THE star greenkeeper headhunted by tycoon Donald Trump to create a world-class golf course in Scotland has parted company with his boss.
However, the reason why Paul O'Connor, 43, has left the Trump Organisation, which is developing a controversial 750 million golf resort at Menie, near Balmedie, remained unclear last night.
Trump's spokeswoman said Mr O'Connor had departed "for personal reasons".
But, sources claim that Mr O'Connor - who previously spent 18 years at Carnoustie Golf Club in Angus, helping to attract the Open in 1999 and 2007 - was dismissed last week after refusing to be part of Trump's "campaign of intimidation" against people refusing to sell their land to the New York-based magnate.
It is understood the dispute centres round Mr O'Connor's refusal to follow Trump's order to build a huge mound of earth behind the home of David Milne, one of several neighbours on the Menie estate who refused to sell their homes.
Trump visited the site last month and was said to be extremely angry his instructions had not been complied with. A bank of earth about 100ft across and 20ft high appeared behind Mr Milne's house a few days before Mr O'Connor's dismissal.
Mr O'Connor, who was appointed a year ago, has confirmed he is no longer working for the Trump Organisation but refused to go into details of his departure.
Speaking last December, just weeks after starting his new job, Mr O'Connor said: "This is the best golf project that has come along for a long, long time. The only reason I left Carnoustie was for a project like this. I would not have left otherwise."
Mr Milne, who has refused to sell his land to Trump, said: "I've only spoken to Mr O'Connor once and he seemed to me like a man of integrity.
"I would not be at all be surprised if they parted company because his personal honour exceeded that of his employer."
Mr Milne and his wife Moira live at Hermit Point overlooking the Menie Estate.Their home is one of four on land forming part of the masterplan for the golf resort, but which Mr Trump does not own.
Aberdeenshire Council is expected to decide if their homes should be the subject of compulsory purchase orders early next year.
Mr Milne said mounds of earth had appeared outside homes of other residents who refused to sell up to Trump.
Last night, Sarah Malone, executive vice-president of Trump International Golf Links Scotland, said: "Paul O'Connor left the team last week for personal and family reasons.
"With regard to the stockpiling of soil … this is a necessary part of the golf course construction process, for which we have full planning permission."
The organisation added that media reports about Mr O'Connor were "factitious (sic) and based on David Milne's speculation".
"Unfortunately, Milne appears unable to come to terms with the reality that a major golf and leisure development is being built around his property.
"No-one is being intimidated - we are merely getting on with the business of building. The landowners in the vicinity know that they are now living in the middle of a very large construction site and work will only increase over the coming years."