World Invitational: Men's and women's tournaments at ground-breaking NI event

Charley Hull will compete for Europe in next month's Solheim Cup at Gleneagles
Charley Hull is the leading playing in the women's field at Galgorm Castle and Massereene

A genuine first for tournament golf in Europe takes place at the World Invitational starting in Northern Ireland on Thursday as it encompasses separate men's and women's events.

English star Charley Hull is in a women's field which includes European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew.

The men's event retains the European Challenge Tour status that predecessor the Northern Ireland Open had.

European Tour winners in the men's field include Australia's Richard Green.

Green's partner Norwegian star Marianne Skarpnord is in the women's field while the family element to a week, which has equal £207,000 ($250,000) prize funds for both sexes, includes the participation of last year's Northern Ireland Open runner-up, Scotland's Scott Henry and his wife Kylie.

Skarpnord, who narrowly missed out on Solheim Cup selection on Monday, and Green have both previously competed and emerged victorious at the Vic Open in his native Australia, which has the same format as the new Northern Irish event.

"The model worked in Australia and I think it can work here in Northern Ireland," said 48-year-old left-hander Green, whose last European Tour win came at the 2010 Portugal Masters.

The women's entry also includes talented German duo Olivia Cowan and Laura Fuenfstueck, Sweden's former Solheim Cup player Linda Wessberg plus home hopes Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire.

Rio Olympian Maguire, the former world number one amateur, is joined in the field by her twin sister Lisa who is also being tipped for big things in the pro ranks despite not making the same impact to date.

Leona has earned two wins on the second-tier Symetra Tour in the USA this year and is on course to earn her full LPGA playing privileges for 2020.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Female golfers deserve equal pay - Stephanie Meadow

"It's great to showcase such a unique week, a first for Europe," said Maguire of this week's event which sees action at Massereene in addition to previous Northern Ireland Open venue Galgorm Castle.

Pop star Niall Horan, through his Modest Golf management company which guides the careers of a number of top young players, is maintaining the involvement that he had with Northern Ireland Open and was instrumental in the decision to transform the tournament in to a men's and women's event.

"The only way to grow the game is through women's golf," Horan told BBC Sport Northern Ireland.

"Once girls are into it, everyone is into it."

Hill's chance for instant European Tour promotion

Scotland's Calum Hill won the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle last year
Scotland's Calum Hill will gain immediate promotion to the European Tour if he wins in Northern Ireland this week

Other European Tour winners joining Green in the men's field include French duo Gregory Bourdy and Gary Stal, England's Ross McGowan and home hope Michael Hoey.

Calum Hill will be aiming for a repeat Galgorm triumph on Sunday after benefiting from compatriot Henry's late collapse last year to win the Northern Ireland Open.

Hill also has the incentive this week of knowing that victory will ensure immediate progression to the European Tour under the three wins in a season rule after his Made in Denmark Challenge triumph last Saturday added to his success in Austria last month.

The event's title sponsor ISPS Handa have been at the forefront of attempts to make golf a truly inclusive sport and to that end, one of the world's leading disabled players, Dundalk man Brendan Lawlor is in this week's field.

Lawlor, 22, was born with a bone growth disorder which leads to shorter limbs, but the four foot 11 inch County Louth man plays top level amateur golf in Ireland in addition to having a long-term ambition of representing his country at future Paralympics.

The amateur entry, meanwhile, includes Northern Ireland talent Tom McKibbin.

Top Stories