How Inverness Secured the 2021 Solheim Cup

PERTHSHIRE, Scotland — Roars will cascade across Gleneagles on Sunday, marking a triumphant putt, an 8-iron hit to within two feet, and a miraculous bunker shot. In two years, the same thunderclap, a cacophony of patriotism and enthusiasm, will surge across Inverness in Toledo.

The 2021 Solheim Cup can be traced to 2015 when Judd Silverman spoke at a Future Tournaments Committee meeting at the Dorr Street club.

The LPGA was welcoming bids for the 2021 edition, and Silverman thought the Toledo market and Inverness were uniquely positioned to host the biennial event, the most coveted date on the women’s golf calendar.

“The committee was positive about it,” Silverman said. “It was, ‘Hey, this sounds like a great event to host.’ It’s different. It’s patriotic. Visitors come from Europe and all over the country. It would be great for the community. It’ll keep Inverness relevant in the golf world. So it checked off a bunch of boxes, and we said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

Two hurdles needed to be navigated before the membership at Inverness rolled up their sleeves and went all-in on the bid: a $1.25 million check from a title sponsor and the Marathon LPGA Classic had to be played in 2021.

Silverman’s thoughts immediately jumped down I-75 to Findlay for the money. The one-and-only tournament director of what was first the Jamie Farr and now the Marathon LPGA Classic made a phone call to Gary Hemminger and Tom Kelley, the CEO and senior vice president of marketing at Marathon Petroleum.

Richard Hylant, who was the chairman of the Toledo Classic board when Marathon became the title sponsor of the Sylvania LPGA tournament, and Silverman made their pitch to Marathon, which quickly signed on.

“If they wouldn’t have been willing to do that,” Silverman said, “I don’t think it would have worked out.”

Then came tough conversations with the Marathon LPGA Classic’s corporate sponsors, many of whom would be needed for the Solheim Cup. Silverman and Co. had to ask for two large sums of money in 2021 after the LPGA made it clear there would be no Solheim Cup at Inverness if there was no Marathon LPGA Classic at Highland Meadows.

Why would we give you an event if it also meant taking one away, the LPGA asked. Otherwise, they would award the Solheim Cup to one of the other five finalists, which included Scioto Country Club in Columbus.

The corporate response amounted to, “Where do we sign up?”

“It was very important to us that we hosted the Marathon Classic in 2021,” said Ricki Lasky, chief tournament business officer at the LPGA. “It’s a player favorite. It’s a fan favorite. We didn’t want to take anything away from the fan base in ’21 that loves coming to that event. It was important to keep that on the schedule.”

Next came the bid process, a grueling yearlong rollercoaster that featured letters of support from local corporations pledging nearly $5 million, an all-hands-on-deck attitude from the city of Toledo led by then-mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, and a 245-page proposal from Inverness drafted by Silverman, Hylant, Meg Ressner, Mark Frasco, and others that the LPGA’s five-person panel simply couldn’t say no to.

“Inverness really hit it out of the park,” Lasky said. “It was incredible what they were able to pull together from a corporate standpoint and just community support. Obviously, the championship history at Inverness is really second to none. The bid they put together was picture perfect. There were other options, but Inverness and Toledo hit on all cylinders.”

The process, according to Hylant, starts with three must-haves: a championship golf course that will represent the game well, a financial model, and then the rest — community involvement, fan engagement, and logistics. Inverness and Toledo had it all. Letters of support from Nancy Lopez and Betsy Rawls didn’t hurt.

The bid book included every piece of information about the event — which companies were responsible for the $4.85 million pledged, European flight information to Detroit Metro airport, the number of people who would descend on Toledo, a mock 10-day itinerary of events, and the population of the country within four hours.

Hotel rooms are no longer an issue and more are on the way before 2021. The ultimate sweet spot, though, was geography. Located at the only intersection of I-75 and I-80/90, Toledo is one of the most easily accessible cities by car east of the Mississippi River. Thirty-five percent of the U.S. can hop into an automobile and be at Inverness within a few hours.

“It was one of those things where you launch into a project and you’re not really sure what you’re getting yourself into,” Hylant said. “It was bumpy. There were people at times who were involved that didn’t think we could pull it off. They wanted to go down different paths that would have branded it as something not a Toledo or northwest Ohio event, and we resisted all of that. This is a community event of Toledo and northwest Ohio, and this is well within our wheelhouse. It’s really about getting the right people at the table and connecting the right dots.”

The business community, city of Toledo, and Lucas County collaborated on a level that perhaps has never been seen before and certainly not since the 1993 PGA Championship. Nearly every major player in town hopped aboard, supporting the bid financially, with manpower, or vowing to be part of the festivities in 2021.

Marathon Petroleum, Destination Toledo, the Mud Hens, Huntington Center, University of Toledo, ProMedica, Dana, Owens-Illinois, Owens Corning, The Andersons, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Zoo, DowntownToledo, Fifth Third Bank, Block Communications Inc., and Cooper Tires were all on the ground floor.

“All of the major companies in town that have stepped up recognized what an international event this is,” Hylant said. “People are making a commitment and really don’t know what the economy is going to be like it, but they signed on. It was heartwarming. They all signed up relatively quickly for what I would consider is a significant ask.”

In 2016, five years before the 2021 Solheim Cup, the Inverness bid already had amassed more sponsorship dollars than 2017 host Des Moines, Iowa. The amount has only grown over the past three years.

“We didn’t want to lose the bid on money, and the community really responded,” Silverman said. “They were just great.”

Columbus, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City were among the cities whose courses were finalists. All three locations are home to professional sports franchises, a considerably larger population than Toledo, and they don’t carry the stigma of the industrial Midwest. The LPGA cared little.

“It certainly wasn’t a prerequisite for us to be in the market already, but it didn’t hurt to know fans would come support us,” Lasky said. “We like to bring the Solheim Cup to markets that we know will support us in a big way, and Toledo is that type of market.

“It wasn’t just the corporate support, it was the community support. It was what they were willing to do with fan engagement. What we’re going to be able to build there from an infrastructure standpoint, what we’re able to do in the clubhouse for corporate hospitality and player hospitality, quite frankly, I think it’ll be the biggest we’ve ever done.”

Northwest Ohio has proven itself to be a winning market for golf, as it’s major championship past shows. Thirty-five years ago, the Marathon LPGA Championship came to town, enduring today as one of the longest-running events on tour.

Few cities can match Toledo’s passion for the LPGA. In 2016, four months before the Solheim Cup verdict was announced, a national TV audience of one million viewers watched the final round of the Marathon LPGA Classic on CBS, thanks to a seven-figure check from Marathon Petroleum.

“Toledo has been an integral part of the LPGA family for over 30 years,” LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan said. “Every year at the Marathon Classic, Toledo provides an incredible hometown experience for LPGA players and staff. I can’t wait to see the excitement, enthusiasm, and hospitality the community will bring to Inverness for the 2021 Solheim Cup.”

Jubilation is how Silverman described the reaction when the club and city found out it would host the 2021 Solheim Cup. The year’s worth of daunting work paid off more than they could have imagined.

“I’ve never seen such a professional presentation,” Lasky said. “They were overprepared for us. There wasn’t a detail that they missed. They had a bagpiper walking up 18. They had a flyover. The attention to detail and the support that they garnered before we ever walked in the door was second to none. Quite honestly, it was a no-brainer.

“It will be the biggest event we’ve ever hosted on the LPGA Tour.”

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