Top level professional golf is set to return to the Ballymena area again this summer, in the form of the Northern Ireland Open championship.
The game’s leading players will arrive once more in Ballymena to compete in the Northern Ireland Open, in partnership with Ulster Bank, which promises to be a week-long festival of golf and fun-filled activity for all the family at Galgorm Castle from July 28-31.
For a fourth consecutive year one of the European Challenge Tour’s most popular events will attract fans from across the country to witness the stars of the game from home and abroad.
The record breaking event continues to grow in stature and this year promises to be as exciting as ever, especially with a key date on the calendar and so many other family activities scheduled for tournament week, not least the food festival at the golf village.
The NI Open is a truly homegrown event and remains Northern Ireland’s established annual international golf tournament. Thanks to ongoing support from Ulster Bank, who has supported all the professional events at Galgorm over the years, organisers are confident they can attract in excess of 40,000 spectators and build on the Challenge Tour’s all-time attendance record of 39,020 set in 2015 when France’s Clément Sordet was crowned the NI Open champion.
Terry Robb, Ulster Bank Regional Manager Private Banking NI, said: “At Ulster Bank, we’re very pleased to once again be centrally involved in the NI Open, a fantastic opportunity to profile great golfing talent and provide exposure for Northern Ireland on a global scale.
“As we’re in the Year of Food & Drink 2016, the food festival is an excellent opportunity to promote some of the producers, restaurants and exporters that form such an important part of the local economy, and something we are keen to support, as will be seen at the upcoming Balmoral Show.”
The economic benefits of staging the NI Open are significant as a potential worldwide viewing audience of 500 million worldwide will not only showcase the event but also reinforce the Northern Ireland brand as one of the world’s leading tourism destinations.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell said: “The Northern Ireland Open will once again be one of the sporting highlights of 2016. As golf grows in popularity and our local golfers continue to make their mark on the world stage, I am sure this event will once again provide a showcase of sporting excellence.
“The picturesque surroundings of Galgorm Castle are impressive and will assist in highlighting the tourism potential that golf has to offer. I have no doubt that this year’s NI Open will be a resounding success and will continue to grow from strength to strength.”
Galgorm Castle’s Christopher Brooke acknowledged the wide range of sponsors, many of whom have partnered the NI Open for years. Organisers also welcomed the new sponsors and partners to the NI Open and over the coming weeks further details will be announced.
“The success of the NI Open is undoubtedly the sum of its parts, a huge collaborative effort goes on behind the scenes,” said Brooke. “We are grateful for all the support, especially from Ulster Bank, Tourism NI, Sport NI, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, GUI Ulster Branch and Tourism Ireland who help make the NI Open one of the standout tournaments on the European Challenge Tour.”
Alain de Soultrait, Director European Challenge Tour, is also looking forward to getting back to Northern Ireland.
“We are delighted to be returning to Northern Ireland and look forward to enjoying Galgorm Castle’s fantastic hospitality once again,” said de Soultrait. “The tournament is already one of the most popular events on our schedule and it continues to grow every year.
“Innovations like the Food Festival help make the NI Open a great day out for the whole family and really adds to the incredible atmosphere, while the knowledge and enthusiasm of the Northern Irish golf fans is almost unrivalled on our tour.
“We would like to thank everyone involved in continuing to make this such a successful event and special mention must go to Michael Hoey for his continued and valuable role as tournament ambassador.”
Hoey has been speaking to his peers, many of whom have already pencilled-in Galgorm on their schedule. “The NI Open will attract an even stronger field than in previous years, especially with such a good place on the schedule,” said the five-time European Tour winner.
“Players want to compete at Galgorm because they know the atmosphere and setup makes it one of the best stop-offs of the season. The course and greens are always excellent and it’s a really well run tournament.”
From a home perspective the NI Open does much good for young aspiring professionals looking to make their mark and many of the ‘Famous Five’ Irish Walker Cup players from 2015 are set to compete at Galgorm. This combined with the experienced campaigners of Hoey, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Simon Thornton and others will give the field real strength in depth.
Away from the fairways, tournament week will be buzzing with activity, especially at the dedicated food festival, which this year will become part of the main golf village and serving up a range of culinary delights in Northern Ireland’s Year of Food & Drink.
The golf village will have strong representation from the leading retailers, with food and drink kiosks, the large scoreboard and casual seating creating a real hub of activity. The exciting new interactive golf zone will be the perfect place to take time out away from the live action on the course and try some golf of your own.
The NI Open remains free to enter and tickets can be secured by registering online at the brand new website niopen.golf.