The event debuted on the Challenge Tour in 2019 and following the cancellation of the tournament in 2020 due to covid, it returned in 2021 with this upgraded status on the DP World Tour.
The format of the tournament sees both sets of players rotate between two courses – Galgorm Castle GC and Castlerock GC – over the first two rounds before the halfway cut. The final two rounds then take place solely at the host course, Galgorm, with another cut to the top 35 players and ties taking place at the end of the third round.
Each edition so far has gone to players from the UK. England’s Jack Senior won that first renewal on the Challenge Tour in 2019 in a playoff over Matthew Baldwin. Whilst in the first DPWT version, fellow Englishman, Daniel Gavins led home another English 1-2, getting the better of David Horsey by a shot.
Our reigning champion is Ewen Ferguson of Scotland, who recorded the second of his two DPWT wins in the World Invitational last year with an impressive three-stroke victory over compatriot Connor Syme and Borja Virto of Spain.
Ferguson returns to defend this week in a decent field of Ryder Cup hopefuls looking to strengthen their case for a spot on the side in Rome come September.
Galgorm Castle GC is our primary host course this week – as it has been in every renewal so far. However we have a new second course this year, as after hosting the players for one round in the previous three renewals, Massereene GC is replaced by Castlerock GC; a fabulous little links course that is located on the north coast of the island. Both courses are pretty short, with Galgorm Castle a par 70 measuring 7151 yards and Castlerock a par 71 measuring 6859 yards.
Links lovers will certainly enjoy their spin around Castlerock but with three rounds taking place at Galgorm Castle, it goes without saying that how you perform there is of the most importance and it’s therefore sensible to focus our research predominantly on that course this week.
Prior to hosting this event, Galgorm Castle was most recognisable as the host of the Northern Ireland Open, first on the EuroPro Tour from 2010-2012 and then 2013-2018/2020 on the Challenge Tour. It also stepped in to host the Irish Open on the DP World Tour in 2020, which was won by American, John Catlin.
As a tight, tree-lined parkland course, Galgorm Castle contrasts completely to the rugged exposed Castlerock and has proved a tough nut to crack on tour over recent years, with each winning score of the DPWT events held here since 2020 producing a winning score of no lower than -13.
Built on relatively flat ground, the fairways are narrow and largely doglegged, and have ranked amongst the ten toughest to hit on tour since 2020. They’re protected by lush rough and sparse though large bunkers, whilst require a strategic approach with trees potentially blocking out approaches into the greens. It’s important to hit – and miss – the fairways on the correct sides.
The quick, undulating greens are pretty small and unsurprisingly, rank as the 3rd-toughest to hit on the DPWT over the previous three years. They’re protected by some well-placed, large bunkers, as well as false fronts and run-offs around most, which supplies players with a difficult scrambling test.
With two rivers bordering the course and a number of lakes throughout it, water is another big feature of danger, coming into play on over half of the holes on the course.
The layout and setup of the course offers variety throughout. There are two potentially drivable par 4s over the first four holes, though despite the relatively short length of the course, there are a number of tough mid-long length ones too, including the 508 yard 9th.
Three of the four par 3s are short at below 180 yards. They possess some of the toughest greens and largest collection of bunkers for protection.
The two par 5s both bookend the back nine. The 10th comes in at 607 yards and is not a gimme birdie, with a fairway that narrows the further up you go and water in-play in the layup area. The closing 18th is a fine hole. Though much shorter than the 10th at 555 yards, the fairway is tight and the green relatively narrow, with water left and a stand at the back creating an amphitheatre-like atmosphere, it’s a great risk/reward hole to finish the event on.
- § SG: Around-the-Greens
- § Scrambling
- § SG: Approach
- § Greens-in-Regulation
- § Driving Accuracy
- § Par 4 Scoring
There have been plenty of areas that have tied winners/contenders together in the events here but none more so than quality around the greens. With tough conditions likely this week, the greens should once again be tough to find and players will need to be sharp with the short game.
