The rise of Finnish professional Matilda Castren, highlighted by a wonderful 2021 season, has helped drive the growth of golf in her homeland and improve the sport’s image.
The 26-year-old memorably held her nerve to hole the putt that retained the Solheim Cup for Europe in September, beating American Lizette Salas on the final green at the Inverness Club.
“It's hard to put it into words right now,” she said in the aftermath. “I think I'm still shaking. I was looking at the board and I knew it was going to be an important putt, and I wanted to make it.”
Castren’s success in team competition continued her story of success this year after capturing the LPGA Mediheal Championship in June, becoming the first player from Finland to win in LPGA history.
Pride in progress
The Florida State University graduate returned to Europe in July and promptly won the Gant Ladies Open. Playing back in her home country, Castren won decisively by three strokes, securing Ladies’ European Tour membership and achieving another piece of history – the first Finn to play in the Solheim Cup.
Juha Korhonen, General Secretary of the Finnish Golf Union, has taken great pride in Castren’s progress which has seen her rise into the top 50 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. With one other woman in the top 200, and three male professionals also in the top 200 of the Official World Golf Ranking, the future looks bright.
“We are very proud of Matilda’s performances and her first victory for Finland,” said Korhonen. “Matilda’s LPGA win got a lot of media coverage in TV, newspapers and social media, with the Solheim Cup also getting a lot of attention. Matilda is such an elegant person and a good ambassador for golf. Her first victory was very important for Finnish Golf and will give inspiration for future talents.”
Castren, who only turned professional in 2017 after a successful college career in the USA, is helping promote golf in Finland to a wider audience.
“Golf is in a positive place in Finland in many ways,” added Korhonen. “Our top athletes are performing better and better and the number of the players and memberships in clubs are increasing.”
The statistics back up the feelgood factor. In over 180 golf courses in Finland, numbers are growing. The ability of golf to be played safely during the Covid-19 pandemic has also helped boost participation.
From 2021 numbers, compared to 2020, there was a:
- a 6.1% increase in membership (148,190 to 157,175)
- a 6.1% increase in female membership (38,222 to 40,595)
- a 11.9% increase in girls’ membership and a 9.5% increase in boys’ membership
The membership figure of 157,175 represents a record for the second year in a row.
Korhonen continued, “The image of golf has changed to a more positive and fresh direction. We are particularly happy for increasing numbers of female golfers and junior golfers in Finland. All in all, golf is booming.”
There are also key learnings from Finland to help other countries succeed.
Korhonen adds, “We renewed our brand a couple of years ago. We’ve put more resources to communication, both internal and external. We are communicating and marketing golf on a daily basis on social media to reach potential golfers. We are helping our clubs to market golf locally and helping to take care of beginners for example by creating a virtual beginners guide and automated messages.
“We also have a support team for clubs. Every club has their own contact person in our staff. We have built a network of specialists and a best practice database to help clubs to succeed in their work. We’ve put a lot of effort in and improved our digital ecosystem and our data management. I would encourage any national association to be proactive and communicate with clubs.”
The future’s certainly bright and you can be sure Castren’s rise will continue to be followed with interest in Finland.
Matilda Castren wins the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship! 🏆— LPGA (@LPGA) June 14, 2021
She becomes the first player from Finland to ever win on the LPGA Tour 🇫🇮 pic.twitter.com/L2jOHmCXSH
“(She’s) just a superstar,” said victorious European Captain Catriona Matthew of Castren at the Solheim Cup. “I mean, that putt she holed on 18! She had a plugged lie in the bunker, and then to roll that putt in, we all just kind of exploded at the side of the green.”