NI Open to be overhauled into leading world pro event for men and women
The Northern Ireland Open is receiving an exciting new makeover into a world-leading tournament as the event expands as its success continues.
This year's event has been rebranded to be called the ISPS Handa World Invitational, presented by Modern Golf! Management and for the first time will be open to both pros from the men's and women's circuits.
The leading names from the men's Challenge Tour and the ladies' circuit will compete across four rounds at Galgorm Castle Golf Club and Massereene Golf Club in Antrim.
The event will take place from August 15-18 and will see the men and women compete in separate tournaments at the same time, with the first two rounds split over Galgorm and Massereene and the final two back at Galgorm.
While the Jordan Open earlier this year became the first ever event to include both men and women in the field, it featured a combined leaderboard, whereas the World Invitational will have two separate leaderboards for each gender.
It's a thrilling new concept and the Northern Ireland Open was the perfect place to introduce it, given the tournament has been one of the leaders in piloting golf initiatives such as Shootout Sunday in 2017.
Top names from around the world will be aiming to hold off the challenges of local names such as Michael Hoey, Cormac Sharvin and Jonathan Caldwell on the Challenge Tour, while Stephanie Meadow and the Maguire sisters, Lisa and Leona, will lead the charge on the ladies' side.
Around 300 players will take part, with both fields being cut after the second AND third rounds to leave just the top names competing on the Sunday, which will see the tee times alternated between the men and the women.
ISPS Handa, a non-profit organisation that aim to benefit the welfare of people through sports, have signed a multi-year deal with the tournament that will see both the men and ladies compete for equal prize money of $500,000. The company already sponsor several events on the LPGA Tour.
As per usual, the event will also feature a large golf village for spectators at Galgorm that will host live music and have stalls with local trade, with the event very popular with families.
"We are very pleased to become involved in this exciting new World Invitational event for both men and women professionals,” said Dr Haruhisa Handa, chairman of ISPS Handa.
"We recognise the work and efforts made by Modest! Golf, the European Challenge Tour and host venue Galgorm over the years and look forward to playing a part in the next chapter."
Modest! Golf have supported the tournament from when it began as the Northern Ireland Open on the EuroPro Tour, with owner Niall Horan, of One Direction fame, delighted to see it expand firstly onto the Challenge Tour and now into the World Invitational.
"We got into golf with the aim to help and develop the next generation of player. By supporting a tournament like this exciting new World Invitational, we are going to bring that goal to fruition," said Horan.
"The entire Modest! team are delighted to be partnering with ISPS Handa, a wonderful organisation who are synonymous with promoting the game around the world and helping to bring people together through sport."
Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, added: "As golf’s global Tour, our core values are innovation and inclusivity and this new tournament fits perfectly into both of those genres. We are so pleased to have another innovative format on the Challenge Tour’s schedule following the success of the Jordan Mixed Open earlier this year.
"It’s fantastic to see these pioneering events becoming more common on the global golfing calendar and we hope they continue to grow with the support of sponsors and broadcasters."
Belfast Telegraph Digital