Solheim Cup projections remain steady, organizers say

Nicholas Piotrowicz, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·4 min read

Feb. 21—Nearly every large event in the final three quarters of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 had no choice but to change plans, alter projections, or cancel altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But so far, it's still full steam ahead for the 2021 Solheim Cup.

Inverness Club and the city of Toledo will play host to the biggest event in women's golf — held on United States soil once every four years — and officials still believe the Labor Day weekend showcase will be a major economic boost for northwestern Ohio.

Though attendance at current sporting events has been severely restricted, event organizers are hopeful the Solheim Cup can and will meet their original projections in terms of size and scope.

"As far as our projections, we're still shooting for that 150,000 in attendance throughout that week," said Lance Woodworth, the president and CEO of Destination Toledo.

"When you break that down into economic impact, you're pushing over $30 million for the week. Coming out of COVID, I just look at all our hospitality and service folks in town and what that would mean to them is huge."

Destination Toledo, in conjunction with the LPGA, won a grant of up to $2 million from the state of Ohio's Sports Event Grant Fund to promote and plan the event. The fund aims to help Ohio cities compete with other states for large events such as the NCAA basketball tournament and professional all-star games.

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An event qualifies for the grant only if its projected incremental increase in sales tax exceeds $250,000, according to Ohio's Development Services Agency guidelines. Should it fail to increase sales tax revenue, the state does not provide the funding.

Mr. Woodworth said Destination Toledo is projecting an incremental increase of $605,706 in sales tax receipts due to the Solheim Cup.

Despite the ongoing presence of the pandemic in winter months, Solheim Cup organizers remain hopeful for the timeline of their event.

"The what-ifs, those are always the hard things," said tournament director Becky Newell. "We know how fluid everything is. We wouldn't be doing the community, Inverness Club, and the Tour justice if we put the brakes on right now."

The late summer plans have reason for optimism.

President Joe Biden said this week that the U.S. will have enough doses of the coronavirus vaccine to fully inoculate 300 million American by the end of July — more than a full month before the Solheim Cup is set to begin on Aug. 31 — likely the key to returning to large, public events and full-scale travel, especially internationally.

The Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23, while the LPGA, PGA, and European tours are still moving ahead, albeit with no or reduced crowds for the time being.

Given six more months to continue fighting coronavirus, Mr. Woodworth said organizers are still holding true to their original projections for crowd sizes and economic impact.

"We're still in that ballpark," Mr. Woodworth said. "The driving determinant is whether there are travel restrictions that would limit attendance — that's the main thing. But we're confident in the things we're seeing right now."

The two previous U.S.-based Solheim Cups, 2013 outside Denver and 2017 in Des Moines, Iowa, both drew six-digit attendance figures with roughly 60 percent of tickets purchased from outside the home state. Mrs. Newell said Ohio, California, Texas, and Florida are the leading states for online ticket sales.

Mr. Woodworth said the event hopes for roughly 15 percent of attendees to come from outside the U.S. Des Moines set a record of 124,426 fans, and Toledo hopes to top that figure later this year.

"We've got to put heads in beds in northwest Ohio," Mrs. Newell said. "We have 27 hotels in our hotel network for northwest Ohio, and we need to fill those."

Inverness previously has hosted the U.S. Open four times and the PGA Championship twice, most recently in 1993. Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz previously told The Blade that the Solheim Cup is "easily the biggest event that's come to Toledo since the 1993 PGA."

The Solheim Cup is dramatically different from a typical golf tournament, a match-play competition that pits Team USA against Team Europe with raucous crowds more reminiscent of a football or basketball game.

The nature of the event is something that can attract even people who not are typically fans of golf, which organizers hope will be part of the engine that drives interest and ultimately tourism to Toledo.

"Whether you're into golf or not, there's going to be a heck of a party," Mr. Woodworth said. "And it's going to be something that is widely needed after we've all been in COVID for the past year-plus."