Scotland's "stuffiest" golf club has come top in a definitive new poll of Britain's best 100 courses.
Muirfield in East Lothian, home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, was voted top by a panel of experts, including former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher and leading golf course architects.
The judges, who were commissioned by the prestigious Golf World magazine, said Muirfield was the "clear" winner. Steve Carr, the panel chairman, said the famous links could "make grown men dribble down their waterproofs at the thought of standing on the first tee".
Muirfield, which has staged the Open Championship 14 times, is also revered by some of the world's leading players.
Reacting to the poll's findings, the Spanish star Sergio Garcia described Muirfield as "the best links course in the world".
But while the members bask in the glory of having the best course in the UK, they continue to suffer from an unrivalled reputation for snobbery.
The club, which does not allow women members, was formed in 1744 and is one of the oldest in the world. Visitors can play on Tuesdays and Thursdays only and have to pay £110 per round.
Muirfield owes much of its reputation for stuffiness to its former secretary, Captain PWT Hanmer RN (Ret), who famously promised to ban the four-time Open champion Tom Watson and his fellow American, Ben Crenshaw.
Watson had just won his third Open, but before leaving Muirfield he and Crenshaw decided to play down the 10th and back up the 18th holes when they were spotted by a furious Capt Hanmer. He raged at them: "This is no playground. I'll see to it that you are banished from this course forever."
On another occasion, Capt Hanmer refused to allow Jack Nicklaus to play on the course because he had not given the club enough advance warning.
Scottish courses take a quarter of the top 100 places in the poll. The runner-up to Muirfield is Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, with Royal Birkdale at Southport, Merseyside, in third.
Work has started on the exclusive Monte Rei Golf & Country Club in the Algarve.
The golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is to be built around five lakes and will play well over 7,000 yards, while the 4,000sq m clubhouse will include one floor solely for the use of members as well as a variety of dining options.
The development is set in more than 1,000 acres of the eastern Algarve between Vila Real de Santo Antonio and Tavira with views of the sea against a backdrop of the Serra do Caldeirão mountains.
The course is scheduled to open in the spring of 2006.
A greenkeeper and course manager are taking their former bosses at a Chester golf club to an employment tribunal.
Apprentice greenkeeper Nick Ashford, 18, and course manager Alwyn Jones are in dispute with Mollington Grange Golf Club Ltd. Ashford, who left the course in May, claims he is owed more than £1,000. The case was adjourned for further investigations.
In a separate action, Ashford is also suing for damages after he claimed he dislocated his shoulder on his first day at work after falling down a bank. Ashford, who is currently unable to work, had an operation two months ago.
He said: "I was not given any equipment. I was supposed to wear safety boots and things like that."
Former course manager Jones is also preparing to go to a tribunal. He says the matter is in the hands of his solicitor but is not prepared to say what he is claiming except to say it is 'more serious' than Ashford's case.
Mollington Grange has tangled with the employment tribunal service before. Former director of golf, Ben Keegan, 28, was due to challenge the club at an employment tribunal in Liverpool in April 2003 but he agreed to a £2,500 out-of-tribunal settlement, which he claims has never been paid.
A bitter Keegan, who worked in the club shop and was responsible for promoting the course and coaching junior golfers, decided to go public last August.
Vital clues to an ancient civilisation were uncovered as experts carried out a routine dig prior to construction of a golf course at Loch Lomond.
Under planning rules, the 300-acre site at Midross, on the western side of the loch, scheduled to be a new championship golf course, had to be checked for historical significance. A team of archeologists from Glasgow University found evidence of civilisation dating back almost 5,000 years, uncovering a string of Bronze Age burial sites, Iron Age villages and an early Christian cemetery.
Treasures found include two black shale bracelets of a kind never before found intact in Scotland and a rare Iron Age glass bead, only one of which has ever been found before north of the Border.
Glasgow University Archeological Research Division (Guard) arrived on site last October, having been asked by the De Vere Hotel group to check for archeological remains before work started on the company's £50m, loch-side "The Carrick at Loch Lomond" golf course and luxury lodge holiday development.
Guard's project manager, Bob Will, said: "The glass bead is a significant find and will be regarded as a national treasure. In terms of importance, this site has to rank at least eight or nine on a scale of 10."
Will said that the sheer size of the site cleared for the golf course made it one of the largest-ever digs in Scotland. He added: "It is an incredible sequence because we are seeing 5,000 years of settlement in the same area."
Craig Mitchell, managing director of De Vere Resort Ownership, said one of the Iron Age settlements would be permanently protected. "It is incredible to think of everything that happened here," he added.
Teeing off after breakfast from the first hole on your own private golf course might sound like a far-fetched fantasy - but one lucky buyer of a stunning luxury home in Scotland will soon be able to do just that.
The modern five-bedroom house near Brunstane - which is expected to sell for more than £1m - boasts the use of a stunning nine-hole manicured private golf course.
The course - shared with two other neighbours in return for an undisclosed "annual membership fee" - has raised eyebrows in the property world. But it is expected to be the major selling point for the recently-completed house, which also features a drawing room, conservatory and immaculately landscaped garden - all within a stone's throw of the golf course.
