Northern Ireland Open: Galgorm Castle event to have final-day 'sixes' format

Last year's Northern Ireland Open winner Ryan Fox plays his final approach shot to the 18th green at Galgorm Castle
The Northern Ireland Open has broken European Challenge Tour spectator records in recent years

This year's Northern Ireland Open will have a new final-day format which will see the top 24 players involved in a series of six-hole matches.

The innovation in the Galgorm Castle event is a tweaking of the format used at the inaugural World Super 6 European Tour event in Australia in February.

On that occasion, the final-day knockout games were played over six holes of match play.

Instead, the last-day games at Galgorm will be six-hole stroke play matches.

'Stadium golf atmosphere'

This will ensure that all the matches on the concluding Sunday reach the 18th green which, organisers hope, will contribute to a stadium golf atmosphere as the tournament concludes.

The opening three rounds of the European Challenge Tour event at the Ballymena venue will be played in the normal stroke play fashion, including the usual 36-hole cut as the top 60 and ties progress.

However, come Saturday evening it will be all change in the tournament as only the top 24 make the second cut to the last day.

A play-off will almost certainly be needed on the Saturday evening to confirm the leading 24.

The top eight at that stage will earn a bye from the opening series of six-holes matches on Sunday as the tournament continues on with five rounds of medal match play over the abbreviated rounds.

Niall Horan (centre) at last year's Northern Ireland Open
Pop star Niall Horan's Golf Management company are again backing the Northern Ireland Open

Horan backing NI Open again

This year's tournament will again be presented by the golf management company owned by pop star Niall Horan and he has given his strong backing to the new format.

"We are excited to be coming back to the NI Open and introducing a brand new format," said the One Direction star.

"Shootout Sunday will be a great concept, both for the players and spectators."

Tournament ambassador and Galgorm touring professional Michael Hoey believes the event will be another boost for golf in Northern Ireland following the hosting of the Irish Open at Portstewart some five weeks earlier.

"What is being devised here at Galgorm is an exciting new twist which sets it apart from anything we've ever had in Northern Ireland," said Hoey, a five-time European Tour winner, who finished eighth at Galgorm in 2016.

"We have spoken to several players about the change in format, including last year's winner Ryan Fox, and all agreed that the new format is an extremely exciting new prospect.

"The new format is certain to be more entertaining for spectators, especially with holes like the redesigned par-three seventh sure to throw up plenty of drama as crowds converge at strategic parts of the course."

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Michael Hoey will play at the Northern Ireland Open in August

European Tour Commissioner Keith Pelley has been one of the driving forces for the game's new formats.

Brett Rumford triumphed at the Super 6 event in his native Australia last month and Galgorm Castle's managing director and Northern Ireland Open tournament director Gary Henry believes Pelley will pay close attention to what goes on at the Ballymena venue.

"Keith Pelley is trying to bring innovation to events as much as possible," Henry told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.

"Particularly events where the prize money is not on the same level as big PGA Tour events in America. He believes you can bring excitement to events in using by having these kind of innovative formats and we're really excited at the prospect of introducing these changes to the Northern Ireland Open."

With no other event on in Europe on the tournament's dates of 10-13 August as the US PGA Championships takes place at Quail Hollow, Henry is confident that another strong field will assemble at Galgorm.

Ryder Cup players Oliver Wilson and Hoey have joined a long list of European Tour winners at the event in recent years.

Nick Dougherty, Johan Edfors, Rhys Davies, Ross McGowan and Philip Price have been among the other tour champions who have teed up at the Ballymena venue.

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