Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell will head the field in the first European Challenge Tour event to take place in Northern Ireland when they tee up in the Northern Ireland Masters at Clandeboye GC from September 11-14.
The Northern Ireland Masters will be promoted by International Sports Management in association with the Northern Ireland Events Company and will carry a total prize fund of £150,000.
The inclusion of Clarke and McDowell, the two leading Northern Irish golfers and both champions on The European Tour International Schedule, further enhances the tournament. In Clarke’s case all prize money he wins at the event will be donated to the Darren Clarke Foundation, a major initiative for the development of junior golf in Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Masters brings the total of tournaments on the 2003 Challenge Tour Schedule to 28 and the top 15 players in the Rankings at the end of the season will take their place alongside the likes of Clarke and McDowell on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule.
Darren Clarke said: “I've never played in a Challenge Tour event and I'm delighted to confirm my participation in the Northern Ireland Masters as it is the first time that Northern Ireland has hosted a Challenge Tour event. It will be great to play competitively in Northern Ireland again after a gap of ten years; my last tournament was the Ulster PGA Championship.
“I launched the Darren Clarke Foundation to encourage children in Ireland to play golf, and my winnings from the Northern Ireland Masters will go to the Foundation.”
In welcoming the Challenge Tour to Northern Ireland, Mervyn Elder, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Events Company, said: “The role of the Events Company is to support Major events which enable us to promote all that is best in Northern Ireland. The Challenge Tour event will allow us to project very positive images of Northern Ireland across the worldwide media.
"It will enhance our reputation both as a top class location for major international events and as a superb destination for golf tourism.”
Alain de Soultrait, Director of the European Challenge Tour, said: “We are delighted to announce the Challenge Tour’s first visit to Northern Ireland for the Northern Ireland Masters and thank Northern Ireland Events Company and ISM for their support of the Challenge Tour.
“The inclusion of Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell in particular, is a huge boost for the profile of the tournament and offers the Challenge Tour players the opportunity to test themselves against two great champions from The European Tour. We look forward to an outstanding tournament in September.”
There will be television coverage of the event through the series “The Challenge” shown on Eurosport, Channel 5 (UK), The Golf Channel (USA & Canada) and a one hour highlights programme on Sky Sports.
Clandeboye is a 36 hole inland complex in a setting of rare beauty. Only 12 miles from Belfast, it was created in 1933 by William Renwick Robinson, a local linen merchant with a love of golf and a flair for landscaping. The original Clandeboye course played host to all the major Irish championships until the early 1970's when the original layout of the Dufferin Course was re-designed by German architect Baron Von Limburger in association with Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas.