This week the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour join forces for the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by Modest! Golf at Galgorm Castle and Massereene from July 28 – August 1.
The landmark union heralds an exciting new chapter for the event, which has been elevated to European Tour status following a hugely successful inaugural edition on the European Challenge Tour in 2019.
With sanctioning, comes great responsibility but also monumental opportunity for a 288-player field, comprised of 144 men and 144 women who will compete for an equal split of the $3million prize purse on offer in Northern Ireland.
The event will be the culmination of a mammoth amount of work undertaken by a whole host of key industry leaders in the game and none more so than Modest! Golf whose owner, Niall Horan, cannot wait to showcase all that is great about the power of sport as the event touches down at Galgorm Castle and Massereene this week.
“It’s hugely exciting,” said Horan, a music maestro come certified golf nut from Mullingar. “We’ve obviously waited a long time to make this happen and I’m happy that we waited because now we’ve got all the tours involved – it’s huge.
“We tried and tested it in 2019 but this time it’s fully sanctioned and with sanctioning comes a lot more money to play for. In terms of our role, we are there to promote the tournament alongside ISPS Handa. ISPS and Dr. Handa have been breaking down barriers in sport for years so we’re there to help elevate that with them and thankfully we’re going back to Galgorm.
“Gary Henry [Managing Director] and all the team there have been unbelievable over the last few years. It’s an unbelievable venue so to go back there this year with the prize fund we have and with the backing of all the tours is huge for the game and huge for women’s golf.”
The tri-sanctioned ISPS Handa World Invitational will be the first of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere, following in the footsteps of the ISPS Handa Vic Open in Australia. The tournament will count towards the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and carry Team Europe Ryder Cup points, while the women’s tournament will count towards the Race to the CME Globe for women on the LPGA Tour, the Race to Costa del Sol on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and Solheim Cup points for both Team Europe and Team USA.
Not only does the tournament boast a sizeable prize fund but it will be broadcast live across the world, showcasing women’s golf on the same stage as the men, something that’s been a driving force behind Horan’s vision for Modest! Golf since the beginning.
“These girls are as gifted as the men and don’t generally get the plaudits they deserve,” Horan said, whose company signed LPGA star Leona Maguire to her first professional contract in 2018.
“That’s what we’re trying to showcase here. They’re so talented. They deserve all the money and the television time. For me, this is golf trying to fulfil its potential and hopefully over the years this needle will move and we’ll always be on a level playing field.”
When it comes to plugging the gender gap in golf, Horan’s impact has huge potential. The musician’s profile commands a following of some 41 million people on Twitter and 27 million on Instagram, many of whom are young girls totally invested in following Horan’s lead.
“I truly believe that if we can get more women into golf, then we can change the sport completely,” Horan said. “That can be said about any sport but especially about golf, I think.
“I’ve always said that if I can get a couple of percent of my 41 million followers into golf, it’s a game-changer. A couple of percent of a lot of people is a lot of people, and this event is a hell of a starting point. It’s live on television, the first of its kind in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a super time to be a golf fan.”
27-year old Horan was bitten by the golfing bug long before fame reached his door. Inspired by Tiger Woods growing up, and immersed in the Major exploits of a raft of Irish stars punching above their weight around the globe, Horan is a self-described golf fanatic, obsessed with the game and fully motivated to improve it, despite initially underestimating the amount of work involved in such an undertaking.
“When I came up with the idea for Modest! Golf, I didn’t realise how hard the work was going to be,” he laughed. “It’s been an amazing few years. Myself and Mark McDonnell and all the guys at Modest! Golf have been incredible getting it off the ground.
“It’s been challenging. It was hard to gain credibility at the start; trying to gain credibility with the players and within the industry itself. But a couple of decisions we made early doors where we decided we wanted to be involved with events and wanted young up-and-coming players before we wanted to take on a top-50 player really helped. The roots of the company were good.
“It somehow unfolded from there and the signing of Tyrrell Hatton 18 months ago was a huge thing. He’s a top-10 player in the world now and really boosted the other players in our stable. It’s been an exciting time.
“Obviously the events’ side of things really took off over the last few years, too. First being involved with the Challenge Tour, and then chatting to Keith Pelley [CEO] at the European Tour. He’s been a huge believer in Modest! Golf since day one and believed we can try to move the needle and grow the game.”
