By Paul Gallagher
Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Tournament golf at Galgorm Castle has been an evolving story and hosting this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is a fitting way to mark 10 years of professional events at one of Ireland’s most recognised championship parklands.
The Simon Gidman designed course opened in 1997 and quickly became the focal point of the historic 220-acre estate, complete with a 16th century Jacobean castle nestled beyond Galgorm Castle’s tree-lined fairways.
Tournament golf was always an aspiration and fledgling steps into the professional arena took place in 2010 when the first of three Northern Ireland Opens took place on the third tier PGA EuroPro Tour. James Hepworth was the inaugural champion and the Englishman was followed into the winner’s circle by compatriots Chris Hanson (2011) and Paul Reed (2012).
A step-change in 2013 meant the Northern Ireland Open was elevated in status to a European Challenge Tour event and Daan Huizing from The Netherlands emerged victorious after denying former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson in a play-off.
All eight Northern Ireland Open champions (when contested as a Challenge Tour event) will tee it up in this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, including 2020 champion Tyler Koivisto, who enjoyed a remarkable win at Galgorm Castle earlier this month. The American arrived in Ballymena without any status or ranking and now continues his golfing odyssey in Europe off the back of his win.
Other Northern Ireland Open champions include New Zealand’s Ryan Fox (2016) and Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren (2014), who have both gone on to win on the European Tour.
In 2018 Scotland’s Calum Hill received the prestigious wooden trophy commissioned from felled trees at the Dark Hedges as featured in the Game of Thrones. In 2019 the Northern Ireland Open evolved into the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women with the men’s event still on the Challenge Tour schedule.
England’s Jack Senior won alongside Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort’s Touring Professional Stephanie Meadow, who won the ladies title in the innovative first of its kind event in Europe where men and women competed for the same prize money at the same venue.
The Northern Ireland Open established itself as one of the most popular stop-offs on the international circuit and broke all attendance records for a Challenge Tour event as Northern Ireland golf fans showed their support each year.
“As a tournament venue, we continue to evolve,” explained Gary Henry, Managing Director Galgorm Castle. “We are honoured to be hosting such a prestigious event as the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. An opportunity arose for us due to the current circumstances and we are delighted to be able to play our part as host venue.
“Bringing the island of Ireland’s national championship to Ballymena is recognition for all the hard work carried out by everyone involved with tournament golf at Galgorm. None of it would be possible without the ongoing support from Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, Tourism Northern Ireland and other partners, who have supported us from the beginning.
“When the dust settles on proceedings next Sunday, attentions will turn to 2021 when we look forward to the return of the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women,” added Henry.
Just now, however, eight Northern Ireland Open winners will return to Galgorm and to a course they know so well to compete alongside the likes of Open Champion Shane Lowry and three-time major winner Pàdraig Harrington for the chance to become the new Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion.
NORTHERN IRELAND OPEN PREVIOUS WINNERS
Galgorm Castle Golf Club
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE TOUR
2020 Tyler Koivisto (United States)
2019 Jack Senior (England) (ISPS Handa World Invitational)
2018 Calum Hill (Scotland)
2017 Robin Sciot-Siegrist (France)
2016 Ryan Fox (New Zealand)
2015 Clément Sordet (France)
2014 Joakim Lagergren (Sweden)
2013 Daan Huizing (Netherlands)
PGA EUROPRO TOUR
2012 Paul Reed (England)
2011 Chris Hanson (England)
2010 James Hepworth (England)