Common ground found in racecourse turf war
By TONY WHITE
FINALLY, after months of rhetoric, claims, counter claims and personal accusations, disgruntled factions in the contentious 'golf during trackwork inside Grafton racecourse' debate appear prepared to play the same fairway.
A 90-minute meeting yesterday between representatives of the racing industry, Grafton District Services Club (GDSC) officials and golfers at the Clarence River Jockey Club (CRJC) resolved to address their respective boards and committees to implement several proposed changes to the status quo.
The three recommendations to come out of the meeting were forming a safety committee representing all factions to meet and discuss issues and complaints; a possible alteration in the starting time for golf from 6.30am to 7.30am, and; the need for better communication between all parties.
Other ideas to be discussed included signage, stricter enforcement of rules governing golfers and horse movement onto the racetrack, a possible re-positioning of the ninth and second holes, and ensuring golfers and track riders refrain from verbal clashes.
Around 20 people attended the specially-convened meeting.
The golf-trackwork debate has been a festering problem for more than a decade.
The Racing NSW chief steward, Ray Murrihy, and CEO, Peter V'Landys, recently weighed into the issue after it was aired publicly on Radio 2KY in Sydney and representations, including a petition signed by numerous Graftonbased trainers, track riders and jockeys, was tabled with the NSW racing authority.
The GDSC holds a long-term lease from the directors of the CRJC as trustees of the racecourse and public recreation reserve, to manage the golf course inside the racetrack.
Many in the racing industry, including Murrihy and the Northern Rivers chief steward, Bill Fanning, believe conducting golf activities while trackwork is being conducted is not compatible, but difficulties arise with the GDSC's leasing arrangement and financial considerations of the CRJC.
GDSC maintains while recreational, the course is also a community service and allows social golfers, particularly the elderly, an opportunity to enjoy golf on a flat course.
The GDSC general manager, Arthur Lysaught, had stated publicly, and again at yesterday's meeting, that continuing to lease the golf course if the start time was put back until after trackwork finishes at 9am, would be unfeasible for the club and its members.
To Lysaught's credit, he was prepared to give ground yesterday by suggesting altering the start time by one hour and responded to each and every concern raised by trainers and track riders.
The CRJC chairman, Bob Pavitt, also revealed that from April, the club would start a $1 million-plus refurbishment, changing the current cinders track to an artificial surface and closing of the sand track which borders the golf course.
Trainer-owners representative Dean Smith summed up the 'anti-golf during trackwork' faction: "All we're asking is golfing activities go back a couple of hours, that's all we want."
Horse trainer Phil McLeod said: "I just don't want golfers on the course or vehicles going across the course until after 9am. It's dangerous. It's an accident waiting to happen. We only want three hours to conduct our work and pursue our livelihood."
Respected trainer, Mike Dougherty, tabled a letter to the meeting, which stated in part: "It's an absolute fluke no major accident has taken place."
Stories were revealed of injuries and near misses.
Lysaught, mindful of the safety concerns, added: "We believe we've been diligent in the approach we've adopted and tried to address all these issues when it has been brought to our attention."
After Lysaught's offer to alter the start time and form a safety committee 'to work in conjunction', several staunch opponents lessened their stance.
At the completion of the meeting Lysaught asked Fanning if he was happy with the measures suggested to alleviate the problems.
"In part," Fanning replied.
"I can either ban trackwork or stand and stop golfers entering the course and neither of those two options are very palatable.
"We (stewards) acknowledge as lessees you may do what is appropriate as long as public liability cover is in place."
Fanning will now make a report to Mr Murrihy for consid- eration.