THE European Challenge Tour has announced it will host the first ISPS HANDA World Invitational for men and women to be held in Northern Ireland, in August.
The European Tour’s drive for inclusivity in golf – starting with April’s Jordan Mixed Open and the announcement last week of the first disabled tournaments to be run alongside two Rolex Series events – continued apace today (Monday) with the announcement that Modest! Golf Management will present the two simultaneous events on the European Challenge Tour this year.
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. It will also be the 25th tournament of the 2019 Challenge Tour season.
Scheduled for Ballymena’s Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort and the Massereene Golf Club, from August 15-18, the tournament, which carries an equal share of the $500,000 prize money for both the men’s and women’s competitions, will have approximately 300 competitors 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.
The European Tour’s latest innovation was made possible when ISPS HANDA and long-time supporters of the Northern Ireland Open, Modest! Golf, sat down with organisers and bought into the long-term vision for the unique event.
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 look forward to playing a part in the next chapter.
“The company ethos of ISPS HANDA has always been to try and break down barriers and present opportunities for everyone through sport, especially those disadvantaged. Sport has the ability to bring people and communities together and we welcome the opportunity to work closely with all the partners for this exciting new event.”
Modest! Golf’s Niall Horan said: “We got into golf with the aim to help and develop the next generation of player. By supporting a tournament like this exciting new World Invitational we are to bring that goal to fruition.
“Myself and the entire Modest! team are delighted to be partnering with ISPS HANDA, a wonderful organisation who are synonymous with promoting the game around the world and helping to bring people together through sport.
“ISPS HANDA reach out to all areas of society as evidenced through their drive and support for blind golfers and golfers with a disability. In this part of the world we are aware more than most about the importance of creating a lasting legacy. By working alongside ISPS HANDA we can help deliver something very special through this exciting new tournament.”
The World Invitational is a first of its kind for Europe and presents an excellent opportunity for the sporting public to witness the best players from both the men’s and women’s games.
European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “As golf’s global Tour, our core values are innovation and inclusivity and this new tournament fits perfectly into both of those genres. We are so pleased to have another innovative format on the Challenge Tour’s schedule following the success of the Jordan Mixed Open earlier this year.
“It’s fantastic to see these pioneering events becoming more common on the global golfing calendar and we hope they continue to grow with the support of sponsors and broadcasters.
“We have seen the success of the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia – which was won by Challenge Tour graduate David Law – and it is really exciting to have a tournament of the same format taking place in Northern Ireland this year.
“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.”
The week-long festival of golf will include live music concerts at the historic Galgorm estate with many other family attractions such as the dedicated golf village, family area, coaching zones and a junior event.
Discounted advance ticket purchases can be made at worldinvitational.com where spectators can take advantage of the “early bird offers” to enjoy the showpiece sporting event.
Gary Henry has been the driving force behind tournament golf at Galgorm over the years and welcomed the announcement.
He said: “We are delighted such a key player like ISPS HANDA is the new title sponsor and has shown confidence in our vision to introduce ladies to a tournament that was already hugely successful on the European Challenge Tour schedule.
“Through ISPS HANDA and our existing partners, Modest! Golf, we have a vision to develop the World Invitational into a lasting event with genuine global appeal and to create a legacy for all communities and sports fans across Ireland.
“We must thank all our government partners – Tourism NI, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council, Sport NI and Tourism Ireland for their continued support.
“The benefits to the local economy and increased bed nights is significant. The World Invitational on our doorstep will be broadcast internationally and will help attract golf tourists plus create and sustain local jobs.”