NI Open hosts eye future co-sanctioned status for tournament

By John HaugheyBBC Sport NI
Joakim Lagergren clinched a one-stroke victory in last year's Galgorm Castle event
Swede Joakim Lagergren was a popular winner at last year's Northern Ireland Open

A successful Northern Ireland Open this week will give further impetus to the host club Galgorm Castle's ambition of making the tournament a co-sanctioned event on the European Tour.

Galgorm Castle's managing director Gary Henry believes the tournament is set to "move up a level next year".

Henry says it's too early to be definitive about what precisely that will mean.

However, there can be little doubt that the ultimate aim is to achieve co-sanctioned status which would mean that the Galgorm tournament would count towards the main European Tour's Race to Dubai rankings as well as the Challenge Tour.

For that to happen, the current £120,000 prize fund will have to be more than trebled as the minimum purse for co-sanctioned tour events is £420,000

It may be a stretch for that to be achieved in 2016 but that is the ultimate ambition of the Ballymena club who want their event to have the kind of dual tour status which last week's re-arranged Madeira Islands Open enjoys.

"What we can say at this stage is that the tournament is going to go up another level next year," Henry told BBC Sport.

"It could be still the Challenge Tour with a greater prize fund or a co-sanctioned event which is the ultimate target.

Javier Ballesteros
Javier Ballesteros will compete in this week's Northern Ireland Open

"As far as the (European) Tour are concerned, the whole infrastructure and course is good enough to stage a co-sanctioned event.

"And while we are living in challenging times economically, at the moment we have a great bond with our partners and sponsors and everybody involved has the aspiration to help us keep moving the event forward."

Galgorm bosses are careful to emphasise that their event will be "absolutely no threat or rival" to an Irish Open which has been rejuvenated in recent years with its successful staging as venues on both sides of the border such as Royal Portrush, Fota Island and Royal County Down.

Once again, this year's entry will have a host of regular European Tour winners including Rhys Davies, Nick Dougherty, Kenneth Ferrie, Philip Price, Damien McGrane, Peter Lawrie and Simon Thornton.

Five-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey will also again be undertaking the tournament's ambassador role and task one this week will be to ensure that he survives the cut after exiting early in 2013 and 2014.

A touch of glamour will be provided by the addition to the field of Javier Ballesteros, the son of the late and legendary Seve.

Ballesteros, 24, failed to make the match play stages by some distance at last year's British Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush but the first-year pro has already shown some form on the Challenge Tour this season with him finishing in the top 20 in the Najeti Open in France six weeks ago.

"He was very keen to play and we know that people who were big fans and actually loved his father will come along through the gate to see him," adds Gary Henry.