Pop star Horan gives LET huge boost with new event

News & Tour

Former One Direction singer Niall Horan has once again proved he has golf's best interests at heart, writes Keel Timmins

Niall Horan’s Modest! Golf has breathed new life into the Ladies European Tour as the agency announced that the Northern Ireland Open will be staged next year as both a men’s and women’s event.

The former One Direction singer’s company took ownership of the Challenge Tour’s Northern Ireland Open last year and increased the prize fund to €185,000.

And now, in the company’s latest venture, women’s professional golf will return to Irish soil with the LET event being played alongside the Challenge Tour tournament at Galgorm Castle and new venue Massereene.

Both fields will play one round each at both courses, and the final two rounds will be played at Galgorm.

In many ways, it will follow on from the success of the Oates Vic Open where both men and women compete in the same week, on the same golf course and for equal prize money.

Australian star and former world No. 1 amateur Minjee Lee won this year’s women’s event at 13th Beach Golf Links, and by all accounts the innovative tournament has been a big hit with Ladies European Tour, ALPG Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia players alike.

Since 2013, the Vic Open’s prize fund has increased year-on-year. It started off with a prize pool of $300,000 with the money split between the men and women. In 2019, the combined total prize pool will have increased tenfold to $3 million.

It remains to be seen whether Modest! Golf can oversee similar growth at the NI Open, but one thing is for sure, this is overdue positive news for players and fans of the Ladies European Tour.

In recent years, the Ladies European Tour has been in decline and so far in 2018, there have only been 12 events – to put that into context, the LPGA Tour has held 22 tournaments with a significantly larger prize pool.

At the moment, the sad reality is that young girls growing up in Europe who have ambitions of forging a successful career in professional golf have to move to the United States, or even Australia and Asia.

Earlier this year, Mel Reid said as much when she explained that LET players need part-time jobs to make a living in Europe.

But now that Horan and his team have stepped in, perhaps there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

After Georgia Hall’s exploits at the British Open just a few weeks ago, there has seemingly never been a better time to invest in European women’s golf – and companies around the world will have taken note and may now feel that investing in the LET is a viable business opportunity.

With Anna Nordqvist winning the Evian Championship at the end of last season, and her compatriot Pernilla Lindberg claiming the ANA Inspiration in April this year, three of the five majors are currently held by European women.

That is remarkable given the dominance of Asia and the US in modern women’s golf; there are just seven European players in the current world’s top 50, while 40 of those 50 spots are made up of players from Asia and the US.

The move also reflects well on Horan and underlines his love for golf. Much has been made of the singer’s passion for the game and his friendships with stars like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, but now that he has stepped in to help the Challenge Tour and now the Ladies European Tour, it is clear that he has the well-being of all levels of the game at heart.

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