The rivalry between golfers from Northern Ireland and the Republic has always been friendly but there will be more than bragging rights at stake when Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke take on Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry in the ‘Lough Erne Challenge’ presented by Lakelands and Inland Waterways.
Set to take place on July 21 - the Wednesday following the Open at St Andrews - the 18 hole fourball match is being heralded as the first showdown between professional golf teams from both sides of the border.
The attendance will be “strictly” limited to 5,000 after more than 6,000 people thronged last year’s match, where McIlroy shot a 68 to beat Harrington by two shots. This time McIlroy says it’s all about national pride! With no mention of prize money in the press release, could they really be playing for free?
The event will be recorded by European Tour Productions for transmission in more than 40 countries worldwide with a cumulative reach in excess of 300 million homes.
According to the organisers, the 2009 edition was broadcast in 35 countries and gained the fifth highest audience of any golf event broadcast last year by Sky Sports.
McIlroy said: “Last year was great and Lough Erne is a second home to me so the fact that I will be playing alongside Darren on behalf of Northern Ireland makes it all the more exciting.
“Jim Treacy and the team at Lough Erne have been a great support and The Faldo Course at Lough Erne Resort is a truly spectacular championship course. Rest assured, there will be more than bragging rights at stake – there’ll be a lot of national pride on the line and I hope the home fans come out and help Darren and me on the day!”
Harrington added: “Irish golf is enjoying a phenomenal run of success and teaming up with Shane as he prepares to defend his Irish Open title will be fantastic.”
Clarke has returned to live in Ulster and he’s keen to put on a show for his southern visitors.
“Playing professional golf in your own country is special and to represent Northern Ireland will be unique,” Clarke said. “I am looking forward to being on the first tee at Lough Erne with Rory and showing Padraig and Shane some Northern Irish hospitality!
“Jim Treacy and Nick Faldo have done a great job in a special location and I hope we can deliver something special to the fans that support us on July 21st.”
Lowry said: “A lot of us on Tour heard about last year’s event and saw it on TV. To be invited to play this year’s ‘Lough Erne Challenge’ as part of a Republic of Ireland team alongside Padraig was exciting.
“Rory and Darren are sure to have the bulk of the support but we’ll be giving it everything to win at Lough Erne. It’s great for Irish golf fans to be able to attend a unique event where they will get so close to the action and I hope that people will travel from the Republic to what I believe is a really beautiful place and give myself and Padraig some vocal support in July.”