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How local golfers reacted to the new all-weather course

Keith Melrose finds there is no need for a bunker mentality

And they’re off! Legal Art and Ben Curtis (second left) land the mile handicap on the first all-weather card to be staged at Gosforth Park in May 2016
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First published on Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The clubhouse at Northumberland Golf Club is how non-golfers probably imagine all clubhouses to look: early-20th century, glass-fronted and countrified. The club has been at High Gosforth Park since 1898 and has hosted regional qualifying for the Open since 2013. Yesterday, however, was still a quietly significant day in its long history.

There is a pamphlet circulating in the quiet, airy dining room of the Northumberland Golf Club, detailing the newest local rule on the course, rule 25-1. The rub is contained in section (c): "Play from the all-weather track is prohibited. Proceed under Ground Under Repair rules dropping on the course side not nearer the hole."

In short, keep off the Tapeta.

As general manager Richard Breakey explained: "We used to play off the course when it was turf. We considered playing off the all-weather, but when we tried it wasn't sandy like you'd expect: it was like carpet."

As the two courses directly intersect, it might be expected that Breakey and his colleagues have a black mark beside May 17, 2016 in their diary. "Not at all," he said. "If anything, it's been of benefit. It's a lovely day and before now we'd have lost an afternoon's golf.

"For the first time, we can actually play golf during racing. The course has provided some stewards in the places where the course interferes with the track."

Breakey added: "People are often resistant to change, but really the track doesn't encroach in many places and we can now get more days' golf, not fewer."

The idea of mutual benefit was echoed by the other businesses that back on to the newly laid all-weather track.

Parklands Golf Club runs along the opposite side of High Gosforth to Northumberland Golf Club and has a much less high-end feeling, right down to the mini-golf course opposite the pro shop.

"I see it [the new all-weather track] as a good thing," said head professional Gregg Tarplee. "More people coming to Gosforth Park benefits all of us in here. You'll get more people in our bar, possibly on our course."

Tarplee had one caveat, but it was pre-existing. "It gets really busy on ladies' day and Plate day, but that's for an hour before and an hour after. All in all, we'll take that."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Lauren James at Goals, a football complex so close to the track that it could use the new floodlights as its own. "Most of our business is in the evening," she said. "And we have our own floodlights, so those on the course won't matter.

"It gets a bit troublesome on busy days, but as I understand it not so many of these new meetings will be as busy as the big days we have already."

It seems as though other sports are welcoming Newcastle's Tapeta surface more universally than racing.

On the day, at least, there was a real sense of occasion around the course, even by the standards that Newcastle sets for itself as a city.

Those arriving at 11.30, fully two and a half hours before the first race was run, had to fight through the crowds, with 30 or 40 suits and summer dresses mingling outside the Border Minstrel pub attached to the course.

Racing under the floodlights at Newcastle

Although seemingly by chance in both instances, the day had also been chosen for hospitality events by Durham and England cricketer Phil Mustard and Sunderland FC. Perhaps sensibly, given recent on-field events, Sunderland were put in a marquee across the Tapeta from the Newcastle crowd.

Bookmakers were reporting 'cautious' betting patterns in the early races as punters got to grips with the new surface. The Tapeta certainly seemed to hold sway over Newcastle's revered topography, as the races panned out as they would on other all-weather surfaces.

Phil Tomsett, from Billingham, a regular visitor to the track, summed up the prevailing mood of the hardened punter when faced with something new: "I wasn't sure about putting the all-weather down before and I'm still not," he said, "but I'm sure I'll get used to it."

More sanguine was Danny King, who along with his mate Paul, was made giddy by the May sunshine.

He said: "We wanted to come down for the first day on the all-weather and I thought I'd cracked it with the first winner, but it's all gone a bit wrong since then."

In Newcastle the day out is king, and Emma Jones from Gateshead seemed to capture that attitude. She came with her boyfriend and appeared to have made as much effort as if it had been ladies' day.

"I've been before but I didn't know it was the first day on a new track," she said. "They've got a lovely day for it and it's something a bit different. If it means more chances for people to come down and have a good time, that's a good thing."

They may have dampened down the track since jockeys reported a quick surface on trials day, but public reaction to the new surface appears to have been standard to fast.

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