The Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB) has welcomed the announcement that the European Challenge Tour will return to Northern Ireland for the first time in ten years when Galgorm Castle Golf Club, Ballymena, hosts the Northern Ireland Open Challenge from August 29 – September 1.
Headlining the field at the Ballymena venue will be Michael Hoey, a four-time winner on The European Tour.
Hoey, played alongside Northern Ireland’s famous three; current World Number One Rory McIlroy, 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke and 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, when the Irish Open was staged at Royal Portrush Gold Club in 2012 and he returns to Northern Ireland to try and add to his own trophy haul.
The Northern Ireland Open Challenge, with a total prize fund of €170,000, presents an opportunity for the next generation to follow in the footsteps of the golfing superstars and begin on their path to The European Tour.
NITB’s Market Manager (ROI) Fiona Cunningham, is proud that Northern Ireland’s golfing identity remains strong,
“The past number of years have been amazing for golf in Northern Ireland, not only have we three Major champions with Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, and current world number one, Rory McIlroy but we also staged one of the most successful Irish Open events of recent years.
“It is great news that once again we are welcoming such a high profile sporting event to Northern Ireland” she added.
The August event will mark the first time Galgorm Castle, one of Northern Ireland’s premier parkland courses set in the spectacular surrounds of an historical estate, has ever hosted a Challenge Tour event.
Gary Henry, General Manager of Galgorm Castle, said: “We are expecting big crowds at Galgorm Castle to see some of Europe’s top young players and some of the more established names as well as some top quality home grown talent.
“The excitement is already building ahead of the tournament and with the support of the people of Northern Ireland we plan to make this one of the most exhilarating events on the Challenge Tour’s international schedule.”
Alain de Soultrait, Director of the Challenge Tour, said: “We are delighted to bring the Challenge Tour back to Northern Ireland, which has experienced such great success on the world golfing stage recently and which produced record crowds at last year’s Irish Open.
“Galgorm Castle provides a superb venue which is fitting of a tournament of this stature and we are sure that in the coming years this will grow to become one of the premier events on the Challenge Tour schedule, creating more and more opportunities for talented young golfers throughout Ireland.
“We must thank everyone at Galgorm Castle for their commitment, enthusiasm and determination when making this tournament happen.”
Hoey, whose biggest win came at the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, said: “I am deeply honoured to be the ambassador for the new Challenge Tour event at Galgorm Castle.
“The Challenge Tour was a hugely important part of my early career and has helped me develop into the player I am today. By hosting an event in Northern Ireland, Galgorm Castle Golf Club is contributing to the development of the next generation of Irish golfers and I am delighted to be able to play a part in the tournament.”
Hoey claimed a top 15 finish the last time Northern Ireland hosted a Challenge Tour event in 2003, when Clarke emerged victorious three weeks after his famous victory at the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, while another Open Champion – the winner at St Andrews in 2010, Louis Oosthuizen – finished tied 12th.