Listening to Horan speak, his passion for the game comes through in spades. The proud Irishman has never discriminated when it comes to golf, just as happy to tune into the ladies on the mini-tour as he would be the men at a Major. The Modest! Golf talent ranks are a testament to that, bolstered by the likes of Olivia Cowan and Angel Yin while the recruitment policy at Modest! always has one eye on the future, with the likes of South African hotshot Jayden Schaper and Aussie Blake Windred snapped up by Horan’s forward-thinking outfit.
Still, for all the star names, from Hatton, to Migliozzi, Bezuidenhout and Maguire, it was the signing of Brendan Lawlor, one of the world’s best disability golfers, that brought him arguably the most pride.
“It’s easy to say Tyrrell’s win in America [at the Arnold Palmer Invitational] was the standout moment for Modest! but genuinely one of my standout moments was announcing Brendan Lawlor,” Horan said.
“No one really knew we were working with him. We’d started to work with Brendan four or five months before that announcement, but we were working on bringing some partners on board and explaining that we could really help give Brendan a voice within his category and that all came to fruition.
“Brendan is going to host the disability tournament, so it will be the World Invitational Disability Tournament hosted by Brendan Lawlor. He can really inspire people. It’s incredible, he gets so many messages on social media from people who have found it hard to feel accepted within the game for whatever reason.
“For us, the ladies’ category and the disability golf are two of the biggest growth areas, so if we can help elevate that and put some people who we represent on a bigger platform to talk about that more, then we feel that’s something we want to do.
“Brendan has taught us so much more than we’ve taught him. His get-up-and-go attitude and the fact he just doesn’t see that he has a disability is so inspiring.”
There’s clear evidence that the work of Modest! Golf is already having the impact Horan and co envisaged when first dipping their toes in the game, not least, when 40,000 people streamed through the gates for the Challenge Tour’s NI Open at Galgorm Castle in 2017, an unheard of attendance when it came to Europe’s secondary tour.
“Galgorm is a special little spot,” Horan admits. “It will be great to get back to the area. We get very well looked after there, feel very comfortable. But it will also be great to get home. Golf on the island – when society has said golf is maybe struggling a touch, I’ve always thought that in Ireland it’s getting stronger. We saw what happened in Portrush in 2019 – the crowds were insane. One of the fastest selling Opens of all time, and at a Challenge Tour event we had 40,000 people through the gates at one point which is incredible.
Whether or not crowds are at full capacity remains to be seen but the fact that women golfers are being given a platform alongside the men to compete for equal prize money at an event being broadcast around the world can only be good for the game.
It fully supports the ISPS Handa motto of breaking down barriers and serves the Modest! mission to drive inclusivity in sport. Horan knows he’s just a cog in the wheel of a wider movement but he’s becoming a more and more crucial one when it comes to plugging the gender gap in golf, once and for all.
“I absolutely love golf,” Horan says. “I’m obsessed with it. Being Irish, golf is obviously a huge part of our culture and we’ve had so many great golfers over the years. Growing up watching Mr. Woods dominate the sport also made it very easy for me to get into golf and I just fell in love with the game straight away.
“I love the feeling I get seeing a player race up the leaderboard on the back nine on Sunday. I’ve seen some amazing moments at Major championships down the years, but more than anything, I’ve gone around the world and seen the power of my fans.
“A lot of those would be young females so there was a combined passion from me and knowing the power young ladies have and that can only lead to great things.
“I watch all sorts of golf. It’s always been an inclusive sport for me so it’s just about getting young girls to pick up a club. Giving it a go. You might hit fifty bad ones but if the 51st one is a good one, you’ll probably come back the next time and that’s what it’s all about. If we can grow the female game, we grow the game in general. It’s as simple as that.”
After 72-holes of stroke play at Galgorm Castle and Massereene Golf Club over the first two days, a halfway cut will reduce the field to the top-60 professionals, including ties, in the men’s and women’s draws. The third round will take place at Galgorm Castle before a further 54-hole cut takes place with the top-35 and ties advancing to the final round on Sunday, August 1.
Tickets are on sale at eventbrite.co.uk. For more information, visit www.worldinvitational.golf