Irish golf is currently riding on a high with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington, Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke contending week after week on the European Tour. At first glance all looks rosy for Irish Golf however look under the skin and you will find a problem.
The Challenge Tour, which is the 2nd tier of European golf and the feeder tour for the main European tour, paints a very different picture. With the highest ranking Irish player Colm Moriarty finishing the season at 123 on the Challenge Tour ranking and only the top 20 gaining their main tour cards.
What’s going wrong, does Ireland not have the talent coming through the system? Evidence would tell us the talent is there, for example Paul Cutler was the leading light for the 2011 Walker Cup success and only this year 2012 Alan Dunbar winning the Amateur Championship. The GUI do a fantastic job taking these young men to the elite amateur standard but the problem arises when they turn professional they rely on a few invites to gain their tour card or else it’s in the mix with the rest. Like all sports to be successful hard work and talent is essential but in golf you also need the opportunities to play.
Galgorm Castle’s General Manager Gary Henry explains “a Challenge Tour event in Ireland will create the opportunity for these budding stars to play in the Irish event but also to receive invites to play in other Challenge Tour events on the international schedule. This feeds the aspiring touring Professionals in to the system, and gives them a step up on the ladder that aforementioned Professionals Michael Hoey, Peter Lawrie and Damian McGrane enjoyed. The Challenge Tour rewards performance with a top 10 finish gaining entry into the next event. The young Irish professional golfers are currently crying out for an Irish event”.
Galgorm Castle Golf Club, Ballymena is currently working with the European Tour Group, which the Challenge Tour belongs, public and private sector organisations to deliver a Challenge Tour event in 2013 and beyond.
“We are having very positive talks with Alain de Soultrait, Director of Challenge Tour and his team and they are very supportive of our initiative to bring the European Challenge Tour back to Ireland. We believe this event will be extremely beneficial to the young Irish Professionals who are currently suffering from lack of opportunities to compete at this level.
It would be a great opportunity, in line with the success of the Irish Open and the Irish performances at a World level, to ensure the aspiring stars of Irish golf use the opportunities the Challenge Tour can provide to ready themselves to be part of the future stars of the European Tour and Ryder Cup.” says Gary Henry.
The event has the full backing of Northern Ireland European Tour players and it is anticipated several players will assist in promoting the event, and possibly some might play.
The Challenge Tour event will not only assist with sport and player development but will also be a major international sporting event and continue to put Northern Ireland in the global shop window. The event will receive international media coverage and TV coverage to a global audience. The Tour’s website europeantour.com is the second most visited golf website in the world. The event will showcase one of the many excellent parkland courses Ireland has to offer.
Gary Henry is passionate that we all need to work together in delivering this event stating “Golf Tourism is an important part of the Irish economy and very much a developing area for Northern Ireland Tourism. This event will help promote Northern Ireland and the Ballymena area in particular building on the great success of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush”.
“The Irish people love their golf and many spectators are expected to attend the event over the week. The household names and the international field of Europe’s up and coming stars will create a great buzz for Irish golf and the local economy. Not only this, but the event will provide the backing for the next generation of Irish professionals aspiring to be one of the Nations next great players, and that the Irish Open can continue on its successful path with a strong home interest”.