Northern Ireland Open Challenge confirmed
 Ballymena's Dermot McElroy will get several Challenge Tour starts if he decides to turn professional later this year. Picture © Getty Images

Ballymena's Dermot McElroy will get several Challenge Tour starts if he decides to turn professional later this year. Picture © Getty Images

The European Challenge Tour has announced its 2014 schedule featuring 25 events in 20 countries with the €170,000 Northern Ireland Open Challenge set for Galgorm Castle from August 28-31.

While the schedule sent out by the Challenge Tour features another four dates with TBC (To Be Confirmed) next to them, the second tier circuit remains vibrant in difficult economic times for continental Europe.

The top 15 in the Challenge Tour Rankings following the the Final Swing - a four-week adventure beginning with the inaugural Shankai China Classic and ending with the €350,000 Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final at Al Badia Golf Club - will earn European Tour membership for 2015.

The race begins with the historic Barclays Kenya Open in Nairobi from March 6-9, an event which has been in existence since 1967, before touching down on European soil for the first time for the Challenge de Catalunya from April 24-27 at a venue that has yet to be confirmed.

The 2014 season will also be a landmark year for the Kazakhstan Open, which celebrates its tenth anniversary when it returns to Almaty from September 18-21.

Ireland's Stephen Browne won the inaugural event in 2005 when the prize fund was €250,000. This year it has been increased by €50,000 to €450,000. 

Reflecting on 2013, Alain de Soultrait, Director of the Challenge Tour, said: “The Challenge Tour had much to celebrate last year with our former number one player Henrik Stenson enjoying remarkable success on both sides of the Atlantic; while another of our alumni, Justin Rose, claimed his first Major title at the US Open Championship.

“New tournaments such as those in Northern Ireland, Ukraine, Oman and China also raised the bar for the Challenge Tour in terms of facilities, organisation and ambition."

Looking ahead to this season, de Soultrait said: “I believe the 2014 schedule reflects the growing stature of the Challenge Tour as the best place for talented young players to begin their professional careers and learn their trade en route to the top of the world game.

“Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein both chose to begin their professional careers in Europe and on the Challenge Tour in recent years before going on to do great things, and we believe many more will follow. It is certainly exciting times for the Challenge Tour.

“We are delighted to visit Slovakia for the first time this year and we must thank Mr Petr Dedek for his continued support for the Challenge Tour in hosting two events on our 2014 schedule, while we are very happy to see his ambition also being realised on The European Tour this year with the inaugural D+D Real Czech Masters.

“We thoroughly look forward to returning to Turkey to support the country’s growing ambitions in the game of golf, while we are delighted to add another Chinese event to the list after the success of The Foshan Open last year.

“Our Grand Final at Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai proved a hugely popular event with players, staff and fans last year and we look forward to another exciting climax as the four-tournament Final Swing becomes an integral part of our season.

“Of course, the national federations and our long-term partners have always been the backbone to the Challenge Tour schedule, so we thank them for their ongoing support and we look forward to continuing our mutual success in 2014.”

Challenge Tour Schedule 2014

March 06 – 09 The Barclays Kenya Open, Karen CC, Nairobi, Kenya €200,000

April 03 – 06 TBC

April 24 – 27 Challenge de Catalunya, TBC €160,000 

May 01 – 04 Italy, TBC   

May 08 – 11 Madeira Island Open,  Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra, Madeira, Portugal  €600,000  

May 15 – 18 Turkish Airlines Challenge National GC, Belek, Antalya, Turkey €175,000 

May 22 – 25 Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda, Golfclub Schloss Finkenstein, Austria €160,000  

May 29 – 01 June  D+D Real Czech Challenge Open Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora, Czech Republic €165,000  

June 05 – 08 Fred Olsen Challenge de España Tecina Golf, La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain €160,000  

June 12 – 15 Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open  Aa St Omer GC, Lumbres, France  €200,000 

June 19 – 22 Belgian Challenge Open Cleydael G&CC, Aartselaar, Belgium €160,000  

June 26 – 29 Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels & Resorts Macdonald Spey Valley GC, Aviemore, Scotland €250,000 

July 03 – 06 Aegean Airlines Challenge Tour by Hartl Resort Hartl Resort, Bad Griesbach, Germany €170,000  

July 10 – 13 D+D Real Slovakia Challenge Open Penati Golf Resort, Senica, Slovakia   €160,000 

July 17 – 20 Swiss Challenge Golf Sempachersee, Lucerne, Switzerland  €160,000 

July 24 – 27 Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge Golf PGA France du Vaudreuil, Le Vaudreuil, France  €180,000 

July 31 – 03 August TBC

August 07 – 10 Norwegian Challenge Miklagard GC, Kløfta, Norway €175,000  

August 14 – 17 Finnish Challenge Kytäjä Golf, Hyvinkää, Finland €170,000  

August 20 – 23 (Wed-Sat) Rolex Trophy  Golf Club de Genève, Genève, Switzerland  €228,000

August 28 – 31  Northern Ireland Open Challenge, Galgorm Castle GC & Estates, Ballymena, €170,000

Sept 04 – 07 Open Côtes d'Armor Bretagne Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André, Pléneuf, France  €180,000 

Sept 11 – 14 Kharkov Superior Cup  Superior Golf & Spa Resort, Kharkov, Ukraine €250,000  

Sept 18 – 21  Kazakhstan Open  Almaty, Kazakhstan €450,000  

Oct 02 – 05 TBC   

Oct 09 – 12 France TBC

Oct 16 – 19 Shankai China Classic TBC $350,000 

Oct 23 – 26 The Foshan Open Foshan GC, Shishan Town, Nanhai District Foshan City, China $350,000 

Oct 30 – 02 November National Bank of Oman Golf Classic Almouj Golf, The Wave, Muscat, Oman $330,000 

Nov 06 – 09 Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final hosted by Al Badia Golf Club, UAE €350,000