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Top men and women are on way after NI Open overhaul

Big launch: Owner of Modest! Golf Niall Horan, professional golfer Charley Hull, Chief Executive of the European Tour Keith Pelley, ISPS HANDA’s Dr Haruhisa Handa and broadcaster Kirsty Gallacher
Big launch: Owner of Modest! Golf Niall Horan, professional golfer Charley Hull, Chief Executive of the European Tour Keith Pelley, ISPS HANDA’s Dr Haruhisa Handa and broadcaster Kirsty Gallacher

By Paul Kelly

There's a reason why the European Tour keeps returning to Northern Ireland - the fans.

European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley said: "The players love to play in front of big crowds.

"And they love to play in front of educated crowds and that is what they experience in Northern Ireland.

"If the weather was 85 degrees in January and February, that's where we would be playing!"

Pelley was speaking in London yesterday at the announcement of a brand new tournament, the ISPS HANDA World Invitational Men/Women, presented by Modest! Golf Management, which will be staged at Galgorm Castle and Massereene GC from August 15-18.

The event, formerly known as the Northern Ireland Open and traditionally one of the best attended events on the Challenge Tour, has been transformed into a new global event for Challenge Tour players and women professionals.

The tournament, which carries an equal share of the $500,000 (£385,000) prize money for both the men's and women's competitions, will have approximately 300 in total playing at both venues on the Thursday and Friday.

A second-round cut will send the two fields to Galgorm Castle for the weekend, where a third-round cut will further reduce each field for the final round.

Pelley added: "Northern Ireland is a hotbed for golf. They will come out in their droves and they are educated. They will love it.

"We must thank Dr Handa, Niall Horan and Gary Henry for their hard work in organising this tournament and I am excited to see the action unfold at Galgorm in August."

ISPS HANDA has an international reputation for supporting golf around the world and the eligibility criteria for the men's tournament will be the same as any other Challenge Tour event, therefore counting towards the season-long rankings, where the top 15 players earn European Tour cards at the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the women's side of the tournament will invite leading professionals from the US LPGA Tour, Ladies European Tour plus players from Asia and Australia.

Dr Haruhisa Handa, Chairman of International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS) HANDA, said: "We are very pleased to become involved in this exciting new World Invitational event for both men and women professionals.

"We recognise the work and efforts made by Modest! Golf, the European Challenge Tour and host venue Galgorm over the years and we look forward to playing a part in the next chapter."

Discounted advance ticket purchases can be made at worldinvitational.golf where spectators can take advantage of the early bird offers to enjoy this showpiece sporting event.

Modest! Golf's Niall Horan said: "We have been doing this NI Open since 2016 and watching it grow every year has been mad.

"It got to the point where it needed to be kicked over the line and getting ISPS Handa involved was a great idea on everyone's part. There are two tournaments in the world that will have men and women playing together at the same time and are both his.

"I want to be a part of that because I believe that if we grow women's golf, we will grow golf in general. Having the girls involved in this with an equal prize fund is a no-brainer. This is going to be big."

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