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Hoey aiming to make the most of home comforts in quest for NI Open glory at Galgorm Castle


Michael Hoey

Michael Hoey

�INPHO/Presseye/Matt Mackey

Michael Hoey

In a Covid-19-dominated world, the return of the NI Open at Galgorm Castle this week is a very welcome sight for many of Ireland's young professionals.

The last formal event on the Challenge Tour schedule was the Euram Bank Open in Austria, which finished on July 18. With so few opportunities, the NI Open has taken on added professional, financial and personal significance for many.

Tournament Ambassador and five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey is "looking forward to getting back to work" after such a long lay-off and for the chance to compete on home soil.

"It has been a massive few weeks for Galgorm recently, so much has happened in a short time," said Hoey, who has also won four times on the European Challenge Tour in a professional career that started out in 2002.

The tournament is being supported by The R&A Covid-19 Support Fund, a £7m package to help golf deal with the impact of the global pandemic. The R&A's Fund is providing an additional £300,000 in support of the Challenge Tour in 2020 on top of its existing annual grant.

Hoey added: "We must give special thanks to The R&A and other key partners who have made it possible for the Northern Ireland Open to take place. The R&A provided additional funding for this event and support so many other events too. It demonstrates how important The Open is and how The R&A is able to support events and help grow the game."

The tournament will be subject to stringent safety and medical protocols set out in the Challenge Tour's comprehensive Health Strategy and will proceed subject to government and health guidelines at the time of the event.

That means the event infrastructure has been pared right down to the bare bones. There will be no grandstands, no spectators and the competitors will have to cope without the help and support of a trusted caddie.

"I have done it before but it is unusual," added Hoey. "It's good, everyone will have to carry their own bag and do their own yardages. Some people will play better and unfortunately some will struggle."

For everyone at Galgorm Castle, the NI Open is the start of a golden three weeks which will culminate in the venue hosting the DDF Irish Open from September 24-27.

Galgorm's Director of Golf, Ross Oliver, said: "The Irish Open came about at very short notice as a result of the coronavirus situation, quarantine etc down south. We are absolutely delighted to have the honour of hosting the Irish Open and, after staging professional tournaments for the last decade, it's a fantastic reward for everyone here at Galgorm.

"We've sort of served our apprenticeship. We've delivered tournaments year after year and we have a great relationship with the European Tour, and the players and officials really enjoy the venue. I think we have earned it and we're delighted to get the opportunity."

Ballymena's Dermot McElroy is currently one of 17 Irish players who will compete at the NI Open.

"I'm really looking forward to competing at Galgorm. I'm also delighted for everyone there," he said. "To also have the Irish Open there is sensational news, not just for Galgorm but the area. I know everyone needs to be careful, but it promises to be a sensational week."

Also lining up are amateur Tom McKibbin (Holywood GC), fresh from playing in the Amateur Championship, John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead GC) and Ireland's Gavin Moynihan.

Belfast Telegraph