Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and Paul McGinley have welcomed the return of the European Challenge Tour to the Republic of Ireland ahead of next week’s Volopa Irish Challenge hosted by Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort.
Many of Ireland’s future golf superstars will travel to the Christy O’Connor Jnr-designed course in Carlow in search of a career-changing breakthrough in the professional game when Europe’s top developmental tour returns to the Republic for the first time since 2009.
The Challenge Tour – which has produced players including Thomas Bjørn, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson– provides a crucial stepping stone between the amateur game and the highest echelon of the professional game, with the top 15 players in the Road to Oman Rankings graduating to The European Tour at the end of the season.
Four players in particular – Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin – will be hoping to make an immediate impression in the paid ranks following their Walker Cup success last month.
Supported by Volopa, Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa and Golf Resort, the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) and the Irish Sports Council, the event comes at a perfect time for Irish golf as a plethora of talented young up and coming players begin to make their mark on the world game.
It is a positive step forward for Irish sport which has been welcomed by some of the country’s most famous golfers.
Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington said: “The standard and depth of golfing talent in this country is improving all the time and the return of the Challenge Tour to Ireland can only help encourage this further.
“The Challenge Tour has a history of giving future superstars a solid grounding in the professional game and it is exciting to think of young Irish players competing there and then hopefully graduating to The European Tour.
“It’s a great time for Irish golf right now and hopefully we’ll find another Irish Major winner in the near future – it may even be one of the guys in the field next week.
“Irish golf fans are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate and I’m sure they will all enjoy the Volopa Irish Challenge.”
Shane Lowry, recent winner of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, said: “I’m delighted to see the Challenge Tour return to Irish soil. We’ve got so much golfing talent in this country, and an association with the Challenge Tour is the perfect way to help our young players to develop and also to showcase the game in Ireland.
“Winning the Irish Open so early in my career gave me a huge break into the professional game, but for most young Irish players beginning their pro-careers, the Challenge Tour is the stepping stone needed to join The European Tour.
“With so many talented home-grown players coming through the amateur ranks now, this event could not have come at a better time.
“I have no doubt this week will be a great success at a Mount Wolseley course that will provide a tough challenge for all the players, but no doubt an enjoyable one.”
Paul McGinley, The 2014 Ryder Cup Captain and leader of Ireland’s Olympic golf team, said: “The Challenge Tour’s return to the Republic of Ireland is obviously great news. I have played Mount Wolseley before and I think the players will enjoy it.
“There’s a big gap now in Irish golf - the amateurs are having great success and on The European Tour we’re having great success but there’s a gap right in the middle, with guys who are between amateur and professional. This tournament fits the bill for so many of them, particularly the guys who have just played Walker Cup.
“Lots of Ryder Cup players have come through the Challenge Tour, the likes of Thomas (Bjørn), Jamie Donaldson and Martin (Kaymer). It’s a great breeding ground and you just have to look at European Tour leaderboards every week, you’ll always see former Challenge Tour players up there.
“I think people going down to watch it will be surprised at how good the standard is. It’s not that far below The European Tour and there’s a lot of good golf to be enjoyed for those going along to watch.”