Both last year’s winner, Ewen Ferguson and 2021 champion, Daniel Gavins ranked 1st in SG: around-the-greens and 2nd in scrambling. Whilst 2020 Irish Open winner, John Catlin was the best scrambler in the field and a strong 13th ATG.
2021 runner-up, David Horsey too shone ATG, ranking 4th and 2020 runner-up Aaron Rai was the 4th-best scrambler.
Strong iron play has too been a key ingredient to success, as Ferguson complimented his quality ATG last year to rank 5th in approach and greens-in-regulation.
Though Daniel Gavins was all about the short game in 2021, many in behind produced quality with their irons. This includes Daniel Hillier, who ranked 2nd in GIR and 3rd in approach and Masahiro Kawamura, who ranked 1st in GIR and 5th in approach.
Meanwhile, Catlin in 2020 produced a precision-based ball-striking performance, ranking 6th in GIR and 8th in approach. Complimenting it by hitting plenty of fairways, ranking 5th for driving accuracy.
Although Ewen Ferguson was a little wayward off the tee last year, the five directly behind him all ranked 22nd or better in driving accuracy, whilst Gavins ranked 7th when winning in his year. It’s a course where you really need to be playing from the short grass. Having said that, many holes will require a layup for the longer hitters and the leaderboards here haven’t been short of such players.
Finally, there are twelve par 4s around the course and those best able to make the most of the risk/reward chances, whilst making their pars on the more challenging longer holes should have the advantage.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Andalucia Masters (Valderrama)
With Valderrama’s tight tree-lined fairways and small greens, it ranks closely in many aspects of difficulty to play at Galgorm and has produced many strong form-ties.
John Catlin has won there, whilst Joakim Lagergren, who won here on the Challenge Tour in 2014, finished 2nd in Spain last year.
Ryan Fox and Clement Sordet are other former Galgorm winners on the Challenge Tour who have gone well at Valderrama; Fox having finished 4th and Sordet 8th. Top 10s for 2020 Irish Open runner-up John Catlin and 2016 Northern Ireland Open runner-up Bernd Ritthammer strengthen the link between the courses.
Made in Denmark/HimmerLand (HimmerLand Resort)
The HimmerLand Resort is another short course where fairways can be tough to find and possesses a similar level of short-game difficulty to Galgorm Castle.
Ewen Ferguson has a runner-up finish there, with David Horsey – who was 2nd here in 2021 – having won and finished 2nd in Denmark.
Oliver Wilson is another past champion there and finished runner-up here in Northern Ireland in 2013; Joakim Lagergren has a top 5 at HimmerLand and Kristian Krogh Johannessen has finished 3rd, to go with his 2nd here on the Challenge Tour in 2020.
Kenya Open (Muthaiga Golf Club)
Both of the Kenya Open courses are relatively tight, tree-lined venues. Though it’s Muthaiga – which has been used the last two years there – that has the stronger form-ties.
Aaron Rai won at Muthaiga on the Challenge Tour in 2017, with Ewen Ferguson and Daniel Gavins both hitting the top 10 on the DPWT the last two years. Both last year’s runner-up, Borja Virto and 2021 runner-up David Horsey have recorded 5th-place finishes at the course.
British Masters (The Belfry – Brabazon)
Though not necessarily awash with form-ties, the Brabazon Course at The Belfry – host of the British Masters – possesses similar stats to Galgorm Castle in how it plays tee-to-green and is another tough tree-lined course where most types can enjoy success.
Ewen Ferguson finished 4th there this year, as did Calum Hill, who won at Galgorm in 2018. Oliver Wilson has a 2nd at the Brabazon Course and Connor Syme – 2nd here last year – has finished 3rd.
Euram Bank Open (Adamstal GC)
One final course of interest could be Adamstal GC, which hosts the Euram Bank Open on the Challenge Tour; an event that did take place as a co-sanctioned event with the DPWT in 2020.
Though much quirkier, it’s a tight tree-lined course that has seen many able to transfer form to here in Northern Ireland.
