Solheim Cup: Golf’s Most Dignified Event

U.S. captain Juli Inkster accepts Solheim Cup from PING chairman and CEO John A. Solheim (Photo courtesy PING)

We, the golfers and golf fans of the world, are lucky to have the Solheim Cup on our television screens every two years.At the most recent Solheim Cup, which ended August 20, the fact that women from the United States defeated women from Europe was almost incidental, because the Solheim Cup demonstrated foremost that it is a joyous celebration of world-class women’s golf.

Joyous but tasteful. The Solheim Cup was never intended to be a noisy, ceremonial tribute to PING, the company founded and owned by the Solheim family.

At Des Moines (Iowa) Golf and Country Club, the spotlight was focused precisely on women’s golf, not PING. No surprise there. The Solheims quietly have been a loyal supporter of the LPGA and women’s professional golf around the world since the 1960s.

Those who love PING golf clubs understand that the Solheims have always been a little different. For example, many of their PING clubs have been somewhat startling in both appearance and personality. This dates back to 1959 when Karsten Solheim founded PING and invented a putter with a unique high-pitched PING sound at impact.

More PING innovations:

  • PING became the first golf club manufacturer of consequence to make and sell investment cast iron heads. Prior to PING, most irons were made of forged carbon steel.
  • The casting process allowed Karsten to create irons with a cavity-back design. A scooped-out cavity in the back meant that weight could be repositioned near the perimeter of the iron. Thus, the term perimeter-weighting was born. This allowed PING clubmakers to produce irons with increased forgiveness on offcenter hits.
  • Ultimately PING became the only family-owned golf equipment company among the largest manufacturers. Several competitors were purchased by large conglomerates, while others staged stock offerings after opting for public ownership.
  • Karsten began to make putter heads of exotic materials such as magnesium bronze. While he was at it, Karsten endorsed unorthodox names for many of his putters. His wife, Louise, came up with the name Anser (without a W). Crazy is spelled Craz-e.It should be noted that Tour Edge, founded in 1986 by golf professional Dave Glod, also is privately owned but is not one of the Fab Five in the golf equipment business (Ping, TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist and Cobra).Tour Edge, known for its innovative designs, is sometimes touted as having golf’s best fairway woods.Most televised golf tournaments as big as the Solheim Cup spend a lot of time talking about themselves.

    Not the Solheim Cup. This wonderful gathering has become golf’s most humble event. The Solheims want the golf to do the talking. The competition is centerstage, and John A. Solheim, PING’s chairman and CEO, largely stays out of the spotlight. Good for him.

    John’s father, Karsten, a General Electric engineer before he started PING, died in 2000. He was 88. Louise, his widow, died in July of this year. She was 99.

    Working together, Karsten and Louise changed golf. Their three sons — Louis, Allan and John — were lucky enough to inherit the PING gene. Before PING moved its permanent location in Phoenix, the boys assembled PING clubs in the family garage.

    From the beginning, PING was a family company. Things were done the PING way, which brings us back to the Solheim Cup. It is an extraordinary golf event. It has been played 15 times, with each renewal seeming better than the last.

    Still, there remains an important question surrounding women’s team golf: What about the USA vs. the Rest of the World (excluding the Europeans)?

    Because the men have two team events — the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup — it seems logical that women can do this same if they choose. A showdown between the Americans and South Koreans would generate endless interest.

    Searching for an Anser, it may sound Craz-e for PING and others to explore another cup match. On the other hand, PING is always full of surprises.

—Jim Achenbach       Senior Golf Insider      achenslice@aol.com