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May 4—The British, and the Scots, and the French, and the Germans, and the Spaniards, and the Swedes are coming.
The arrival of as many as 15,000 Europeans in Toledo has created elation and intrigue. At the November, 2016, announcement awarding Inverness the 2021 Solheim Cup, the excitement was palpable. Not only was a massive event returning to the course that played host to some of golf's most iconic moments, but it would usher in a scene unfamiliar to area golf fans.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions between the United States and Europe could put a damper on the city of Toledo's open border.
"It would be great to have some Europeans at the event," European captain Catriona Matthew told The Blade. "I think, however, being realistic, they will be thin on the ground. Even if travel restrictions are relaxed somewhat, people are still very nervous at traveling.
"Personally speaking, unfortunately, most of my family have already decided not to make the trip, which is disappointing, but I totally understand why they have come to that decision."
Pre-pandemic estimates put the week-long attendance for the Aug. 31-Sept. 6 event at 160,000 with $30 million in local spending.
The European Union announced last week that vaccinated Americans will be able to enter the continent perhaps as early as June. British Airways CEO Sean Doyle said Monday, citing high vaccination rates, that he believes travel from Europe to the United States should begin this summer.
"If you look at the progress of vaccinations that the U.K. and the U.S. have made, they're almost neck and neck," Doyle said. "I think the U.S. is a great opportunity to get up and running again."
Countries outside the United States with the most tickets sold to the event are Scotland, England, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand.
Several travel companies across Europe offer Solheim Cup packages. Elite Sports Travel, based in London, is offering a five-night trip for $3,450, which includes airfare from London Heathrow to the Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport via Chicago O'Hare, general admission Solheim Cup badges, tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies, and lodging at an area hotel.
London-based Your Golf Travel has two packages available. A five-night stay at the Hampton Inn in Oregon runs $3,025 and includes roundtrip airfare to Detroit, general admission badges, an opening ceremony ticket, and a welcome gift and program. A six-night trip is $3,865 and comes with a round of golf at Toledo Country Club.
"The interest is strong," said Ben Welch, director of operations for Elite Sports Travel. "But it doesn't help that the Ryder Cup is in the same month. People who will make a decision between the two will generally choose the Ryder Cup over the Solheim Cup. It's a little bit trickier than it normally would be for an event like this, but we are still getting interested in people who want to travel.
"A lot of our clients that traveled [to Gleneagles in 2019] were really excited. But, obviously, that was all pre-pandemic. And it's not just the Solheim Cup. It's the Ryder Cup, the Masters. It's very difficult for us to say that travel will be allowed and we can get clients over there."
The 2019 Solheim Cup, arguably the greatest tournament in women's golf history, ended in dramatic fashion with Europe winning on a walk-off putt by Suzann Pettersen.
"The event at Gleneagles was a huge success," Welch said. "The feedback we had from our clients was that they were very keen on travelling to the U.S. Almost everyone that booked with us was on the phone saying, 'I definitely want to go when we defend in the U.S.' There was a lot of interest."
Lance Woodworth, president of and CEO of Destination Toledo, and Ashlee Layman, the organization's business engagement specialist and event manager, were on the ground at Gleneagles in Scotland offering insight into the city of Toledo, promoting area attractions, and answering inquiries from thousands of golf fans interested in attending the 2021 Solheim Cup.
The Destination Toledo contingent traveled with a few thousand magazines, brochures, and business cards featuring tourist sites, hotels, restaurants, how to purchase Solheim Cup tickets, and volunteer information. A video produced by Toledo-based Communica played on loop inside the Destination Toledo hospitality tent.
"It's an opportunity to put Toledo on an international map," Woodworth said. "We're in the bullseye of the Great Lakes region. International travelers can fly into Chicago or Detroit, go to Toledo and work their way across the Great Lakes, and go home out of Philadelphia or New York. I've been excited since we got back from Scotland. I just can't believe how fast it's gone."
He met a handful of Europeans who stay in regular contact regarding the Solheim Cup and Toledo, and a group from Spain has inquired about the event.
"Obviously, the crowds make the Solheim Cup," Matthew said. "The atmosphere they create, especially on the first tee, is second to none, and I couldn't imagine the event being what it is today without the crowds. As a European, it is always great to hit great shots and make putts to silence the crowd. Silence is golden when you are the away team."
First Published May 3, 2021, 9:52am