Louise Solheim, who turns 98 today, is the wife of the late Karsten Solheim and was instrumental in building Ping, the golf club manufacturer, as well as the Solheim Cup, a biennial team event for female golfers from Europe and the United States.
Solheim (nee Crozier) married in 1936 and became the driving force behind her husband as the couple achieved fame in the golf industry. She initially worked jobs that required her expertise in maths and science, something that would come in handy once the family business broke into the golf industry.
Her husband picked up golf as a sport at the age of 42, but found putting problematic. Working at General Electric at the time, Karsten Solheim begun to make putters in his garage as a hobby, and so Ping was founded in 1959.
While Karsten was involved in the manufacturing side, Louise ran the company from an administrative and sales point of view and the business grew in a big way. The stroke of luck came when two-time US Open champion Julius Boros won the the 1967 Phoenix Open with a Ping putter, the first PGA Tour win by any golfer using that brand of equipment.
After this the business took off and the Karstens became solely focused on the Ping brand. Through her convincing, Karsten Solheim moved the business out of his garage and into a 2200 square foot premises in Phoenix, Arizona. Putters remained the company’s calling card, but the new premises meant that irons and drivers were added to production.
Along with the her husband, Louise got to travel the world as the couple promoted their company, which became a global leader in the golf industry.
Upon Karsten’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, Louise and their children became central to the running of the company, until Louise decided to take a less hands on approach in her late 70’s.
From a South African perspective Louis Oosthuizen, Compleat Golfer’s playing editor, is sponsored by Ping and won the 2010 Open Championship, a clear indication of how far the company has come since it began in the garage of the Solheim’s house all those years ago.
The family also established the Solheim Cup, the women’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup, which was first played in 1990. Karsten was originally from Norway and Louise from the United States, so it made sense to establish such an event, particularly given the success that the Ryder Cup was enjoying.
The Solheim Cup continues to gain popularity to this day, in conjunction with the huge rise in the popularity of golf amongst women. No doubt Louise Solheim has fondly watched the thrilling moments of the team event that bears her name.