The Northern Ireland Open, in Association with SPHERE Global and Ulster Bank, boasts one of the strongest fields of the year with a captivating mix of in-form international players and a rich Irish representation from proven champions to aspiring youth starting out in their fledgling careers.
This is Galgorm Castle’s third year of hosting the €170,000 European Challenge Tour event and each time this annual Northern Ireland spectacle returns bigger and better than before.
A record attendance of over 34,000 spectators came through the gates in 2014 to witness Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren win and receive the €27,200 top prize.
A key date on the international schedule ensured a top quality field for the NI Open as it is played the same week as the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
With no regular European Tour event, it means a number of main tour players, from home and abroad, will be in attendance.
One of the main attractions will be five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey, who is also the NI Open Tournament Ambassador and Galgorm’s Touring Professional.
“I am not going in with any expectations this year, none whatsoever,” said Hoey, who missed the cut the last two years.
“There is no doubt the field is strengthened by the date. It means European Tour regulars like Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Simon Thornton can all play.”
Thornton’s biggest win to date came in the co-sanctioned St Omer Open in 2013.
“I have full playing rights on the Challenge Tour and look forward to competing at Galgorm,” said the Newcastle resident.
“I have been mixing my time between playing a few events on the Irish PGA schedule, the Challenge Tour plus any invites I get on the main European Tour.”
McGrane is a seasoned campaigner on the main tour and won the Volvo China Open in 2008, so too is Lawrie who won the Open de Espana in 2008.
Both bring a wealth of experience to the event and have won on home soil and abroad.
Thornton recognises the value of the NI Open, especially for young players starting out. “It’s an important stepping stone for all aspiring golfers,” he said.
“Without this event, some of these guys don’t get a chance - simple as that. In a way the NI Open creates a career start for these guys and hopefully they get on a run.”
One player taking full advantage is Chris Selfridge, who only turned professional in May.
There are many Irish players hoping to make their mark at Galgorm, Niall Kearney, Gareth Shaw, Alan Dunbar, Michael McGeady and Ruaidhri McGee.
Unfortunately, Gareth Maybin has been ruled out by injury.