Northern Ireland Open is tipped to break record as Michael Hoey steps up bid
Michael Hoey will lead the home charge at the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle, with the event - from July 28 to 31 - expected to attract a record 40,000 plus spectators.
Organisers are confident they can beat the European Challenge Tour's all-time attendance record of 39,020 set last year when France's Clément Sordet was crowned NI Open champion.
Hoey, a five-time winner on the European Tour, faces strong competition from top players like Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton as well as many of the game's rising stars.
"The NI Open will attract an even stronger field than in previous years, especially with such a good place on the schedule," said the Belfast golfer, who is bidding to win the title for the first time.
"Players want to compete at Galgorm because they know the atmosphere and set-up makes it one of the best stop-offs of the season.
"The course and greens are always excellent and it's a really well run tournament," added Hoey.
The event - backed by Ulster Bank in all of its four years - has many attractions including family activities and the food festival at the golf village.
Terry Robb, Ulster Bank Regional Manager Private Banking NI, said: "At Ulster Bank, we're very pleased to once again be centrally involved in the NI Open, a fantastic opportunity to profile great golfing talent and provide exposure for Northern Ireland on a global scale.
"The economic benefits of staging the NI Open are significant as a potential viewing audience of 500 million worldwide will not only showcase the event but also reinforce the Northern Ireland brand as one of the world's leading tourism destinations," he added.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said: "As golf grows in popularity and our local golfers continue to make their mark on the world stage, I am sure this event will once again provide a showcase of sporting excellence.
"The picturesque surroundings of Galgorm Castle are impressive and will assist in highlighting the tourism potential that golf has to offer."
Galgorm Castle's Christopher Brooke acknowledged the backing the NI Open receives.
"We are grateful for the support, especially from Ulster Bank, Tourism NI, Sport NI, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, GUI Ulster Branch and Tourism Ireland who make the NI Open one of the standout tournaments on the Challenge Tour," he said.
Alain de Soultrait, European Challenge Tour Director, added: "The tournament is already one of the most popular events on our schedule and special mention must go to Michael Hoey for his continued and valuable role as tournament ambassador."
The NI Open is free for spectators and tickets can be secured by registering online at the brand new website niopen.golf