Solheim Cup: Why women's golf deserves more than just recognition

USA won the Solheim Cup
The United States retained the Solheim Cup with a 16½-11½ victory over Europe at Des Moines in Iowa.

The eventual outcome was apparent at an early stage and the match did not feature the world's best players, yet the Solheim Cup was still a spectacle capable of saving the women's circuit in Europe.

This biennial contest remains the biggest draw in female golf and attracted more than 100,000 fans last week.

And although it does not feature the South Korean stars who dominate the sport, it still provides compelling competition in the same way the Ryder Cup does for the men.

From the moment the US swept through the Friday afternoon fourballs at Des Moines Golf and Country Club, it was hard to see anything other than a home victory.

Europe had been left with too much to do and their plight was emblematic of the situation facing the Ladies' European Tour (LET). The circuit is faltering badly, losing tournaments and is without a permanent chief executive.

Having lost seven events this year, the LET struggles to provide enough golf or prize money for Europe's leading women to make a viable living.

But the tour does retain its share of the Solheim Cup and last week's events in Iowa have helped strengthen its value. This is why bigger entities such as the LPGA and men's European Tour appear happy to lend a helping hand.

"There's been a fantastic response," interim LET chief executive Mark Lichtenhein told BBC Sport. "Offers from all parties, not just in golf.

"I think people have seen what a fantastic spectacle the Solheim Cup is and how great these girls are.

USA's Juli Inkster
Juli Inkster joined Judy Rankin as the only women to captain back-to-back winning US Solheim Cup teams

"Over the next weeks and months we are going to be looking at all those offers of help and how we can move forward and rebuild our tournament schedule, particularly in Europe, so that we can make a bright future.

"We have a fairly meagre schedule in the first half of the year and that's what we need to address for the future."

It is the prospect of the LPGA and European Tour coming together to assist the LET which is most intriguing. They are all rival bodies within the golfing village, trying to secure their spoils from a limited pool of sponsorship and TV rights monies.

The LET and LPGA share the Solheim Cup and Lichtenhein sees good reason for the bodies to combine beyond the staging of the biennial match. They recently co-staged the Ladies Scottish Open at Dundonald.

"We have a situation where so much sponsorship money goes into the men's sport so it is only right that the girls stand up together," he said.

"And as far as the European Tour is concerned, golf is the only sport that Europe plays together as a team. It's the only place that you see people flying the European flag - Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup.

"If we can do something for European golf together that would be terrific too."

Lichtenhein is a former employee of the European Tour, leaving soon after the arrival of Keith Pelley, the current boss at the Wentworth-based outfit.

Europe's women certainly need a stronger circuit to ensure young talent has a platform to develop.

While last week's match bore witness to some brilliant play, the Solheim Cup cannot afford to become too one-sided. The US will be going for three wins in a row at Gleneagles in 2019.

Europe's Catriona Matthew
Europe's Catriona Matthew confirms that she will be looking to captain the team in 2019 at Gleneagles

That is when we can expect Europe to be led by a Scot on home soil. "I would love to be the captain and I will put my name in the hat," Catriona Matthew told me after winning three out of four points last week.

The 47-year-old also welcomed the prospect of LPGA and European Tour support for the beleaguered LET.

"I think it probably would help to have someone with just a bit more backing behind them to help them get back on their feet," Matthew said.

"The crowds have been great here. I think it is a great spectacle. From what I've heard it has been well received on TV and lots of birdies makes it exciting. I think it will flourish.

"The Tour has been having its problems but hopefully the change in leadership will help it move on and upwards again. There's a lot of good young talent out there."

Europe's Georgia Hall
Despite Georgia Hall's impressive display she three-putted the last green to gift victory to US' Paula Creamer

Bournemouth's 21-year-old Georgia Hall showed plenty of potential in the course of a match that brought the very best out of the American victors.

Now is the time for the game to capitalise and elevate the standing of women's golf.

Victorious US captain Juli Inkster issued a timely warning. "We don't get the credit we're due," she said.

"I just think as women golfers we always get short-changed and it irks me. I don't understand how all these companies get away with supporting PGA Tour events and not supporting the LPGA.

"It makes me a little upset, because I think we've got a great product," Inkster added.

It was hard to argue in the wake of a week where so much wonderful golf was played.

But there is a huge challenge for the women's game, and especially the LET, to sustain this message in the coming months when it could easily slip again from the limelight.