After 226 years of elitism, club lets in the people

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The Independent Online

Business deals arranged there are still confirmed with a shake of hands, celebrities rub shoulders with judges and the turf is even more hallowed than Wembley's.

Business deals arranged there are still confirmed with a shake of hands, celebrities rub shoulders with judges and the turf is even more hallowed than Wembley's.

Next month, however, Muirfield, Scotland's most exclusive golf club, is opening its greens and fairways to 76 young commoners.

In a break with its carefully cultivated 226-year history of élitism - a standing joke is that at the annual fathers and sons match the youngest player is in his forties - The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers has invited 38 neighbouring clubs to nominate two junior players to take part in a free, two-day tournament in celebration of the millennium. The invitation extends to local pay-and-play municipal clubs on which some of the young players have perfected their game.

Group Captain John Prideaux, the Muirfield secretary, said the catalyst for the unprecedented philanthropy, although still restricted to boys only, was the dawning of the new millennium. He said: "We wanted to mark the year 2000 and we thought it would be nice to give youngsters in the area the chance to play against each other and test their skills against the course, which will host the Open Championship in two years' time.

"We will entertain them for a couple of days, give them lunch and let them play our championship course. Our clubhouse is not big enough to cater for everyone, so marquees will be set up to accommodate the boys and the parents who might want to come along and watch their sons take part.

"I think it will be a good test for the young lads because the professional golfers say it's one of the toughest on the Open circuit. Some will probably do very well but I expect others will be disappointed.

"Most of the lads wouldn't normally get a chance to play because of the cost."

Two days' golf at Muirfield, on the course where such great names as Henry Cotton, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player won the Open, would normally cost £160.

Any of the youngsters aspiring to membership of TheHonourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers will be disappointed though. Cost and background aside, there is currently a seven-year waiting list for membership.

All the boys taking part in the tournament will be under 18 years old, will play off 12 or better and can invite their own caddie. One of the clubs entering players is Carrickvale, whose members normally play their golf at the council-run Carricknowe course in Edinburgh.

Junior champion Scott Smith, 17, who has a handicap of five, said: "I've heard it is quite hard to get a game there so really it is a fantastic opportunity. It will certainly make a change from where we normally play."

Scott will be accompanied at Muirfield by junior captain David Yorkston, an eight handicapper, and both boys have enlisted their dads as caddies for the day.

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