The call for the 54 - 16 format golf in the Irish amateur game might be struggling to attract devotees just now but that may change slowly after the European Challenge Tour announced an innovative, nine-hole matchplay format as one of two new events for 2017.
Irish golf will again provide two events on the new, 26-event European Challenge Tour schedule, which includes the return of a matchplay competition for the first time in 18 years.
One of two new events is the “Match Play 9”, which will feature a 36-hole stroke play tournament in Spain followed by a series of nine-hole match play battles over the weekend.
This is in line with amateur federations offering 54 holes of strokeplay with the top 16 going on to compete in matchplay. The 54-16 format offers organisers the chance to attract more players keen to play three rounds of medal play while at the same time, retaining traditional matchplay formats.
Whether the South or West of Ireland Championships consider such a move remains to be seen but it's clear from professional golf that innovation is welcome at a time when the game is struggling to attract new blood.
Europe’s top developmental tour will visit Ireland twice in 2017 with the NI Open set for Galgorm Castle in Ballymena from August 10 - 13 and the €180,000 Volopa Irish Challenge returning to Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa & Golf Resort in County Carlow from September 14 - 17
The Challenge Tour will also join forces with the European Tour in May with the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort now a dual-ranking event.
The 2017 Road to Oman will comprise of 26 tournaments in 20 different countries, with all players chasing a spot in the top 15 of the Road to Oman Rankings and graduation to the European Tour.
All competitors will once again be targeting a place at the season-ending NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, where last year Bernd Ritthammer topped the 46-man field to claim his third victory of the season and finish 2016 in 126th place in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Alain de Soultrait, Challenge Tour Director, said: “Following the addition of several new events, we have a great schedule in front of us and can look forward to another gripping season.
“In keeping with our motto of ‘where heroes are made’ the Challenge Tour continues to bring through the brightest young talents in the game, while also growing our sport across the world.
“In just ten months Jordan Smith has gone from being a Challenge Tour rookie, to topping the Road to Oman Rankings, to playing alongside four - time Major champion Rory McIlroy and challenging for a European Tour title, and is now one of the top 100 players in the world.
“He is proving to be one of our many success stories, reinforcing the view that the Challenge Tour is the best breeding ground for young players, and helps mould them into future stars.
“We must extend special thanks to our partners, promoters, sponsors and the national federations. Without their continued support there would simply be no Challenge Tour, so we must thank them for helping us build, maintain and grow our tour.
“Finally, we wish all our Members the best of luck and hope our fans enjoy what is set to be another fantastic season.”
The 2017 Road to Oman will start with the Barclays Kenya Open – the Challenge Tour’s 25th visit to Nairobi for the second - oldest event on its schedule – before returning to Antalya for the Turkish Airlines Challenge in April.
The first Open de Portugal for seven years starts a mouth - watering May, with Morgado Golf and Country Club hosting the competition for the first time.
All attention then turns to Spain, where the new match play format makes its Challenge Tour debut.
The sixth staging of the D+D REAL Czech Challenge closes the month, before the European summer arrives in June and the Challenge Tour visits Switzerland, Belgium, France and Denmark – where Royal Oak Golf Club will play host for the first time.
After the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels & Resorts starts a busy July, the inaugural Prague Golf Challenge will become the second Czech tournament of the year, before trips to Italy, France and Sweden.
The start of August sees the second Vierumäki Finnish Challenge, the fifth staging of the NI Open and the 29th edition of the Rolex Trophy – the Challenge Tour’s oldest event.
The third French event of the season, the Cordon Golf Open, kicks off September, before the Road to Oman reaches England for the Bridgestone Challenge.
Mount Wolseley will host the Volopa Irish Challenge for a third time, the lucrative Kazakhstan Open returns to Nurtau Golf Club the following week, leaving the Challenge de España to close out September.
October includes a fortnight in China with the return of the Hainan Open and Foshan Open, before an equally exciting two weeks in the Middle East in Ras Al Khaimah and Oman finishes the season in November.
European Challenge Tour Schedule 2017
Date — Event — Venue — Prize fund
23–26 Barclays Kenya Open, Muthaiga GC, Nairobi, Kenya €220,000
20 - 23 Turkish Airlines Challenge, Gloria GC, Old Course, Belek - Antalya, Turkey, €200,000
4 - 7 TBC
11 - 14 Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort, Morgado G&CC, Portimao, Algarve, Portugal. €500,000 #
18 - 21 Match Play 9, Spain, TBC
25 - 28 D+D REAL Czech Challenge, Golf & Spa Kunětická Hora, Dřiteč, Czech Republic, €180,000
1 - 4 Swiss Challenge presented by Association Suisse de Golf, Golf Sempachersee, Lucerne, Switzerland, €170,000
8 - 11 KPMG Trophy, Royal Waterloo GC, Lasne, Belgium, €170,000
15 - 18 Najeti Open, Aa Saint - Omer GC, Lumbres, France, €200,000
22 - 25 Made in Denmark Challenge – Presented by Ejner Hessel, Royal Oak GC, Vejen/Kolding, Denmark, €180,000
29 - Jul 2 SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge hosted by Macdonald Hotels & Resorts, Macdonald Spey Valley GC, Aviemore, Scotland, €250,000
06–09 Prague Golf Challenge, Prague City Golf, Prague, Czech Republic, €180,000
13 - 16 Italian Challenge, TBC, €300,000
20 - 23 Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, Golf PGA France du Vaudreuil, Le Vaudreuil, France, €210,000
27 - 30 Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson, Katrineholms GK, Katrineholm, Sweden, €200,000
3 - 6 Vierumäki Finnish Challenge, Vierumäki Resort, Vierumäki, Finland, €180,000
10 - 13 NI Open, Galgorm Castle, Ballymena, Northern Ireland, TBC
17 - 20 TBC, TBC, TBC
23 - 26 (Wed - Sat) Rolex Trophy, Golf Club de Genève, Genève, Switzerland,€250,000
Aug 31 - 3 Cordon Golf Open, Golf Blue Green de Pléneuf Val André, Pléneuf, France,€200,000
7 - 10 Bridgestone Challenge, TBC, €180,000
14 - 17 Volopa Irish Challenge, Mount Wolseley Hotel Spa & Golf Resort, County Carlow, €180,000
21 - 24 Kazakhstan Open, Nurtau GC, Almaty, Kazakhstan, €450,000
28 - Oct 01 Challenge de España, TBC, TBC
12 - 15 Hainan Open, Sanya Luhuitou GC, Donghai Bay, Sanya, Hainan Island, China, $350,000
19 - 22 The Foshan Open, Foshan GC, Shishan Town, Nanhai District Foshan City, Guangzhou, China, $500,000
25 - 28 (Wed - Sat) Ras Al Khaimah, 2017 Golf Challenge, Al Hamra GC, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, $350,000
1 - 4 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, Al Mouj Golf, Muscat, Oman, €400,000
# Dual Ranking event.