Now that the dust has settled on a dramatic week at the ISPS Handa World Invitational Men | Women, presented by Modest! Golf, it’s the ideal time to look ahead and see what’s in store for this innovative event. But first, a chance to reflect on what unfolded at Galgorm Spa & Golf Resort and Massereene Golf Club.
The World Invitational adopted a completely new format. Women were introduced to a tournament formerly known as the NI Open, already an established event on the European Challenge Tour, which set all attendance records on the tour’s international schedule.
Discussions had opened and the prospect of doing something different, something innovative and lasting, were now firmly on the table. With an international sponsor like ISPS Handa, whose ethos of the ‘Power of Sport’ to provide equality and opportunity, meant a complete change of direction was the new play.
The step change had begun. At the start of May there was no guarantee of tournament golf at Galgorm this year. Had there been a break in the decade-long run of the tour coming to Ballymena, it would have been the ideal interlude with The Open returning to Portrush after 68 years.
However, by the end of May, the ISPS Handa World Invitational was officially announced at a hotel in Park Lane in London where Dr Handa himself made a rare public appearance alongside European Tour boss Keith Pelley, Modest! Golf’s Niall Horan and ISPS Handa player Charley Hull.
In three whirlwind months, organisers were ready to deliver a first of its kind event in Europe where men and women would compete for the same prize money and the same venues at the same time.
The $500,000 event was perfectly scripted with local favourite Stephanie Meadow returning home from the States to secure her second professional win and first on home soil. That the 27-year-old from Jordanstown fended off the challenge of Hull, the highest ranked player in the field, was all the more satisfying.
In the men’s draw big Jack Senior came through another playoff (his third sudden death success) to land the new trophy and cheque for $40,000. He denied his compatriot and house mate Matthew Baldwin in the process before crediting his girlfriend and caddie for the week, Beth.
“She’s good golfer in her own right. She gives me a kick up the arse when I need it, and an arm around the shoulder when I need it too,” said the 31-year-old.
As for Meadow, her beaming smile lit up the crowds. “To win like this at home is huge. I couldn’t be prouder. It was very, very special, especially with the crowd behind me. Great feeling and something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before,” said Meadow.
Bridgestone continued their support of the event by recognising the leading Irish players under 30. For the second year Cormac Sharvin received the men’s cheque while Leona Maguire took the women’s cheque for her tied sixth finish.
There were also amateur prizes and Castlewarden’s Lauren Walsh had a sensational week to finish tied eighth on four-under, the day before she left to begin a scholarship at Wake Forest University in the States. South African amateur Jayden Trey Schaper won the men’s amateur trophy which was presented by disabled champion golfer Brendan Lawlor. The GolfNow Junior Open was also a great success for all the participating Junior golfers.
Lawlor himself was invited to play by Modest! Golf and became the first disability golfer to compete alongside the professionals. The 2019 Scottish champion and world number three gave a good account of himself with rounds of 78, 74, even though the affable Dundalk player was expecting more from himself.
It was a week for firsts as Irish Blind Golf representatives took on a Beat the Pro challenge during the live tournament. Ed Maguire and Patrick Morgan Junior both hit the green at the par three seventh after assistance from their guides. Special memories for all involved.
So much packed into a week of tournament golf. And despite the elements throwing torrential downpours and delays, full credit to course managers Rodney McKay (Galgorm) and Mark Cassidy (Massereene) and their teams for ensuring both courses remained playable. Credit also to the European Tour’s Tournament Director Andrew Snoddy for managing those head-wrecking draw conundrums for the 300-player, two venue field and for also completing play before darkness.
The wheels are already in motion for next year and the ISPS Handa World Invitational is on course to continue an escalating upward curve. Discussions are live as to where it will be placed on the international schedule.
“The plan for 2020 will see a significant jump in prize money and the tournament will have a new global reach based on the plans that are being worked on just now,” explained Gary Henry, Managing Director of Galgorm Castle and the Event Director.
Media coverage this year expanded tenfold. New and significant interest came from Asia and North America, adding to the already established European market.
As the latest offering at Galgorm packs up for another year, the needle has moved once more. What was previously a Northern Ireland event, the new ISPS Handa World Invitational is now a global event that happens to be in Northern Ireland.