This weeks guest poster is UK & Ireland Junior Golf Coach and PGA Assistant Professional of the Year Michael Gallagher on his success at creating the “Irish Junior Open”.

While conducting a lesson at the 2013 Irish Open it crossed my mind “Is there a junior event that mirrored the ‘Irish open’ I was currently teaching at”. Arriving home I immediately researched junior golf in Ireland and discovered there was no event in existence that in any way mirrored the ‘Irish Open’. I quickly got to work in organising the ‘Irish Junior Open’ which I wanted to encompass junior golfers aged 5 to 18 and not just the elite players who already have plenty of tournaments in which to participate.

As with any such idea, they remain an idea unless you can obtain sufficient sponsorship to make ideas become a reality. Considering the ‘Bank of Ireland UK’ sponsored the ‘Irish open’ I thought it would be good if that continuity carried through to my event so I approached my local Bank of Ireland manager Eamon McGuckin to test the water regarding becoming the main sponsor. Eamon was immediately on board, loved the concept and was instrumental in getting ‘Bank of Ireland UK’ as the main sponsor of the inaugural ‘Irish junior open’ in 2014. With the main piece of the jigsaw in place I was now able to start planning the event, whilst also giving it some credibility when seeking out other sponsors which totalled 30 by the time of the event. At this point I just want to thank, on behalf of myself and all the competitors, each and every sponsor who helped the event turn out to be the success it was.

With sponsors in place it was now time to get to work on trying to promote the event. From the start I wanted to avoid this event being a carbon copy of any other junior golf event. I wanted the ‘Irish Junior Open’ to be EXCEPTIONAL. To help do this I called upon major champions Darren Clarke, Justin Rose and previous Irish Open champion Shane Lowry for some verbal endorsements to help generate interest. Darren Clarke coming onboard as the ‘FACE’ of the event was an added bonus. Having numerous sponsors allowed me the opportunity to utilize their premises for advertising purposes and as can be seen from the pictures below this provided advertising in areas where thousands of people passed by on a daily basis. I also created a promotional video which can be viewed here

Once the time came to open registration for entry the response I received was definitely worth the many hours of hard work. Having golfers of all ages and abilities looking to compete at Killymoon in the inaugural event was a great feeling. At the launch of the tournament I called upon a few celebrities (International footballers Matt Holland and Stephen Hunt along with Danny O'Carroll Star of Mrs Brown's Boys) to help promote it to the masses. This along with favourable mentions on social media from the likes of Ian Poulter and Ronan Keating all combined to give the event massive exposure.

In its first year the event attracted 204 competitors from across the UK and Ireland competing over 2 days and received a lot of media attention, in particular from the BBC (Video can be viewed here and raised over £2000 for Suicide and Cancer charities. All the feedback and well wishes blew me away especially when seasoned juniors were calling it the best event they had ever played in. Also instrumental in the running of the event were the numerous volunteers who all gave their time willingly for the good of the competitors and the charities involved.

With the first year over it was back to the drawing board to look at ways in which I could improve and build on the current framework. I was helped extensively by Head PGA Professional at Killymoon Golf Club and 2016 PGA of Ireland Captain Gary Chambers and between us we devised a plan to make the event the biggest in the UK and Ireland. One area we thought needed looked at was the number of competitors that didn’t get into the event first time round due to time constraints over the two days of the Championship. With that in mind we increased the number of days to three to help accommodate larger numbers. As a tried and tested method of advertising the event we went about it the same way as before but this time Bathe NI who specialise in all things bathrooms were going to be the main sponsors. The 2015 promotional video can be viewed here

Taking the opportunity of attending the Irish Open at Royal County Down I hooked up with a number of the stars for added support in promoting the event. All in all they were only too willing to help and with endorsements from Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler and video footage from Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry and Shane Warne (which can be viewed here it definitely added an extra piece of magic to the build up.

With the 2015 event fast approaching I wanted to make sure no-one was going home empty handed, so with the help of Srixon and Ping each competitor, as they did in the inaugural year, received a hat from each company. This together with the vast array of prizes from numerous golf companies totalling over £15,000 made the ‘Irish Junior Open’ the biggest total prize fund in junior golf, worldwide.

A full field of 302 junior golfers signed up for the 2015 edition of the ‘Irish Junior Open’ making it the biggest junior golf event in the UK & Ireland. Having features like £1,000 for the first hole in one at the 13th hole and £500 for the first eagle at the 18th hole not to mention the live scoreboards and an online scoring app as well as having numerous tee’s wrapped with advertising hoardings all helped in making the competitors feel like they were competing in a professional event.

Looking forward to next year I intend to keep growing the event along with adding other features which will only make it bigger and better. I also intend to give the ‘Future Stars’ in golf more events to play in whether that’s next year or the following year you will have to stay tuned for more details.

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Many thanks for reading this article.
Michael Gallagher

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