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One Direction Star Niall Horan taking NI Open in an exciting new direction

By Adam McKendry

One Direction star Niall Horan will again be a major driving force behind the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle, which this year will take on a brand new format.

The Irish singer, who is currently undertaking a solo career while One Direction are on hiatus, is a director at Modest! Golf, who have been announced as presenting sponsors of the 2017 competition.

Horan drew large crowds at last year's event when he teed it up during the mid-week Pro-Am, and this August is set to return as a host with Modest! Golf.

Already a massive hit with fans and golfers on the Challenge Tour, the second-tier of European golf, the Northern Ireland Open is now in its fifth year, with New Zealander Ryan Fox the defending champion.

It will be the second high-profile golfing event to be held in Northern Ireland over the summer after the Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club in July.

However, instead of the usual four days of strokeplay, this year's tournament will follow a new format, similar to that of the European Tour's Super 6 event in Perth earlier this year.

A total of 156 players will compete in three rounds of regulation strokeplay, with a cut after both 36 and 54 holes in order to reduce the field.

That will leave the top 24 golfers to take part in what has been dubbed 'Shootout Sunday' in order to determine the overall winner.

Those that survive until Sunday will take part in a knockout style format, consisting of rounds of strokeplay over just six holes.

The top eight-ranked players will be given a bye into the second round, with ranks nine to 24 contesting the first round.

The idea behind the new system is that it will increase excitement for fans given that all of the matches are guaranteed to go all six holes.

"We are excited to be coming back to the NI Open and introducing a brand new format," Horan said. "Shootout Sunday will be a great concept, both for the players and spectators."

Ulsterman Michael Hoey acts as tournament ambassador, and he himself will be competing again this year after finishing eighth in 2016.

The five-time European Tour winner says he's excited to see how the new format works with fans and believes it will be a hit.

"The NI Open comes hot on the heels of the Irish Open and what is being devised here at Galgorm is an exciting new twist which sets it apart from anything we've ever had in Northern Ireland," said Hoey.

"We have spoken to several players about the change in format, including last year's winner Ryan Fox, and all agreed that the new format is an extremely exciting new prospect.

"The NI Open's unique and innovative strokeplay matches on the Sunday is a first for professional golf and is sure to be a highlight on the global golfing calendar.

"The new format is certain to be more entertaining for spectators, especially with holes like the redesigned par-three seventh sure to throw up plenty of drama as crowds converge at strategic parts of the course."

Alain de Soultrait, director of the Challenge Tour, also gave his backing to the changes to the tournament, as well as praising fans from Northern Ireland for their dedicated support.

"We always look forward to returning to Galgorm Castle for one of our favourite weeks of the year and this year's NI Open will now have the added dimension of an innovative new format," said De Soultrait.

"The Northern Ireland crowds are among the most knowledgeable and passionate in the world and they support this event phenomenally every year, and we are sure that they will enjoy this year's tournament, and especially the Shootout Sunday, even more."

Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, added: "I am very pleased to say that we welcome thousands of spectators to Galgorm for the Northern Ireland Open.

"They bring considerable economic benefits and I'm sure players, their support teams and many spectators will again be enjoying our legendary hospitality across Mid and East Antrim Borough's hotels and guest houses in 2017."

The 2017 Northern Ireland Open will be held from August 10-13 at Galgorm Castle Golf Club with free entry for all spectators and plenty of interactive and family-friendly activities organised for the event.

Belfast Telegraph

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