'This is how you do it': Galgorm's World Invitational is the future of men's and women's golf, says Niall Horan
Tournament host Niall Horan believes this week's ISPS Handa World Invitational, presented by Modest! Golf can blaze a trail for golf across the world.
The innovative new format will see men and women compete side by side at Galgorm Castle and Massereene Golf Clubs over the next four days for two separate tournaments with equal prize money.
It's a format that has already been trialled at this year's Vic Open and at the Jordan Mixed Open to great success and rave reviews, however this is the first of its kind in Europe.
As has been the case in the past, when the event has been men-only and called the Northern Ireland Open, the men's side of the event is run by the Challenge Tour, while the women's draw is a stand-alone event.
While the new format and successes of previous years at Galgorm have given the tournament a massive reputation, Horan and his Modest! Golf team have been given a huge boost by having some stellar names agree to play alongside the local talent.
While home fans will be eager to see the likes of Cormac Sharvin and Michael Hoey tee it up in the men's event, and Jordanstown ace Stephanie Meadow plus Cavan twins Leona and Lisa Maguire on the women's side, there are no shortage of big name stars also in contention.
Chief among them is European Solheim Cup player Charley Hull, the World No.29, who will command a lot of the attention as by far the biggest name on the women's side of the draw, while Scotland's Carly Booth is another who is a regular on the Ladies' European Tour.
For the men, defending champion Calum Hill is in sensational form having won twice in his last three events on the Challenge Tour, while the likes of Jose-Filipe Lima, Connor Syme and Robin Roussel will also be keen to pick up another victory after already winning on tour this year.
With two star-studded fields in action across two fantastic local courses, Horan is convinced that this week's event will only lead to bigger and better things in the near future.
"We've managed to bring some unbelievable talent here this week and the set-up feels like a European Tour event," said the former One Direction singer.
"We've worked at that, and everyone here at Galgorm and our sponsors have been excellent, so it's all coming together.
"I hope all the players enjoy it because this is the start of our plan, this is where it takes off. We have a few big years ahead of us. This is the first of its kind for Europe so I'm very excited.
"If you can grow women's golf then you can grow any golf, and this is a lot bigger than we think it is. Right now this is the first of its kind but I just know it's going to take off from here.
"Everyone's going to follow this and it's going to grow, and this is how you do it. I'm glad we're all here to enjoy it because it's going to be an historic week."
Local favourite Hoey is anticipating low scoring across the week despite the bad weather that plagued yesterday's Pro-Am that featured big names such as former Ulster, Ireland and Lions rugby player Tommy Bowe, four-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and actor James Nesbitt.
"This event has grown quite a lot over the years. It's quite chaotic now as there's 600 people but the atmosphere is great," commented Hoey.
"It's going to be good to see the scoring. Hopefully the rain passes but I think it's going to be target golf for the next few days.
"I played in the Vic Open which was the same format. On Sunday you get a winner from one group and then potentially another winner from the next group so that's good from a spectators' point of view.
"You will hopefully have a winning putt and then another winning putt 20 minutes later, that's the thinking behind it."
Holywood teenage star Tom McKibbin gets the local charge underway at 7.30am today when he tees off at the 10th at Massereene, with Sharvin off at 8.14 at the same course from the 10th.
Galgorm amateur Josh Hill tees off from the first at his home club at 8.36, while Massereene's Tiarnan McLarnon also opens his challenge at his home course from the 10th at 9.09.
John-Ross Galbraith (Whitehead) leads off the afternoon starters from the 10th tee at Galgorm at 12.30, followed by Hoey at the first at 1.03pm and then Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) from the 10th at 1.25.
Daniel Peacock starts his round at the 10th at Massereene at 2.09, amateur Matthew McClean is off the 10th at Galgorm at 2.20 and Colm Campbell Jr is the last local player out at 2.31 off the first at Galgorm.