World's top lady golfers set to join new-look NI Open from 2019
The NI Open will take on a brand new and innovative format from next year as the world's top lady golfers join in with the men.
The concept is that two professional strokeplay events will run simultaneously, the full Ladies European Tour tournament being played alongside the European Challenge Tour men's action.
The tournament is set to be played at regular venue Galgorm Castle and Antrim's Masereene Golf Club, which hosted the prestigious Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship back in 2014. Each tee-time will alternate between men and lady golfers, with both tournaments concluding at Galgorm Castle.
Leona Maguire, who was a world number one amateur before turning pro, has welcomed the announcement, which means ladies' tournament golf will return to Ireland for the first time since the 2012 Ladies Irish Open at Killeen Castle, venue for the 2011 Solheim Cup.
“I am delighted to see the prospect of tournament golf in the ladies’ game return to Ireland," she said. "The timing couldn’t be better for the likes of Lisa and myself, who turned professional earlier this year. We have been fortunate to play in a number of Ladies Irish Opens during our young amateur careers but there hasn’t been anything in place since 2012.
"With great support from our management company Modest! Golf this is a wonderful and exciting opportunity and I look forward to being part of a very special week competing alongside the men in one of the best events on the tournament schedule."
The format is already tried and tested, having been introduced at the Vic Open in Australia and has been adopted by the NI Open organisers, who have tried to progress the tournament with system shake-ups such as last season's knock-out format, when record Challenge Tour attendance figures were hit with over 43,000 spectators, before reverting to standard 72-hole strokeplay this season.
Niall Horan, whose Modest! Golf management company has signed up both Maguire twins, is excited by the new development.
“We are absolutely thrilled with this new concept for the NI Open from 2019," he said. "The NI Open is already one of the best events on the European Challenge Tour with record attendances every year. It has always been our vision and aim at Modest! Golf to look at ways to develop the game and appeal to new audiences.
"By introducing a ladies’ tournament to the NI Open, we are looking to broaden the appeal to a much wider audience, while providing new opportunities for our young, aspiring players. Current professionals like our very own Lisa and Leona Maguire will benefit hugely from the return of tournament golf to Ireland.”
This week’s NI Open gets underway on Thursday (August 16-19) with the popular Pro-am to take place at Galgorm Castle tomorrow. Entry to the NI Open is free for all the family. Full details at NIOpen.golf.
Belfast Telegraph Digital