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Guest commentary: Karsten Solheim – an American success

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/26/2011 12:46:22 PM MDT


The Solheim Cup is coming up later in September.  While it may be the “poor stepsister” to the Ryder Cup, it is a few years older than the Presidents Cup, which began in 1994.

This year’s Solheim will be the 12th event. The Presidents Cup will be playing its ninth competition this fall.

Karsten Solheim (Sept. 15, 1911 through Feb. 16, 2000) is credited as the benefactor of the competition between the finest players from the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Ladies European Tour (LET). Wikipedia indicates that he was “the driving force behind the creation of the Solheim Cup,” but’s history page indicates that the concept was developed by the LPGA, LET and Karsten Solheim.

Mr. Solheim was a native Norwegian that came to this country with his family at a young age. His father was a shoemaker, but it was a family owned the business. His storybook rise from poor immigrant to affluent entrepreneur is a familiar 20th century American success tale. But Karsten’s prominence came late in his life.

In 1913, his family left Norway in pursuit of the American dream, eventually settling in Seattle. After graduating from a local high school, he pursued mechanical engineering at Washington State University. But the Great Depression dealt his dreams a mighty blow and he had to leave school to help his family. As World War II approached, he resumed his education through University of California’s extension courses. Eventually he graduated and was hired into the nation’s burgeoning defense industry. It wasn’t until 1954 that he was introduced to golf. While working for G.E. in upstate New York, Karsten was asked to join a group of colleagues to complete their foursome. Predictably, he was smitten by the game instantly, but eventually realized that putting was his nemesis. Before long he was experimenting with his own putters, but applying engineering principles where trial and error had ruled.

While he wasn’t the first to introduce a center-shafted putter, his perimeter (actually heel and toe) weighting was revolutionary. One of his earliest commercial successes employed a center shaft to a perimeter weighted head that incorporated a tuning fork concept. The result of a well struck putt was a “ping” sound and of course, the name of club was a “ping putter.” The moniker stuck and Ping has since become a highly recognized golf brand world-wide.

But fame and fortune didn’t instantly appear to Karsten. While the putter sold well, as now, the touring professionals of the day were still the ultimate testing ground. As I recall, Solheim’s putter was looked upon by touring pros as somewhat gimmicky. Although his own putting improved immeasurably with his own design, he moved forward and created an all new concept with the “Anser.” It wasn’t until Julius Boros won the Phoenix Open in 1967 using Solheim’s “Anser” putter that his business took off. Later that year he left G.E. and started Karsten Manufacturing Corp. In many ways, we can look to that tournament as the launching pad for the equipment improvements that have been made in the last 50 years. While it’s likely that someone else would have eventually emerged with similar ideas, Karsten Solheim’s efforts to improve his own game were indeed responsible for a huge business boom.

Over the years, Solheim showed a strong interest in supporting women’s golf. He sponsored LPGA tournaments in Arizona, Massachusetts and Oregon. Today, his youngest son, John A., continues with his father’s legacy as the major sponsor of the Solheim Cup.

This year’s event will be September 23-25th at Killeen Castle, County Meath, Ireland. The par 72, Jack Nicklaus “Signature” layout opened in 2008. The layout appears to offer a number of exciting holes that will suit the match play competition very well. However, as I reviewed the available information about the course, the amount of drainage installed caught my eye. Over 400 miles, not feet, not yards MILES of drainage was installed. This tells me two things: 1) The site is wet, wet, wet – probably wouldn’t have been permitted in this country; 2) The owner not only paid too much for the design, he paid too much for the construction of the course. What does this mean for the playing of the competition? If the course comes into that week dry, it will probably be okay, but if the week arrives with much rain, watch for a sloppy track. If it’s not too late, the girls might want to go with an Irish mud brown color for their Solheim Cup outfits.

The closing holes, especially the 15th-17th are especially interesting and offer several heroic options. The 15th is a straight-away but strongly bunkered 500 yard par 5, followed by a medium to long par 3 over water and finally a strong par 4 with water bordering the full length of the dogleg right.

The other thing to watch for in this competition IS the level of competition. If the United States is able to win once again (they’ve won 8 of the 11 events) look for interest in adding other countries to the European side. Personally, while I’m rather pleased and proud that our girls have done so well, I’m also a bit surprised. I doubt there’s much concern that the LPGA can dominate world-wide and I would rather see a second event similar to the men’s Presidents Cup.

Regardless, get your popcorn ready and paint those U.S. flags on your cheeks!

 A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:






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