Major winners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are set to throw their weight behind what appears to be a successful bid to bring the Challenge Tour to Northern Ireland next season.
The Ulster pair will use Twitter and Facebook to drum up support for a €170,000 (£140,000) event at Galgorm Castle from August 29 to September 1 while three-time European Tour winner Michael Hoey has promised to tee it up at the Ballymena venue.
“Rory and Graeme have committed to promoting the event from a distance because they are going to be playing the FedEx Cup that week,” said Gary Henry, General Manager at Galgorm Castle.
“They are fully behind Ireland having a Challenge Tour event because it is vitally important for creating player development opportunities for Irish professionals.
“Guys like Rory, Graeme and Shane Lowry leapfrogged the Challenge Tour but they are the exception.
“Most players have to grind it out and there is the natural progression through the Challenge Tour as Michael Hoey showed before he became established.
“Michael has committed to playing in the event so we are hoping to get a few more big names that will attract the crowds.”
Ireland staged a succession of Challenge Tour events in Killarney (two), Glasson (two) and Moyvalley (one) from 2005 to 2009 before backing from the Ryder Cup fund, Fáilte Ireland and the Irish Sports Council ran out and sponsors dried up.
Northern Ireland hosted the Benmore Developments Northern Ireland Masters at Clandeboye in 2003, when Darren Clarke lifted the title.
Prior to that Galway Bay (1999), Slieve Russell (2000-1) and Ballyliffin (2002) hosted a dual badge event under a variety of titles - Buzzgolf.com North West of Ireland Open (2000), West of Ireland Golf Classic (1999) and the North West of Ireland Open (2001-2).
Galgorm Castle, which has successfully hosted an event on the PGA Europro Tour for the past three seasons, will be relying on a public-private partnership to raise a proposed budget of €500,000 (£400,000).
Talks are on-going with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Sport NI but it remains to be seen if Fáilte Ireland will also get involved given its commitment to the Irish Open at Carton House.
Hosting a Challenge Tour event is regarded as crucial for young Irish players looking for playing opportunities on the European Tour’s second tier circuit as it leads to multiple invitations to other Challenge Tour events.
No fewer than 15 Irish players will tee it up at Stage Two of the European Tour Qualifying School in Spain today (Wed) with those who make it to the Final Stage guaranteed some playing rights on the Challenge Tour next season.
Noel Fox, David Higgins, Ruaidhri McGee and Gareth Shaw will be in action at El Saler near Valencia with Chris Devlin, Brendan McCarroll, Mark Murphy and Barrie Trainor teeing it up at Las Colinas in Alicante.
Cian Curley, Peter O’Keeffe and Tim Rice will battle it out at El Valle in Murcia while in Tarragona, British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar joins former Walker Cup players Jonny Caldwell and Niall Kearney and Ballinasloe club professional Mark Staunton at Lumine Golf and Beach Club.
Around 20 players from each venue will advance to the Final Stage at PGA Catalunya Resort in Girona from November 24-29 where the top 25 and ties after six rounds will earn European Tour cards.