Galgorm Castle gears up for N Ireland EuroPro Open

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Zane Scotland
Zane Scotland qualified for the 1999 Open Championship as a 16-year-old

Jonathan Caldwell and Zane Scotland will be among the former European Tour players in action in this week's Northern Ireland PGA EuroPro Open at Galgorm Castle.

Caldwell earned a full European Tour card for 2009 and is now a regular on the second-tier Challenge Tour.

As a 16-year-old, Scotland became the youngest Englishman ever to qualify for the Open Championship in 1999.

Scotland played in the Open as recently as last year when he made the cut.

The Englishman earned his European Tour card for 2008 after finishing in the top 120 in the 2007 Order of Merit despite having limited playing opportunities.

His 2007 campaign was highlighted by a fourth place in the British Masters and two other top-12 finishes.

But his career has also suffered setbacks - notably a neck injury caused by a car accident in 2003 which affected his career for some time.

Caldwell partnered McIlroy in foursomes matches at the 2007 Walker Cup at Royal County Down.

The former University of South Alabama student showed hints of potential on the main European Tour in 2009 but failed to hold on to his card and he has been in action on the Challenge circuit over the last two seasons.

Others players who hope to use the Galgorm event as a springboard on to better things include Zack Saltman - one of three well-known golfing brothers - plus former British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney and his North West club-mate Michael McGeady.

McElhinney missed the cut in last year's inaugural EuroPro event at Galgorm and will be hoping for much better this week when a first prize of £10,000 will be up for grabs.

The field will also include Moyola Park amateurs Luke Lennox, Chris Selfridge and Paul O'Kane.

Last year's dry May and June weather led to firm and bouncy conditions at the Ballymena venue but Galgorm Castle general manager Gary Henry says the players will be faced with a very different golf course 12 months on.

"The course is shaping up well but with the recent weather it is playing quite long and the rough is lush and thick," says Gary.

"We've also lengthened the par-three seventh by 20 yards and the par-five 10th has an extra 60 yards which really brings the lake into play off the drive.

"If you want to have a chance of getting on in two you are going to have to take on the lake and carry the ball about 300 yards on the fly.

"No doubt some of the young guys will be quite capable of that so that should be quite exciting to watch.

"We also have a new bunker near the front of the 18th green which will make things interesting if players get right up under the face. They could even struggle to make par if they end up in there."

Jonathan Caldwell (right) with Rory McIlroy
Jonathan Caldwell (right) partnered Rory McIlroy in the 2007 Walker Cup

Galgorm members David Kernohan and Liam Reilly will be hoping to use their local knowledge to the maximum in this week's event.

Both have qualified to play in a number of events on this season's EuroPro circuit although this will be their first outing of the campaign.

"They are really starting now and hoping to go well here and then move on to next week's EuroPro event at Fota Island in Cork," added Henry.

Entry to this year's event for spectators is free and Henry is hopeful that the numbers will exceed the 2,000 plus that attended on the final day 12 months ago.

"Junior Golf Ireland will also be here the whole week providing coaching for the juniors so hopefully people will bring the kids along too

"We have a much bigger tented village this year but will also be laying on free shuttle buses to Ballymena for spectators who maybe fancy taking a break to do some shopping during the day.

"Tourism Minister Arlene Foster will be attended the George Best Invitational gala dinner on Tuesday night and will also be back here to present the overall prizes on Friday afternoon," concluded the Galgorm Castle manager.

The 54-hole Galgorm event gets underway on Wednesday - a day after the George Best Invitational Pro-am which has become a popular annual fixture at the Ballymena club.

Legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings, who used to room with George Best during their Northern Ireland days, will be guest of honour at Tuesday's pro-am.