European Tour star Michael Hoey confirmed that he will return to the Northern Ireland Open Challenge as tournament ambassador in 2014 as the event was launched at Galgorm Resort and Spa.
This year’s showpiece will once again take place at Galgorm Castle Golf Club, from August 28-31, and after last year’s dramatic finale, which saw promising Dutchman Daan Huizing overcome former Ryder Cup star Oliver Wilson in a play-off, the 2014 edition promises to be another memorable occasion.
A strong field is expected to descend upon the Antrim venue, with five-time European Tour winner and tournament ambassador Michael Hoey leading the lines.
“Great things are happening with golf in Northern Ireland at the moment and the organisers at Galgorm and this tournament are playing a key role in the overall story,” explained Hoey, who despite missing the cut 12 months ago was hugely impressed with the set up.
“Last year so many of the players commented on how this was the best Challenge Tour event they had ever played in and I have no doubt this year’s tournament will be even better, especially with the added twist of the food festival.”
After record numbers attended last year’s event, this year promises to be a spectacular occasion for all the family with a designated food village in the grounds of the estate castle plus an interactive golf village behind the 18th.
In attendance for today’s official launch at the Galgorm Resort and Spa was Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster, who is delighted to see another international sporting event take place in Northern Ireland.
“The return of this high profile tournament is yet another indicator that Northern Ireland’s reputation as a major golf destination is thriving,” said Foster. “Together with the Irish Open in 2015 and 2017, this tournament will further cement our position as a ‘must play’ destination for golfers.
“Last year’s inaugural NI Open at Galgorm broke all European Challenge Tour attendance records, attracting over 22,000 spectators and I have no doubt that this year’s event will once again attract big crowds. The visitors that will pack the Galgorm fairways in August will see the golfing stars of the future and will enjoy a superbly well-run tournament in beautiful surroundings.
“Golf tourism currently generates £14million (€17m) each year for the local economy and its further development will be an important drive to meet ambitious targets which aim to grow tourism to a £1billion (€1.2billion) industry by 2020.”
"It is very important for the Challenge Tour to have an event in Northern Ireland and to tap into a region that has so many golf fans,” explained Alain de Soultrait, Director European Challenge Tour. “We are excited to return to such a great venue again in August as the tournament continues to grow and in the future hopefully events like this can help to inspire a new generation of Irish golfers.
"I would like to thank the Tourism Minister Arlene Foster, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Ballymena Borough Council and Tourism Ireland for their involvement in the event, and look forward to another great week of golf."
Organisers have introduced a ’Food Festival’ to the 2014 NI Open to ‘savour the culinary delights of the region’. The gourmet excellence theme will carry through to tournament week where suppliers, exhibitors and live demonstrations will showcase the very best of NI produce within the designated food village at the castle.
The golf village will be another interactive spectacle for all the family with free golf lessons for the kids and sporting challenges for the ‘big kids’ too. Leading golf retailers and event partners will be present in the golf village with great deals, promotions and competitions throughout the week.
Before the week-long festival of food and golf, the game’s elite amateurs will get another chance to tee it up with the professionals through the annual North of Ireland Strokeplay. The 36-hole event will take place over the championship parkland on Tuesday, 24th June.
Last year local favourite and Irish international Dermot McElroy took the title and earned his place in the Northern Ireland Open Challenge field and would go on show his exceptional talent by finishing tied ninth on six-under.
“Both the North of Ireland Strokeplay and especially the Northern Ireland Open are crucial events for the development of our young players,” said Gary Henry, Director of Galgorm Castle.
“To stage a European Challenge Tour here in Northern Ireland is vitally important for our home players like former Walker Cup team mates, Alan Dunbar and Paul Cutler. This event alone opens up so many doors and invites across Europe and allows players to build a playing schedule for the season.”
Christopher Brooke, Director Galgorm Castle, expressed his thanks to all concerned for making the event possible.
“Special thanks must go to all our key sponsors and partners, such as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Ballymena Borough Council and Tourism Ireland plus the many others involved - without their support none of this would be possible,” said Brooke.
“We enjoyed a wonderful event last year and will build on that as we look forward to staging the province’s standout professional tournament of the season once more.”