Paul Gallagher

The Northern Ireland Open presented by Modest! Golf is now in its 13th year and the 2022 edition gets underway from Monday July 4-6 with an exciting new Pro-am format played over three great venues.

In this revamped format, professionals will compete in a 54-hole stroke play tournament, while a two-person Pro-Am team event will run simultaneously. Amateurs will experience the pressure involved in trying to ‘make the cut’ with the top 10 Pro-Am teams progressing to Galgorm for day three, alongside the top-60 professionals.

Amateurs and local celebrities will compete alongside male and female professionals in an event styled on the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship played annually in Scotland on the DP World Tour.

The first round of the Clutch Pro Tour event will take place on the headland of Cairndhu Golf Club where Kinsale’s John Murphy won on his professional debut in 2021 to deny local favourite Dermot McElroy in second, with England’s Thalia Martin won the women’s title. The championship links at Castlerock Golf Club further along the coast will host day two before a two round cut takes place and qualifiers compete at Galgorm for the third and final round.

“We are delighted to continue our involvement in an event we have been associated with since 2016,” said Niall Horan, owner Modest! Golf. “This year’s event is an exciting new format, and we look forward to working with Castlerock as one of our new venues.

“The NI Open is an excellent pathway for male and female professionals from across Europe to qualify and secure their place in the ISPS HANDA World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf Management in August (11-14).”

The leading two male players and one female player will earn places in $3 million event tri-sanctioned by the DP World Tour, LPGA and LET, and played at Galgorm and Massereene.

McElroy has enjoyed many strong outings in the NI Open over the years and is looking forward to competing on home soil again.

“I had a good run last year when I finished runner-up to John (Murphy) at Cairndhu. The event was extremely well organised, and we had the added incentive of trying to book one of the qualifying spots into the ISPS HANDA World Invitational, which I managed to do,” said McElroy, who went on to finish tied 19th on seven-under at Galgorm and end the week as leading Irish male player.

Other players to keep an eye out for include England’s Giles Evans, who has won twice and finished second on the Clutch Pro Tour Order of Merit in 2021, plus compatriot George Bloor and New Zealand’s Kerry Mountcastle. Ireland’s Liam Grehan has a host of top 10 finishes and will look to go one better than last year when McElroy defeated him in a play-off for the second male invite to the World invitational.

In the ladies draw, look out for Billie-Jo Smith, former England football international, who now plays professional golf and has featured on the LET. Welsh international, Lea-Anne Bramwell, was the 2020 Clutch Amateur champion and is now in her rookie season as a professional.

Local sporting stars in line to compete include footballer Keith Gillespie, rugby’s Darren Cave, Paddy Wallace and Andy Ward, plus Ireland cricketers Kyle McCallan and Andrew White, not to mention the lively personality Liam Beckett.

 “The NI Open has been a great event over the years and I personally am very proud to continue my association with the tournament,” explained Beckett.

This truly homegrown event started out as an annual event at Galgorm and set all attendance records when played on the European Challenge Tour. Former winners include New Zealander Ryan Fox (2016), Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren and Daan Huizing from The Netherlands. American Tyler Koivisto produced a fairy tale win in 2020 after the schoolteacher decided to swap the classroom for the fairways.

This is the second year the NI Open will be played as a Clutch Pro Tour event, the “UK’s leading gender equal and development tour” with qualifying opportunities to the main DP World Tour and Ladies European Tour.