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Clandeboye Golf Club eyes up Irish Open after securing Europro Tour return to Northern Ireland

Clandeboye Golf Club will host a EuroPro Tour event this summer.
Clandeboye Golf Club will host a EuroPro Tour event this summer.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Clandeboye Golf Club is hoping that its GolfCatcher PGA EuroPro Tour event this summer is the first step on the road to luring the Irish Open to the Ards Peninsula.

The club's inaugural EuroPro tournament will be played from August 19-21, with a high profile pro-am to be followed by a three-day professional competition.

It's the first time Europe's third-tier tour has visited Northern Ireland since 2012, Galgorm's Northern Ireland Open originally played as part of the EuroPro Tour before moving up to the Challenge Tour in 2013.

Clandeboye has only hosted one tour event in the club's history, the Challenge Tour's one-off Northern Ireland Masters in 2003.

Now the County Down club is returning to the professional game during what is a golden era for golf in Northern Ireland, with the Irish Open finally making regular returns north of the border since Royal County Down hosted the tournament in 2012.

While all of its visits north have been to links courses, Royal Portrush and Portstewart joining RCD, this year's event will be played at the parkland Mount Juliet course in Kilkenny.

That has helped fuel Clandeboye's ambition that the European Tour could be persuaded to allow the heathland Dufferin Course to host Ireland's premier tournament for the first time.

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Darren Clarke won the Northern Ireland Masters tournament at Clandeboye in 2003.

But, ultimately, that dream comes down to the success of this summer's EuroPro Tour event.

"This is a step along that road," said Clandeboye committee member Owen Trainor of the club's ultimate Irish Open objective.

"It's part of an acclimatisation for us to see what the benefits are to the club of hosting these sort of events and to see what we are capable of doing. We're delighted with it. It's a bit of a coup for us."

The EuroPro Tour event will be played on Clandeboye's flagship Dufferin Course, with the second 18-hole course, the Ava, helping to minimise disruption for the club's 1,100 strong membership.

Professional golfer Jonathan Caldwell, who grew up as a Clandeboye member, was key to convincing Eurpro Tour bosses to come to his home club, although after winning back his European Tour card for the 2020 season, he is perhaps unlikely to provide a unique home interest in the playing field.

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Driving on: Northern Ireland’s Jonny Caldwellall

More likely to be teeing it up are Whitehead's John-Ross Galbraith and Ballymena's Dermot McElroy, who both competed on the EuroPro Tour last season.

The event will be a chance to promote Clandeboye's course and vistas, with the EuroPro Tour's two-hour highlights package on Sky Sports averaging 250,000 viewers in over 140 countries worldwide.

"A lot of clubs are struggling and we're no different so any opportunity we get to showcase what we have is welcomed," said Trainor.

"We want people to come and experience what we have to offer. We feel we've got a great course and a great story to tell. This is a big opportunity for us and I've no doubt we'll put on a good show.

"The jewel in the crown is the course. It will do all the talking for us. We know there are other good courses out there but we feel we are up there to challenge any of them.

"What we lack in terms of resource, we certainly make up for in enthusiasm, dynamism and piles of energy. People are very keen to bring this event to Clandeboye."

Among them is the EuroPro Tour CEO Daniel Godding, who said: "We are absolutely delighted to be staging our only event in Northern Ireland in 2020 at Clandeboye. The venue has been witness to some of the golfing gods, being a favourite place to play for the likes of Rory Mcllory and our own European Tour member Johnathan Caldwell. The course is a first class layout that will certainly test Europe's leading and most elite young professionals who play on our tour. “

McIlroy's caddy Harry Diamond is actually a member at Clandeboye. If all goes to plan in the Europro Tour this coming August, he might eventually get the opportunity to help his man bid for Irish Open glory on his home track.

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