The waiting is almost over as this week’s £140,000 (€170,000) Northern Ireland Open, in association with Maui Jim Sunglasses, comes into focus where one of the strongest fields of the season plus a number of local celebrities will be on show at Galgorm Castle.
Entry to the Northern Ireland Open is free all week, simply logon to niopen.co.uk and register for your free tickets. Over 30,000 tickets have already been registered for, which means the event is on track to be the first Challenge Tour event ever to be sold out. There is still time to register for tickets online.
Tournament Ambassador and five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey is top billing in a tournament that also includes eight winners from the Challenge Tour this season and a host of home players looking to make their mark at the Ballymena venue.
Jake Roos is the only two-time winner this campaign after victories in the Kenya Open and Aegean Airlines Challenge in Germany last month. If the South African gets the job done in Galgorm a third victory would automatically give him playing rights on the main European Tour, just as American Brooks Keopka achieved last season.
Other standout names include 2008 Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson after the Englishman almost won his first Challenge Tour event at last year’s inaugural event, only to be denied in a play-off by eventual winner Daan Huizing from The Netherlands.
Former European Tour winners Ross McGowan, Welshman Rhys Davies and Austria’s Martin Wiegele will join Wilson, while Northern Ireland’s Gareth Shaw believes he is coming into form at the right time.
“It’s nice to stay at home for a week,” said Shaw, who despite struggling in part of the season has shown more consistency in recent weeks. “My game’s coming together nicely and I know last year I didn’t do as well as I had wanted to do so hopefully this year I can do better.
“It’s a course that I’ve had success on in the past so I know I can play well around there. It’s all about keeping the ball in play, which I’m doing pretty well at the moment. I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s great to have people there supporting you. You feed off it so I’m looking forward to having family and friends out watching.”
Last week’s winner of the Rolex Trophy Byeong-hun An is also competing at Galgorm after the 23-year-old became the first Korean winner on Europe’s main developmental tour. The 2009 US Amateur champion closed with a stunning final round 64 in Geneva to claim the €26,000 first prize.
In what promises to be a real festival of golf the large crowds expected at Galgorm through the week will also get a chance to see some of their sporting idols in action.
Ulster, Ireland and Lions rugby player Stephen Ferris may have been forced to hang up his boots but that won’t stop the big Ulsterman featuring in the NI Open Pro-Am on Wednesday. He will be joined by former team mate Niall O’Connor and Northern Ireland legends David Healy and Pat Jennings, who has been a great supporter of events at Galgorm over the years.
Other local interest includes comedian May McFettridge and the BBCs Stephen Watson, who will test his own skills before reporting on the event through the week.
Galgorm Castle www.galgormcastle.com