Northern Ireland Open: Home fans will have plenty to cheer, says Michael Hoey
The Northern Ireland Open's return to Galgorm Castle was officially launched yesterday with event ambassador Michael Hoey warning the field that he is expecting to fare far better this time around.
The 35-year-old failed to make the cut last year in a tournament that was eventually won in a play-off by Daan Huizing, but a good run of form in 2014 has Hoey expecting better things when the event returns to his home course in late August.
The Belfast man, who finished in a tie for eighth at last weekend's Volvo China Open, said: "I definitely need to do a bit better than I did last year and make the cut for a start.
"I'd want to be in contention, in and around that top 10 and top 20, but it's always difficult.
"It's going to be a good standard with some really good young players – it always is."
And Hoey – who has five wins on the European Tour including last year's Russian Open and the 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – is thrilled to once again have the Challenge Tour event on his doorstep.
"Its great for me to be associated with it. It was good to help out last year and to be the first tournament ambassador.
"Golf in Northern Ireland is so massive at the minute and this can bridge the gap to the Irish Open that's being held here next year and again in 2017.
"All the players and caddies had nothing but good things to say about the tournament last year and with the addition of things like a food village it's only going to be better again this time."
With a prize fund of £140,000, the tournament – from August 28 to 31 – should prove to be one of the Challenge Tour's marquee events this summer and the organisers are hoping to see 30,000 spectators flock to the County Antrim course.
Tickets for the weekend are free of charge and can be obtained by registering on the tournament website while the family-friendly atmosphere will be aided by both food and golf villages.
Preceding the tournament will be a pro-am on August 27 while June 24 will also see the course play host to the annual North of Ireland strokeplay tournament that was won last year by local rising star Dermot McElroy.
Also attending yesterday's launch at Galgorm was Tourism Minister Arlene Foster who highlighted just how important it is for Northern Ireland to continue the foray into golf tourism.
"The return of this high-profile tournament is yet another indicator that Northern Ireland's reputation as a major golf destination is thriving," said the Minister.
"Together with the Irish Open in 2015 and 2017, this tournament will further cement our position as a 'must play' destination.
"Last year's inaugural Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm broke all European Challenge Tour attendance records, attracting over 22,000 spectators, and I have no doubt this year's event will once again attract big crowds.
"The visitors that will pack the Galgorm fairways in August will enjoy a superbly run tournament in beautiful surroundings.
"Golf tourism currently generates £14million each year for the local economy and its further development will be an important drive to meet ambitious targets which aim to grow tourism to a £1billion industry by 2020."