The course is so exclusive that no details are known about how often it is played, who maintains it, or even when it was built. The house is being marketed by Caledonian Heritable, which is owned by Edinburgh pub tycoon Kevin Doyle. Doyle is behind the multi-million-pound Archerfield Links in East Lothian, a private members-only club with two new high-quality 18-hole courses.
Work to clear a Lancashire golf course of contamination by arsenic is expected to cost around £4m.
Council experts discovered high levels of the deadly poison on land covering the first nine holes of St Michaels GC, Widnes. The toxic ground will be 'capped' by laying waterproof plastic material over it and covering the top with soil. Further measures will include a system to collect and treat contaminated water.
Workers covered bare patches of soil with a thick layer of clean top soil as a temporary measure. And signs warning 'the green has been sprayed with poison', normally placed after fertiliser has been used, are now serving a dual purpose.
Urgent advice has also been issued to the public in a bid to prevent people poisoning themselves and contaminating their homes, vehicles and pets with arsenic.
The advice - for anyone who has so much as walked across the course - stresses the importance of washing hands after touching anything which has come into contact with the soil. Even shoes must be cleaned to stop the poison being transferred to homes and cars.
The course will be closed to the public until the work has been completed and the course is given a clean bill of health. To date nobody has attended hospital with symptoms of arsenic poisoning.
Legendary Scottish-born course designer Donald Ross is to be remembered by a new multi-million pound luxury golf resort on the site of a former Lothians coal mine.
Ross is renowned across the United States despite being virtually unknown in the country of his birth. Some of the world's leading courses were among more than 400 he designed in the States. There is even a society dedicated to his memory on the other side of the Atlantic.
Now the Donald Ross Memorial Golf Resort is to be created as part of the £500m development of the former Polkemmet Colliery. The courses - which backers hope will lure the Ryder Cup to the Lothians - will be at the centre of the development which will also feature a five-star hotel, hundreds of homes and a business park.
The Donald Ross Memorial Golf Resort, on the Royal Bank of Scotland-funded Heartlands development, will include two 18-hole golf courses - one for international competitions. Both are designed to capture the style used by Ross, who died in 1948, after creating famous courses such as the Pinehurst no. 2 course in North Carolina.
Michael J Fay, executive director of the Donald Ross Society in Connecticut, USA, said the new courses would be a "great tribute" to the course architect. He said: "I think it's a wonderful idea and it's a great tribute to a man who left his native land and did so well over here in the States. "He's a big part of the golf scene here in the US, even 55 years after his death."
Polkemmet, the West Course designed to host international golf competitions, will be the more testing of the two, set within rugged terrain and an open windswept environment.
The East Course will feature forestry to create a parkland course, designed to host regional championship competitions.
Terry Walker, managing director of developers Ecosse Regeneration, said: "We have worked closely with the Donald Ross Society in America to ensure the courses are in keeping with his traditional and distinct style, which include two of the world's most prestigious courses, Pinehurst and Oakland Hills. This complex will be a fitting tribute to his unbelievable achievements."
Building work is due to start in October next year.
The new owner of the St Andrews Old Course hotel has promised to oversee extensive changes to the Duke's Course.
Herb Kohler, the owner of Whistling Straits, the links-style course in Wisconsin where Vijay Singh won the US PGA Championship in August, plans to make the adjustments over the next three years.
Although Kohler would not disclose the fee paid for the hotel and nearby golf course, the price is thought to be about £35m.
Kohler intends to spend the next three years assessing and improving both the hotel and course, designed by former Open champion Peter Thomson.
The man behind the most spectacular new course in America told the UK media he liked six of the holes on the Duke's but felt the other 12 need to be "tweaked". He plans to give Thomson the first refusal to implement any changes.
The American has long been friendly with Pete Dye, the architect who designed Whistling Straits.
"We only found out the hotel was available five days after the PGA," said Kohler.
"I've been to St Andrews seven or eight times and love the place. I particularly like the Old Course Hotel. When I heard of the opportunity, I jumped. The Duke's needs to be tweaked and once that's happened we'd love to have a big event there."
Plans to improve the racetrack at Musselburgh will allow for expansion of the historic golf course within the circuit.
The £7m upgrading involves the inclusion of an all-weather track, the realignment of the existing track and the building of a new stable block for visiting horses.
It would also allow the historic nine-hole golf course to expand, boosting the area's golf industry.
No final date for the submission of the plans for approval has been set, but it should be soon, said course manager Bill Farnsworth.
Dave lives on the south coast of England with partner Jackie and their three children. Originally a football writer in his homeland, he even rose to the giddy heights of public relations manager for an English professional Premiership side. But he'd been bitten by the golf bug and returned to his roots in journalism as executive editor for Golf Management Europe magazine and as a sports sub-editor/golf writer on one of the country's largest regional daily papers. Like all of us, he plays golf whenever he can - which isn't as often as he would like - and has even performed stand-up comedy in a top comedy club.
From high-tech gadgets to clever, low-tech stocking stuffers, more great gift ideas have come across my desk this season than in the past five years combined. If you can't find something above for every golfer on your list, I'm going to chalk it up to Grinchiness.
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