Ewen Ferguson has twice finished runner-up there and Calum Hill is a past champion. Stuart Manley was 2nd to Hill here at Galgorm and has also won at Adamstal; Borja Virto has finished 5th there and Robin Sciot-Siegrist – winner at Galgorm in 2017 – has finished 3rd.
With lots of rain forecast in the build up to the event and potentially continuing throughout the week, we should expect the main host course to be pretty receptive for this latest edition of the ISPS Handa Invitational.
Having said that, strong, gusting winds – potentially up to 60kmh on Friday – are also predicted over the course of the week and could make playing conditions pretty treacherous with that added rain.
We have a typically open looking DPWT field in attendance this week, as some high-ranked players look to strengthen their claim for a Ryder Cup spot in a matter of a few weeks’ time.
Scot, Robert MacIntyre is the top-ranked player in the field at #58 in the world and is joined by a further two from inside the top 100: #68 Victor Perez and #91 Adrian Otaegui.
Ewen Ferguson is here to defend his title, as are 2021 winner Daniel Gavins and 2019 Challenge Tour winner, Jack Senior. Whilst 2020 Irish Open winner, John Catlin also tees it up.
We are joined by a large contingent from the Challenge Tour, including a trio of young talents who have recently won their first pro titles. Most recent of these is former #7 amateur, Sam Bairstow, who won the Scottish Challenge last week.
Alex Fitzpatrick makes his first DPWT start since June, now as a pro winner after winning the British Challenge two weeks ago and South African prospect, Casey Jarvis makes his first appearance since March, with a win in the Euram Bank Open in July his first since turning pro. All could be dangerous this week.
Robert MacIntyre heads the betting at 14/1, with fellow Scot, Ewen Ferguson and France’s Victor Perez next at 16/1
Romain Langasque comes next at 18s and was of interest this week, though nobody rated as a better chance for me in this field than the next man in the betting, Adrian Otaegui. Who goes in as the headline selection.
Adrian Otaegui – 1/5 6 places – 2.5 pts e/w – 20/1
Otaegui enjoyed the best year of his career in 2022, as he recorded twelve top 20s in twenty-seven starts and missed just three cuts; picking up five top 5s and claimed his fourth DP World Tour title with a hugely impressive six-shot victory at Valderrama, in the Andalucia Masters towards the end of the year.
Though he hasn’t quite reached those heights just yet this year, he’s been reasonably consistent and has started to turn it on a little more over the last couple of months, with his 2nd in the KLM Open four starts ago his best finish of the year and first top 10.
We last saw him at Hoylake in The Open, where he looked rock-solid and achieved the best major finish of his career, finishing 55th. His precise ball-striking game was on show there, as he ranked 8th in driving accuracy, 17th in approach and 25th in greens-in-regulation, whilst he also scrambled well, ranking 19th.
That performance is reminiscent of what Otaegui has produced this season on the whole, where he has an exceedingly impressive collection of stats in relation to this test. He’s the straightest driver on the tour and one of the most precise iron players, ranking 3rd in approach. Additionally, he’s been superb with his short game this year, ranking 4th in scrambling and 17th around-the-greens and is among the top 10 best par 4 scorers. He was by far and away the top-ranked player in my model for this challenge.
He surprisingly missed the cut on his only previous start at Galgorm in 2021, though I’m certain he has the game to go much better. That facile success at Valderrama last year should be an excellent pointer and it wasn’t an isolated performance as he’d finished 12th and 17th there previously. In addition, he’s recorded a 3rd-place finish at HimmerLand.
There’s little not to like about the Spaniard this week. He’s a proven winner at this level, a near perfect match statistically and has plenty of form in the right places. With his recent form starting to bubble up he looks set for a contending performance in Northern Ireland.
Calum Hill – 1/5 7 places – 2 pts ew – 25/1
After a terrific breakthrough 2021, Scotland’s Calum Hill endured a tough time in 2022, playing just three times due to injury issues that were started with what looked a rather innocuous insect bite. He’s been back at it this year though and has shown plenty of signs that he’s ready to once again take the tour by storm.
