New event will include Asian players
PARKER, Colo. -- You understand why players love the Solheim Cup so much. Large galleries on every hole, passionate fan reaction, a sense of camaraderie, greater media coverage.
Since the Solheim Cup began in 1990, it has evolved into one of the more popular women's sports events on the calendar, a biennial show of patriotism and putting. Yet when you pull back from the close-up view, the bigger picture has long shown the one wart the Solheim Cup has.
As a USA-Europe matchup, it excludes the Asian countries that have come to be such an integral -- and highly successful -- part of the LPGA Tour.
This is something that's been written about ad nauseam, but it won't change. The Solheim family started this event to mirror the Ryder Cup, and they've never wanted to alter it. Considering the attendance -- estimated at around 110,000 this week at Colorado Golf Club -- and the large amount of merchandise that is sold, it's hard to argue that the event needs tweaking from a spectator standpoint.
But when you consider that 13 of the top 25 players in the world are from Asian nations -- eight of them South Koreans, including No. 1 Inbee Park -- it's imperative from a competitive standpoint that they be involved in a team event.
And they will be starting next year with the debut of the International Crown. It's a biennial four-day team competition that will feature the top four players from the top eight nations as determined by the Rolex rankings of the individuals from those countries.
The first two International Crown competitions will take place in the United States, at Caves Valley Golf Club in suburban Baltimore in 2014 and Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago in 2016, and both will be held in July.
The latter venue was the site of the Solheim Cup in 2009, when that event drew more than 120,000 fans for the week.
Will the International Crown catch on? That remains to be seen. There was an event from 2005 to '08 called the Lexus Cup that pitted a team from Asian countries against a team from the rest of the world. But it was held late in the year -- in either November or December, far from the heart of the golf season -- and never gained any traction.
The LPGA's hope is that the combination of the Solheim Cup and International Crown, held in alternate years, will satisfy fans globally and draw significant audiences.
"I think people are really hungry for different kinds of events," U.S. veteran Cristie Kerr said. "Not just four-day stroke-play events. It's more interesting, it's fresh."
The International Crown will be very different from the Solheim Cup. There will be no captains; the players essentially will manage themselves. There will be four on a team, as opposed to 12.
If the International Crown were held right now, the American team would be Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Kerr and Angela Stanford. The South Korean team would be Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi, So Yeon Ryu and I.K. Kim.
"I'm excited about the event," Lewis said. "It's something that the LPGA's needed. We can't change this [Solheim] event. So we needed an event that included the entire tour, and we'll get that finally. So everybody here will be fighting to make that team. Hopefully, we'll get the fans there as well."
The International Crown will spotlight growth specifically in individual countries, as opposed to the Solheim Cup showcasing the collective progress of Europe. This year's Solheim Cup European team featured eight nations, but the country with the most representatives was Spain, with three.
"The International Crown is going to be a great event," said Spaniard Beatriz Recari, who went 3-1-0 in this Solheim Cup. "Talking about Spain, we have shown great golf. So I think we're going to be a tough team to beat, right? Yes."
Golf also will return to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century, starting with the 2016 Rio Games. Right now, that's scheduled to be individual stroke play for men and women, not a team competition, although there's been enough dissent about the format that it may be revisited. Regardless, it's another "big event" the LPGA players will be involved with.
As for the rest of this year, there is still one more LPGA major: the Evian Championship in France, Sept. 12-15. And while South Korea's Park fell short of winning her fourth consecutive major at the Women's British Open earlier this month, she's still got the chance to win four of five in the same calendar year.
And in 2014, along with the debut of the International Crown, the LPGA also will have an "experiment" with its most coveted major, the U.S. Women's Open. It will be played the week right after the men's U.S. Open on the same course, Pinehurst in North Carolina.
Ultimately, the Solheim Cup -- whatever criticism it faces for not involving players from outside of the United States and Europe -- is one of the LPGA's biggest success stories. The German contingent that will host the next Solheim competition in 2015 had to like what it saw of the event in the greater Denver area this week.
"I'm very proud that I could be a part of this team; it's been very special," said the German on the winning European team, Caroline Masson. "It is my dream to play at home in Germany, and I'm going to try everything to make it on that team. I just hope we can keep the Cup in Germany then."