Michael Hoey will headline the field at the inaugural Northern Ireland Open Challenge at Galgorm Castle Golf Club from August 29 – September 1st.
The four-time European Tour winner jumped at the chance to play an event at ‘home’ and has welcomed the opportunity to act as tournament ambassador.
“It is going to be really good, hopefully we’ll get somewhere in the region of 30,000 spectators and that will create a good atmosphere,” said the News Letter columnist.
“We play tournaments all over the world and sometimes there is hardly anybody watching, it can be a bit dull. I think, after the success of the Irish Open last year, that it was important that we had another strong tournament.”
Michael is a Challenge Tour graduate, having won three times in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
He firmly believes that those early experiences gave him the platform to be successful on the main tour.
“It taught me my job,” said the 34-year-old who will be defending his Trophee Hassan II title in Morocco at the end of this month.
“If you want to make a living in this game you have to be professional and use your time wisely.
“It makes you realise just how many good players are out there all trying to make a living but there are only 20 automatic places on the European Tour every year
“You soon learn that you have to try and get into that top 20. By hosting an event in Northern Ireland, Galgorm Castle Golf Club is contributing to the development of the next generation of Irish golfers and I am delighted to be able to play a part in the tournament.”
Michael claimed a top 15 finish the last time Northern Ireland hosted a Challenge Tour event in 2003 – The Benmore Developments Masters - when Darren Clarke emerged victorious three weeks after his famous victory at the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational, while another Open Champion – the winner at St Andrews in 2010, Louis Oosthuizen - finished tied 12th.
That was a one-off event, but Galgorm Castle officials have high ambitions for the Northern Ireland Open Challenge and are planning to run the event for three years on a sustainable basis.
As tournament ambassador, Michael will be doing his bit to ‘sell’ the tournament when he is out on tour but was quick to dismiss any talk that he would start the event as favourite.
“I’ve actually only played the course once before, so I’ll not have any great advantage,” he said.
“I was impressed when I played a couple of years ago. It wasn’t the toughest and scoring could be low, depending on the weather.
“The thing people have to realise is that the standard is going to be very high and to win, you will have to play very well and score very well.
“Apart from those young, hungry players there are also the likes of Ross McGowan, Oliver Wilson and Nick Dougherty, tour winners and ex-Ryder Cup players who are all fighting to get back on tour,” added Hoey.