On just his second start of the year and fifth in around thirteen months, Hill finished an impressive 13th in a strong field at the Dubai Desert Classic. He was a little quieter over his next five starts but burst back into life in the ISPS Handa Championship in Japan, finishing 3rd.
He disappointingly missed his next three cuts after that but has been excellent over his last four starts. Hill finished 10th in the BMW International Open four starts ago and followed with his second top 5 of the year when 4th at The Belfry in the British Masters. He missed the cut in Denmark next-time-out but when we last saw him he secured a top 25 in the star-studded Scottish Open.
The driver has been the key club in the bag for the Scotsman, an area he ranks 21st and matches accuracy, ranking 34th with reasonable length. He’s also been solid with his irons and in scrambling, whilst he typically scores well on the par 4s.
He has a great history at Galgorm, having won here on the Challenge Tour in 2018 and has subsequently gone on to record finishes of 7th and 28th.
Hill’s strong record at The Belfry – where aside from finishing 4th this year he has also recorded two further top 10s in recent years – is another positive and further suggests a big performance this week.
Darius Van Driel – 1/5 7 places – 1 pt ew – 90/1
Darius Van Driel has a good record at Galgorm Castle and with one of the best short games on the DPWT this season he can have a big say this week.
Van Driel comes into this week after missing the cut in both of the events in the US that are co-sanctioned between the DPWT and PGA Tour (the Barbasol Championship and Barracuda Championship) on his last two starts. However, he was starting to come into form in Europe before that and I’m hoping this return to Northern Ireland can get him back on track.
Prior to those events in the U.S, Van Driel had reeled off finishes of 21st in the Scandinavian Mixed, 12th in the BMW International Open and 28th in the British Masters on his three previous starts.
Most areas of his game looked in good shape over this period but it’s with the short game he excels most, ranking 3rd ATG and 25th in scrambling on tour this season. He compliments this with a solid, accuracy-dependent ball-striking game and is ranked 39th in driving accuracy in 2023.
Van Driel recorded finishes of 15th and 10th here from the course’s time as host of the Northern Ireland Open, though he produced his best finish to date on his most recent visit, when 7th in 2021.
The Dutchman also has a good record at The Belfry, with a best of 11th; a position he finished in Kenya at Muthaiga earlier this year. Though the most attractive piece of correlating form comes from his win at Adamstal in the Euram Bank Open in 2018.
That was the first of two victories for Van Driel on the Challenge Tour, with his second coming at the Rolex Trophy in 2019 and there’s a strong case to be made for him to record a first DPWT success this week.
Angel Hidalgo – 1/5 7 places – 1 pt ew – 100/1
Angel Hidalgo finished 13th in this event last year and though his form this year has been a little in-and-out, he is typically most at home on these shorter, tree-lined courses.
He started the year in really good form, securing two top 10s over his first five starts of 2023, when finishing 8th in the Dubai Desert Classic and 10th in the Indian Open.
Strong performances have been sporadic since, though it was no surprise to see him return to some kind of form when 15th in the Soudal Open – at another short, tree-lined course – and five starts ago he finished 12th in the Scandinavian Mixed.
The putter is doing a lot of heavy lifting for Hidalgo this year, ranking 13th, though he is a good scrambler, ranking 41st and largely accurate off-the-tee.
His irons can prove a bit of a problem but he has often shown himself capable of overcoming that when the tournament and course conditions suit his lacking-in-length game.
Aside from his 13th here last year as evidence as to how he enjoys this type of course, he went even better than that at Valderrama later in the year, finishing 4th and has also recorded top 20s at HimmerLand and Muthaiga.
Hidalgo enjoyed a highly successful amateur career in Europe, which took him to #14 in the amateur golf rankings. He made good on that promise in 2021 with three wins – two on the Alps Tour and one on the Challenge Tour – and had many strong performances in his rookie season on the DPWT last year that suggests he is capable of bringing that winning ability to the big stage. Something I think he has a good chance at achieving on this suitable setup this week.