Niall Horan, the founder of Modest! Golf tells Today's Golfer how he's gone from being part of the world's most powerful pop group to being considered one of the most influential figures in golf.
Niall Horan may not be Tiger Woods, Bryson DeChambeau or Rory McIlroy, but the 27-year-old pop idol is a seriously big player in the world of golf and playing a huge part in the game's growth.
Horan's stock has continued to rise and his influence has grown as he’s set out to change the face of golf by making it more diverse and inclusive, working hard to grow both the junior and women's games.
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Clearly the fact that the much-loved Irishman has millions of social media followers (41.2m on Twitter and 26.6m Instagram) should help in his quest and drive for greater inclusivity and equality in the game.
And, equally clearly, that fact has been recognised by the game’s authorities, including the R&A who have joined forces with Horan and Modest! Golf in a bid to grow the game and encourage by more youngsters – the future of the game – into the sport.
Meanwhile, Horan and Modest! are behind the ground-breaking ISPS HANDA World Invitational, fully sanctioned by the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tours, at Galgorm Castle, Northern Ireland, this summer (July 28-Aug 1st).
The innovative mixed tournament will form part of the European Tour’s 2021 UK Swing, taking in tournaments in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England across July and August. It will be the first time an event of this format is tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour in the northern hemisphere – following in the footsteps of the ISPS HANDA Vic Open in Australia which has the same format.
The ISPS HANDA World Invitational will attract a field of 288 players, 144 men and 144 women. The women’s field will be split equally between the LPGA and the Ladies European Tour and the $2.35m purse will be split evenly, with men and women competing for two equal prize funds.
Horan took time out of his hectic golf management business and successful solo music career schedule to give us the inside track on the event, tell us more about his obsession with golf and reveal his plans to change the face of the sport he loves.
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Niall Horan interview
Today's Golfer: What are you looking forward to more than anything else about this summer’s World Invitational?
Horan: I’m looking forward to returning to Ireland. Because of the pandemic I haven’t been home for over a year. It will be great to return to Galgorm Castle – it’s a venue I love visiting and to return with a European Tour / LPGA / LET event is a dream come true for myself and my company Modest! Golf. It’s huge for the game and women’s golf and I’m really excited to be going back home.
The ISPS HANDA World Invitational has the potential to be a game changer?
From day one, European Tour boss Keith Pelley believed we could try to move the needle in growing the game and I believe that if we can get more women into golf, we change the sport completely.
I always say that if I can get a couple of per cent of the 41million of my social media followers interested in golf, it’s a game changer because a couple of per cent of a lot of people is a lot of people! So we’re going to try and move the needle as much as we can and this summer’s World Invitational is a hell of a starting point… live on TV, the first of its kind in the northern hemisphere, top men and women players competing for an equal share of the £2m plus prizemoney.
It’s a super time to be a golf fan. Hopefully, coming off the back of the vaccination programme, this event will be the biggest thing around, especially when you consider that the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush was one of the quickest-selling Opens of all-time while one of our Challenge Tour events brought 40,000 fans through the Galgorm Castle gates, which was incredible. This is the real deal and it’s going to be great.
How invested are you in trying to make a difference in the game of golf and where does your motivation come from?
Obviously, my day-to-day job is a musician and it’s something I dreamt about being since a I was a child. But away from my job, my biggest love is golf, and has been from when I used to watch the Masters as a kid with my father.
When I started Modest! Golf my intention was always to do my bit to get more young people into the game and to support the younger generation of professional golfer. Hopefully the work we are doing in the event space and in addition to our work with the R&A, we like to think we are doing our bit but of course it needs all the stakeholders in golf to pull together to make the biggest difference.
What is driving you on?
Having travelled all over the world, I’ve obviously witnessed the power of my fans. A lot of them would be young females and they're so passionate. Knowing what power the young ladies have, that can only lead to great things.
I watch and study all sorts of golf to be honest, it’s always been all inclusive to me, and it’s about getting young girls to pick up a club, giving it a go and though they might hit 50 bad ones, the 51st will probably be a good one and will encourage them to go back for more and that’s what it’s all about.
I feel very passionate about this – if we can grow the female game, we can grow the game in general. As simple as that.
Events and initiatives such as the World Invitational can do just that although, like anything, these things take a while. But the WI is monumental really, to have men and women play for equal prize money of more than £2m.
These girls are just as gifted but don’t generally get the plaudits they deserve and that’s what we’re trying to showcase here. They’re so talented and they deserve all the money and TV time. It’s golf trying to fulfill its potential and hopefully over the years this needle will move and we'll get to a level playing field.
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Is it fair to say you’re a golf nut?
I absolutely love golf, I’m obsessed with it. I grew up with it back home…it’s a huge part of our culture with so many great Irish golfers down the years. Plus, growing up watching Tiger Woods dominate the sport made it very easy for me to get more into golf…I fell in love with the game straight away. Simple as that.
Over the years I became really passionate about it, I love seeing players racing up the back nine on a Sunday and count myself lucky to have witnessed some great major championship moments in my life.
I love all the stats and stuff – the more the merrier. I can tell you who’s top in greens in reg, distance and stuff like that. I’m a bit of an anorak, a saddo I suppose but I find it all very interesting.
