Nick Dougherty and Oliver Wilson led the glowing tributes from the Challenge Tour players after the hugely successful first staging of the Northern Ireland Open Challenge presented by Clannah and XJET.
With almost 21,000 people visiting the tournament during the week, and an outstanding test of golf at Galgorm Castle, the Northern Ireland Open Challenge has quickly established itself as one of the Challenge Tour’s strongest events.
Wilson said: “This is the best Challenge Tour event I have played. Simple as that. From the moment you drive in the gates here at Galgorm you just get the sense that there is an event on. Everything you would expect from a Tour event is here, from the tented village to hospitality and the most important thing of all – good crowds.
“The facilities are first class and the set-up is as good as you will find anywhere on the Challenge Tour.
“Then you get out onto the golf course and you find a real good test. The greens are in the top three that we will putt on all year. It is so nice to play on a golf course that really asks questions of you and forces you to think about your strategy and to play good shots.
“I have played well this week and I think a big part of that is the fact that it feels like a big event and that has an effect on players. Obviously I am just starting to play better and coming into better form, but I do think that the set-up here and feeling around the event has played a part in me performing well.”
Dougherty added: “This tournament has been great. It feels like a step-up from the usual events on the Challenge Tour. To have such big crowds in has been amazing and I was lucky enough to have a lot of people following me round and it felt like being at a main Tour event.
“The golf course matches that as well. We are playing on a course this week that I would consider one of the best we will play on this year. It is nicely defined and the greens are outstanding. The whole set-up and conditioning of the golf course is worth of The European Tour so it has been a great experience.
“It just shows you what can be achieved when you put the effort in and have good people working on events and that is clearly the case here. I have been speaking to a few people associated with the club this week and they are very ambitious and have a very clear plan of and having spent the week here I have no doubt they can achieve those goals.”