Year-to-go: Henry Aims for 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles

In just short of a year’s time, Scotland’s Catriona Matthew will hope to hoist the Solheim Cup skyward after leading her European team to victory at Gleneagles.

Kylie Henry would love to join her fellow countrywoman against the USA in Perthshire but knows she is currently on the periphery from competing on the biggest team stage in women’s golf.

But having enjoyed a steady season, the two-time Ladies European Tour winner knows how quickly things can change in golf. Stephen Gallacher, after all, went on a purple patch in 2014 to seal his place on home soil for the Ryder Cup – again at Gleneagles.

Henry, who has posted three top-20 finishes in 2018 and is the leading Scot just outside the top 30 in the LET rankings, said: “Yeah, absolutely, the Solheim Cup is a tangible goal. Obviously, we all know things can really turn on their head in golf so quickly.

“A few good performances, throw a win in there, and then everything is looking different. As it stands at the moment, I’m well out of the running for the Solheim team, but it’s absolutely a big goal of mine and I would love to be playing there in such a great event.”

Henry watched on in admiration as England’s Georgia Hall became the first British player since Matthew in 2009 to win the Ricoh Women’s British Open last month. Hall is only 22 and could inspire more young girls to pick up a club – as well as inspiring her peers like Henry.

Kylie, 31, added: “Watching Georgia win the British was just incredible. The pressure she was under was unbelievable, as come the weekend at Lytham she was the only hope for Britain and the whole country was behind her.

“I’m still striving to get better and this has been a really solid season, up until the British Open for me (where she missed the cut). I’ve been fairly happy with my game. I’d like to think I can be an inspiration to women and girls as well.”

With women and girls’ golf in the UK lagging behind other European countries with only 14% of club membership in Great Britain and Ireland female, the Solheim Cup coming to Scotland could act as a catalyst to help change that statistic.

The R&A Women in Golf Charter was launched at the end of May to increase the number of women and girls participating in golf and to encourage more opportunities for women to work within the golf industry, with home associations pledging their support through their own initiatives.

“I think it’s good that it’s been recognised and reported that the numbers are down and something needed to be done,” said Glasgow’s Henry, married to fellow pro Scott. “It’s good with The R&A Women in Golf Charter, and Scottish Golf’s involvement, that more opportunities are coming around. They are definitely putting more into grassroots level and recognising the teenage grouping that seems to fall away from golf. It’s good that a lot more is being done for women’s sport, and obviously golf at the same time.

“If girls go and watch the quality of golf at the Solheim Cup, there is no doubt they are going to be inspired by what they see. The excitement, the arena at Gleneagles and the atmosphere will just be amazing. It’s one thing a little girl being inspired and thinking ‘I want to go and play golf or play more’ but golf clubs also have the responsibility to try and nurture these children and put a focus on women and juniors.”

One club in the Lothians, Glencorse GC, is doing just that. Dougie Audsley, the managing secretary, is fairly blunt about their need to change in recent times.

“We thought if we didn’t do something now to try and encourage our women’s membership, it might just disappear altogether,” said Audsley. “Of our 30 lady members, there was only two under the age of 50. We felt we had to take action.”

A traditional men’s club, change started for Glencorse in the spring when, hearing the success of Longniddry and their Get into Golf programme, members of the ladies’ section started pushing. They spoke to Lesley Nicholson, Scottish Golf Club Development Officer (East), handed out flyers and took out an advert in a national newspaper. The results have been impressive as 43 ladies gave golf a try in coaching sessions from June for only £40, with 15 – 20 set to take up a membership offer until February 2020.

Ross Duncan, Development Director at Scottish Golf, added: “We need to encourage clubs to change and become a more attractive proposition for women and families. A culture shift is required and that will take time, but next year’s Solheim Cup gives us a great platform to raise the profile of what we are doing around women’s golf.

“We’ve been given great support by The R&A and Solheim Cup with the joint funding of a Women and Young People Development Manager post and recruited Carol Harvey in this role, who joined us from netball, the fastest growing female sport in the country. We are already seeing some impact, with the recent national Women and Girls’ Golf Week campaign and our This Girl Golf hubs.

“Encouragingly, golf clubs are seeing the impact of having a more family-friendly environment and embracing the needs of modern lifestyles. More clubs are positioning themselves at the heart of their local communities, offering much more than just a traditional membership or simply a place to play 18 holes.”

(Article by Ed Hodge)