How do you plan to get more kids into golf by partnering with The R&A and what kind of grassroots programmes will you be helping to design and develop?
Having just announced our partnership with the R&A, we are currently in the planning process and will be looking to release further news on that in the coming weeks and months. However, our major focus will be around helping to break down some of the perceived barriers in the game to encourage the sport to be more accessible.
I’m particularly excited to try and get more young girls into the game as I feel this is a huge opportunity to grow numbers in the sport.
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Women still make up a ridiculously low percentage of members at golf clubs. What needs to be done to address this divide?
I think some of the female golf professionals who currently play need to be celebrated more so these young girls have icons to look up to, and that was a part of the reason I was so passionate about making our event co-sanctioned with the LPGA / LET.
There are so many amazing female professional golfers out there and they all deserve a bigger platform to showcase their talent. In addition, I think educating these young girls and getting rid of some of the pre-conceived ideas of golf being an old man’s sport can play a part.
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Do you think your social media presence and having 26.5 million Instagram followers puts you in a better position than most to inspire the millennial generation, especially women?
I couldn’t comment whether I’m in a better position as there are so many influential people out there with a voice regardless of their follower numbers. However, of course I am aware that as a golf fan who is fortunate enough to have the following I do, I'm in an amazing position to help encourage more non-golfers to give the game a try.
If just one or two per cent of my following gave golf a try, you’re talking about upwards of over half-a-million new eyes on the sport!
If you could change one thing in golf right now, what would it be?
Ridding it of the perception of it being a sport for the ‘older man’. So many of my friends in the music and sports industry love the game. It’s an incredibly social sport with many health benefits.
What are your ambitions both for Modest! Golf and for yourself as a passionate golfer?
When I came up with the idea I didn’t realise how hard the work was going to be! But it’s been such an amazing four-and-a-half years since we launched the business.
Getting the players that we wanted has been interesting, trying to convince these up-and-coming amateurs that we are the ones for them when they turn pro. It has somehow unfolded and the signing of Tyrrell Hatton 18 months ago has been a huge thing with him sitting at no.5 in the world. That has really boosted the other players in our stable.
It’s been an exciting time and I try to be as hands-on as I can on that side of things. Then there’s the events side which kicked off a few years ago when we got involved with the Challenge Tour. We want to continue to grow the events division, continue to look after amazing talent and finally continue our drive for greater inclusivity and equality in the game. Personally, I would love to play off a one or two handicap.
Did it take much convincing for Hatton to sign to Modest! Golf?
I think a player of his calibre always needs to be 100% sure when he is making such a big decision regarding his career. However, he is such a great guy, we clicked straight away and he’s been a great addition to our business.
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After the furore surrounding Hatton wearing a hoodie, do you think golf still has a big image problem?
I think the golf industry is really starting to look at the new generations coming through and certainly if you look at the major sports brands in the game, they really are embracing the new generation. You only have to look at the top male and female golfers in the world and you can see most are young and fashion conscious.
Do you think Tyrrell can win a Major and, if so, how big a fillip would that be for the company?
He is certainly talented enough and works hard enough, but we will just have to wait and see.
You mentioned Tiger Woods being a big inspiration to you, as he has been to so many people. Do you think he can come back from the injuries he suffered in his recent car crash?
For me, he’s the reason I picked up a club in the first place and that can be said for a lot of pros in the game now. The memories and magical moments he gave us all as golf fans were unbelievable, even as recently as 2019 at the Masters while the Tour Championship at Atlanta was just incredible too.
We’d love to see him tee it up again but we’re all glad he’s still with us and, as Rory (McIlroy) says, he’s a dad first and I’m glad he’s going to be able to spend more time with his kids. But if he can tee it up and can get back playing golf again, all the better.
Did you and the One Direction guys used to play golf?
We played quite a bit together out on tour for a bit of downtime. Harry Styles was a pretty keen player at the time and the golf course was somewhere to chill out for us.
The thing is, we’d sometimes have 4,000 or 5,000 people outside the hotel and I remember once in Rio de Janiero time we ended up sneaking out and going in the back of a bread van! Often that was the only way of getting out of the hotel to see places or get a bit of golf in.
What’s been your personal best moment on a golf course so far?
I loved heading up to Scotland to play St Andrews a couple of years back and I have had some amazing times at Augusta too… I was very happy to shoot an 82 there. Mind you, if it wasn’t for the caddies it might have been a different story! I thought ‘what am I doing here?’ You feel like you don’t deserve to be there… I’m very privileged to have had opportunities to play both.
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Pop superstar and golf fanatic Niall Horan's favourite…
Golf courses: St Andrews and Augusta.
Best round of golf: Shooting 79 at St Andrews.
Best golf shot hit: I can't think of one! Hopefully there will be a few this summer when we can get on the course again.
Golf tournaments: The Open, Masters…. and now our new ISPS Handa World Invitational.
Club in bag: It’s between the driver and putter.
Golfer: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Golf hole: Too many to mention, but the Road Hole at St Andrews and the Amen Corner holes at Augusta would be right up there.
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