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Orange Order's Open invite for golf fans who are planning to pitch up early

Deputy grand master Harold Henning
Deputy grand master Harold Henning
Rory McIlroy
Ivan Little

By Ivan Little

Golf fans coming to Northern Ireland for The Open championship in Portrush next month are being urged to sample the Orange as well as the greens.

Leaders of the Orange Order are trying to drum up support for a new drive to encourage visitors arriving early for the prestigious event (July 18-21) on the north coast to swing by Twelfth of July celebrations, which they say are open to everyone.

But though they have everything organised down to a tee, the organisation knows that success is a long shot and that the battle to attract newcomers to the Orange tradition from among the 200,000 golfing fraternity will be as hard-fought as another royal and ancient one at the Boyne 329 years ago.

"We've done a bit of research with tourism officials and we know that there will be many golfers coming here well in advance of The Open," said deputy grand master Harold Henning.

"We hope they'll be interested in seeing some of our 18 demonstrations as well as playing or watching their 18 holes of golf, but we'll just have to wait and see what the response is."

A special leaflet has been prepared to point golfers to where they can catch a parade on the Twelfth with a special focus on demonstrations in Coleraine and Ballymoney, two towns which are only a few miles away from Royal Portrush.

Mr Henning, a one-time golfer who had to hang up his clubs because of a back injury, said: "We want to encourage golfers to sample the colour and spectacle of a Twelfth, and at the Augher demonstration there'll even be a golfing 'closest to the pin' competition with the only proviso that participants must wear a bowler hat and Orange regalia."

But while Orange bosses were upbeat as they launched their leaflet at a news conference in their Belfast headquarters yesterday, sources privately accepted that they will have to overcome the very real handicaps of scepticism and antagonism which have been par for the course for any attempts in recent years - like Orangefest - to make the Twelfth more appealing to more than just their own supporters.

Mr Henning said he was disappointed that a number of Orange billboards in Belfast about the Twelfth had already been vandalised.

Online, several opponents of the loyal order were quick to ridicule the new tourism move, tweeting LOL (laugh out loud) that it came from an organisation which would bar Northern Ireland's greatest golfing superstar Rory McIlroy from becoming a member even if he wanted to join because the Holywood man - to mix up the sporting analogies - kicks with the wrong foot.

But Mr Henning said he hoped "one of our own" - Rory, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke or new boy Tom McKibbin, who has secured a place in final qualifying, would win the championship.

A cartoon on the cover of the new 'Where's the Twelfth this year?' leaflet shows Orangemen carrying golf clubs and followed by a flute band and a King William banner, marching towards a hole at Portrush.

That is, of course, a route that would be as out of bounds as the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, where during the Drumcree riots in the past golf balls were used as missiles to target police and soldiers.

Meanwhile, Orange Order officials in Belfast revealed plans for the main Twelfth parade to be rerouted away from part of Royal Avenue have been dropped.

It had been announced that Orangemen and their bands would be diverted because of restrictions at the fire-ravaged Primark building.

But following meetings with police it has been agreed that the parade will follow its normal route.

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