World Invitational: NI Open transforms into new men's and women's tournaments

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Niall Horan at the launch of the World Invitational in May

This year's Northern Ireland Open will be transformed into a new event called the World Invitational, with men's and women's tournaments running alongside each other with equal prize money.

The men's tournament stays part of the second-tier European Challenge Tour, while invitations will be offered to the world's best in the women's event.

"Our core values are innovation and inclusivity," said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.

"This new tournament fits perfectly."

Speaking at the event launch in London, Pelley added: "We are so pleased to have another innovative format on the Challenge Tour's schedule following the success of the Jordan Mixed Open earlier this year.

"It's fantastic to see these pioneering events becoming more common on the global golfing calendar and we hope they continue to grow with the support of sponsors and broadcasters."

The 72-hole events, which take place from 15-18 August, will see the 300 competitors playing one day at Massereene Golf Club in addition to their other rounds at Galgorm Spa & Golf resort, which has been the NI Open's venue since the event began in 2010.

World invitational to follow Vic Open format

The format for the tournament follows the men's and women's model successfully adopted by the Vic Open in Australia.

As is the case with the Australian event, ISPS Handa will be the main sponsor of the new tournament.

The equal prize money will see both fields battling for total funds of $250,000 (£192,000) while men and women will play at both venues on all four days.

Tournament organisers will extend invitations to leading women's professionals from both the LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour, plus other players from Asia and Australia.

With the Women's British Open and Ladies Scottish Open taking place over the previous two weeks, there is optimism the World Invitational will attract a strong women's field.

English star Charley Hull attended Monday's World Invitational launch in London and she is expected to compete in Northern Ireland in August.

US-based Irish players Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow are also among those set to play in an event which will have cuts after both the second and third rounds.

The top 60 in both the men's and women's fields will go forward to the third round with 35 players progressing to the final day in both events.

Charley Hull (from right) with European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, Niall Horan and ISPS Handa chairman Dr Haruhisa Handa at the launch of the World Invitational in London on Monday
Charley Hull (right) attended the event launch in London and is expected to play in the Northern Ireland tournament

Pop star Horan to back new event

Pop star Niall Horan, whose golf management company Modest! Golf has been a long-time backer of the NI Open, believes the new format can "deliver something very special".

"We got into golf with the aim to help and develop the next generation of players. By supporting a tournament like this exciting new World Invitational, we are going to bring that goal to fruition," added Horan.

"The entire Modest! team are delighted to be partnering with ISPS Handa, a wonderful organisation who are synonymous with promoting the game around the world and helping to bring people together through sport."

The World Invitational will continue a big golfing summer in Northern Ireland with The Open Championship taking place at nearby Royal Portrush four weeks earlier.

Since its beginnings on the third-tier EuroPro Tour in 2010, the Northern Ireland Open has evolved into an event which has consistently broken European Challenge Tour attendance records since stepping up to the second tier.