sweden. “ I’ve been staging and promoting tournaments for 30 years. I’ve been at majors with Seve and everything. And I went to Chicago and just watched this tournament explode ... it was nice for me, being in the business, to watch this event explode and come of age to the next level of a major. The British Open came a major over a hundred years (of history) and the Masters took 20 or 30 years. But there was a moment in all of those – (Arnold) Palmer at the Masters, when the Americans came in force to the British Open in the 40s. There was a moment when you could catch it, the tipping point.
“And I’m sitting there in Chicago looking at this and it was actually the moment you could see it tip. The Solheim Cup exploded, with 120,000 there, and I was watching the DNA of it and I couldn’t get my head around it.”
More than anything, the scene around the first tee on the first day’s play left Carr with a sense that this event was out of the ordinary. It was extraordinary. Europe’s chief cheerleader and choreographer was a woman by the name of Sally, from the same neck of the woods as Europe’s captain Alison Nicholas, and she’d been up since 6am composing chants and a song sheet for the 200 or so European supporters who had managed to get into the horse-shoe grandstand around the first tee. They out-sang the more than a thousand US spectators around them on that first day.
“On day two, the Americans got it and the game was on. On the first tee, you’re watching this develop. I watched the players on the first tee and it’s an absolutely ball-breaking tee shot, leaking right is out-of-bounds ditch and left there’s a big bunker. Not funny. You have to hit a nice drive. And I’m looking at all these young people, all week they’ve been joyous about being there. they’re high-fiving family and friends and the crowd. They’ve painted themselves, this war paint, like the Indian American paint for battle, and there is a tribal thing going on but it is all nice.
“So I’m watching these young people and five minutes before the first tee shot they’re all bursting with the joy of being there and getting over barriers and they end up singing against the Europeans because there is a game on before the real game ... and they all nail it down the first (hole). Five minutes after hitting the switch off, it was game time. It was fascinating, quite amazing. And, then, out on the course, you had this dogfight and catfight going on which was every bit as ferocious as the men [in the Ryder Cup] .... yet during that intensity there was still this sharing with the crowd.”
Carr was enraptured by what he witnessed, his close-up view from the VIP area on the first tee getting him into the midst of it all. “You forget what age these kids are. 19? 20? 22? 24? These aren’t seasoned veterans like McGinley and Clarke, Torrance and [Christy O’Connor] Junior. These are kids. Fit, healthy, intelligent kids and they start putting this all together. And I think, this is one of the nicest, most refreshing events with all of those ingredients and yet it is a fierce battle. It’s quite an extraordinary event. And I think this event at Killeen Castle will be the biggest surprise to this country from a golf event.”
Don’t expect to see the masses of hospitality and corporate units which dotted so many of the fairways at The K Club for the 2006 Ryder Cup. That was a different time but, more so, a different event. The Solheim Cup is aimed at the people, with Carr’s philosophy that less is more. “We want to let the players and the golf do the talking,” he explained.
Indeed, the opening ceremony will work more with the traditions of the Curtis Cup or Walker Cup rather than the multi-media production which precedes the Ryder Cup. As Carr said, “it is not like we have to put on the greatest show on earth for the opening ceremony. Players will be piped in to the stage in front of the castle by a lone piper . .. . . we want 20-25,000 spectators a day but we’re going much more with the Masters model where the golf does the talking. There won’t be any hospitality in the traditional way. It doesn’t fit here. It’s back to basics. I suppose the Irish Open [at Killarney] went back to basics. It is a magnificent viewing course and then there are the gladiators and we’ll let them do the talking.”
The respective qualifying campaigns are in full swing at the present time, with eight automatic places (and four captain’s wild cards) on the European team compared to ten automatic places (and two captain’s picks) on the USA team. As things stand, the eight automatic places on the Europe team are filled by Laura Davies, Melissa Reid, Christel Boeljon, Suzann Pettersen, Anna Nordqvist, Maria Hjorth and Catriona Matthew, Sophie Gustafson. The four Captain’s pickes will be announced on August 29th in Dublin.
The USA team just announced is headed by world number three Cristie Kerr with Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, Angela Stanford, Paula Creamer, Brittany Lincicome, Brittany Lang, Stacy Lewis, Christina Kim, Julie Inkster, Vicky Hurst & rookie Ryan O’Toole.
“In reality, this will be the biggest international sporting event we have in Ireland this year,” said Carr of a tournament that is expected to attract over 80,000 spectators over the week.
And Carr is full of praise for the way in which European captain Nicholas has embraced her role, travelling around the country conducting clinics and generating support from clubs all over Ireland. “She’s a Yorkshire woman with steel and an absolute hatred of losing last time … the reaction to her has been incredible and she has definitely struck a chord with people. Could you imagine Monty or Sam or Woosie going out and doing clinics in Cork, Galway, Belfast, everywhere? She’s done an amazing job and created a huge movement at grassroots.”
For her part, Nicholas remarked: “All I know, from the going around the country, is that it is going down very, very well. I’m galvanising support and that support is going to be the 13th man, just like it was at the K Club. Hopefully that will help us bring back the Cup. Getting the Irish fans involved is so huge for us, they’re so passionate about their sport.”
And Nicholas also confirmed that her vice-captain Annika Sorenstam, who recently gave birth 13 weeks prematurely to a son William, is very much committed to being a part of the backroom team. “I’ve talked to her at length. He’s not on a respirator and he’s had all the tests he can have and everything seems fine. He just needs to put on some weight, he has to be 4 lbs to be allowed out. she’s had her emotional ups and downs, but so far so good and that’s the most important thing for her.
“But she said it won’t interfere with The Solheim Cup. She’s up for it. She’s an inspiration to the other players and tapping into her brain will be fascinating. She’s got a great mental attitude to life and golf and hopefully the players will learn from that and she can pass on her wisdom,” added Nicholas.
So far, the response from Irish golf fans and from those abroad (with more than 5,000 expected to travel from the US, Britain and Sweden to the event) has been extremely encouraging with Carr expecting the late surge as the event gets closer to bring the combined attendance to around the desired 80,000 mark.
Carr – who has spent the best part of three decades promoting tournaments, including being involved with Ballesteros at the Ryder Cup in Valderrama in 1997 – believes Kileen Castle is an ideal venue. Set on 600 acres with 300 of those dedicated to the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, it has the advantage of so much space – and a nearby linking motorway system – to allow for on-site or adjacent parking for those attending.
And, with a golf course design that brings the player back to its heartbeat – The Castle – six times, and a sting in the tail with Killeen Castle’s version of ‘Amen Corner’ coming late on at the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, the golfing test is sure to test and captivate. Just what golf is all about, really.
Thanks to Golf Digest Ireland for this article