THE eyes of the world will be on Northern Ireland this week as the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women gets under way in Northern Ireland, on Thursday.
The event – presented by One Direction star Nial Horan’s Modest! Golf Management group – takes place at Galgorm Castle Golf Club and Massereene Golf Club, from August 15-18.
The innovative event brings men and women together on the same courses as they compete in their respective tournaments for separate trophies – and equal prize funds – for the first time on European soil.
With alternating tee times between the men’s and women’s groups, fans can expect plenty of drama, with the two champions set to be crowned within moments of each other.
Galgorm and Massereene will share hosting duties across the opening two days, with the competitors completing one round at each of the two layouts,
Then all the action takes place at Galgorm over the weekend, where a cut will take place after the second and third rounds.
Some of the biggest names in female golf will tee it up this week, including Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew – who named her team for the biennial showpiece earlier this week – and Charley Hull, the World No. 29, who will play in her fourth Solheim Cup next month.
Hull, who is attached to Woburn and played at Kettering Golf Club as a junior said: “It’ll be a really interesting week.
“I played a similar event like this that was also sponsored by ISPS Handa in Australia and that was good fun.
“I’m looking forward to enjoying the experience this time around and taking it all in,” said the former LET Rookie of the Year.
“I’m going to have to play Massereene blind as I’ve had a busy few weeks, with back-to-back Majors and also Solheim Cup selection and practice at Gleneagles on Monday.
“But I’m looking to forward to getting back out there and competing,” added Hull, who was the youngest player to appear in a Solheim Cup in 2013, aged just 17.
Calum Hill, who has two victories in his last three European Challenge Tour starts, returns to the scene of his maiden victory after the Gleneagles pro triumphed at the Galgorm Resort & Spa Northern Ireland Open, in 2018.
The Kircaldy golfer will have top spot in the Challenge Tour rankings in his sights with current occupant Antoine Rozner not in the field, in Northern Ireland.
Hill, who won last week’s Made in Denmark Challenge, said: “It’s really nice to be back here. I’ve got a lot of good memories coming into this week, so hopefully I can have another good week.
“It’s just a lot busier this week. I don’t think having the men and women here will change much about the golf, although the field is quite big. It should be really good fun.
“They always do a good job here. I remember last year it was really well run and there is a nice tented village for the spectators too.
“It’s a busier week and there are a few more crowds for a bit more support.
“I feel good at the moment. Hopefully I can keep the run going, but I’m just entering every week with the same mindset, which is just to play as well as I can,” added Hill, who would earn automatic promotion to the European Tour if he can record a third win in the remaining weeks of the season.
“My mum and dad are here again this week. It is the last week of their holidays before they go back to teaching so hopefully I’ll have another good week with them here.”
A plethora of storylines are emerging from the innovative tournament on the Challenge Tour schedule.
Husband and wife duo Scott and Kylie Henry again tee it up in the same tournament after playing in the Jordan Mixed Open in the spring, while sisters Leona and Lisa Maguire and German siblings Moritz and Karolin Lampert will also compete at Galgorm and Massereene.
Former World No. 1 amateur Leona Maguire, who hails from Cavan, will relish the Irish crowd’s support, on her debut as a professional in Ireland, off the back of her first Symetra Tour win in California, ealrier this year.
Maguire, whose parents like Hill’s are both teachers, said: “I’m really excited to be playing in front of the home fans this week.
“The first event I ever played in was the Northern Ireland Open and to be back here as a pro is a really special thing.
“Irish golf fans are always fantastic to come out to support us, it doesn’t really matter what it is.
“There’s set to be lots of crowds out there this week, so hopefully I can give them plenty to cheer,” added Maguire, who was born 15 minutes after twin sister Lisa, who has been playing on the LET Access Series this year, having played on the Symetra Tour, in the USA, in 2018.
The sisters became the youngest Curtis Cup players when selected to play for Great Britain and Ireland against the USA, at Massachusetts’ Essex Country Club, in 2010.
The 2001 Amateur Champion Michael Hoey is another Northern Ireland based pro looking forward to teeing it up this week
Hoey, whose last of five European Tour wins came in 2013, said: “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.
“You’ve got Niall Horan, who is so important for European golf, a great sponsor in ISPS Handa and you have a lot of celebrities who have turned out for the pro-am.
“You’ve got Jimmy Nesbitt, Tommy Bowe, four-time Superbike World Champion Jonathan Rea and it’s a great commitment from Northern Irish people to be involved.
“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.”
The drive for inclusivity continues apace with men and women competing together this week.
And Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor, the winner of the inaugural EDGA Scottish Open last month, is also set to compete alongside Challenge Tour professionals for the first time.
The action will begin on both courses at 7.30am on Thursday and live updates of the men’s and women’s action from both courses can be found by following @Challenge_Tour on Twitter or by clicking here