The highest profile international event in women’s golf and the largest women’s sporting event to ever come to Ireland tees off Friday when the Solheim Cup begins play on the spectacular Jack Nicklaus Signature Course at Killeen Castle near Dublin.
The U.S. holds an 8-3 edge over the Europeans in Solheim Cup play; the Americans have won three straight; and they are favored once again. But the crowds at Killeen Castle will reportedly be thick, loud and partisan for the Europeans. According to Killeen Castle officials, a strong contingent of fans from the UK and mainland Europe are expected to make up the estimated 25,000 per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Golf Channel will broadcast all three days of competition.
Also on display this week is Jack’s creation at Killeen Castle, which opened in 2008 to rave reviews and shortly thereafter was awarded the 2011 Solheim Cup. Killeen Castle dates back to the 12th century and had become derelict, but after years of restoration work—much by hand—it was restored to its former glory and now stands sentry over a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. This week, club officials will unveil a statue of the Golden Bear at the first tee to honor his contributions to the game and Killeen Castle (see attached photo).
“It’s one of those courses where if you’re playing well you can attack everything: pins, tee shot, take corners on,” said Laura Davies, the 47-year-old English veteran who has 20 LPGA victories, including four majors and has played in all 11 editions of the Solheim Cup. “For a long hitter, it’s an absolute delight to play, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
This week punctuates an 11-week period during which 10 different Tour events, sanctioned by six different professional tours, were played on Nicklaus-designed courses located in five different countries. These events have been spread evenly across the global tours, with two events each on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, Nationwide Tour, European Tour and Ladies European Tour. Killeen Castle also hosted the Ladies Irish Open Aug. 5-7.
“We played the Irish Open here last year and just a couple weeks ago,” said Annika Sorenstam, an assistant captain for the Europeans. “I think it’s a great golf course. I saw it for the first time today. It’s playing a lot different than it did back in August. It’s playing pretty long, because the ball doesn’t fly as far.
“But it’s a true test because you’re going to have to hit your irons good to get close to the pin and hopefully make a lot of birdies. But I think it’s a great set‑up, and I think it’s going to favor whoever plays the best.”
Captain Rosie Jones, seven-time team member and two-time captain, hopes to continue the US domination. Jones chose Juli Inkster and Sherri Steinhauer as assistant captains. Other American team members include No. 2-ranked Cristie Kerr, Paula Creamer and two-time 2011 winner Brittany Lincicome, along with Solheim Cup rookies Vicky Hurst, Stacy Lewis and Ryann O’Toole.
“I’ve been tracking these players for more than two years and I feel we have built a fantastic team to represent the United States,” Jones said. “Vicky and Ryann are two really solid players who will complement our team.
“This golf course is very familiar to our players. Several of them have come back over here. Having been here for the Irish Open the last two years, they’re very familiar with this golf course. This golf course is a Jack Nicklaus design and is something similar to what we play in the States.”
Alison Nicholas returns as Europe’s captain for the 2011 Solheim Cup. Sorenstam and Joanne Morley were selected as assistant captains. Nicholas handed her wild card picks to Spain’s Azahara Muñoz, Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall, England’s Karen Stupples and Sandra Gal of Germany. The four complete the 12-woman team that will attempt to wrest the Cup back from the United States this week.
The format of the competition, which was founded in 1990 by Karsten Solheim, mirrors that of the Ryder Cup and features 24 leading lady professionals from Europe and the US. There is no prize money, but the players taking part have their expenses paid. The Solheim Cup is contested every two years, alternating with the men’s Ryder Cup.