PLEASANTON — Flying golf balls are creating a clash with the horse racing crowd, and it could mean changes to the golf course at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
The California Horse Racing Board will hear a request by the California Thoroughbred Trainers at its meeting today in Arcadia to revoke an exemption given to the fairgrounds in 1994 to continue golfing during horse training hours at the fairgrounds.
If the board rules to revoke the exemption, the fairgrounds could have to put up higher and additional netting, cease golfing during horse training hours or close the course.
"We are trying to figure out how to keep balls off the track on an overall basis but more importantly, when the horses are out there training," said Charles Dougherty, the California Thoroughbred Trainer's deputy director for Northern California.
After the closure of Bay Meadows in August, the number of horses training at the fairgrounds increased from between 200 and 300 to 700. The horses train seven days a week from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Golfing at the fairgrounds starts at 8 a.m. and ends at dusk.
The horse racing board allowed an exemption to the fairgrounds in 1994 concerning rule 1475B that states "there be a minimum of 135 feet between the inside track rail and the golf course."
The trainers group had been worried about the activity on the golf course and the increased numbers of horses training at the facility. Those fears heightened in October after a trainer was struck by an errant shot.
According to a horse racing board investigation report by Anne Glasscock, trainer Audrey Burch was standing at the west side of the racetrack watching one of her horses when she was struck on the forehead above her left eye by a golf ball. Burch required a trip to the hospital and four stitches to close the cut.
Glasscock's report also noted two other incidents where golf balls were hit into the track area, including one while she was investigating the Burch incident.
In e-mails and letters exchanged between the fairgrounds and CTT, three possible proposals have been mentioned, including more netting and modifications to the course to lessen the chances of a ball striking someone associated with horse racing or ending up on the race track. The other proposals are delaying golfing until 10:30 a.m., when horse training is finished or buying out the remaining years on the 30-year lease of Jetter Golf LLC, the company that manages the golf course. Jetter Golf LLC signed the lease in 1994.
Calls to Jetter Golf LLC and to Rick Pickering, the Alameda County Fair CEO, were not returned.
Dougherty said the buyout option is the least appealing because of the cost and because the Jetter Golf LLC is not open to the idea.
"It would upset us," said golfer George Tuttle, about the possibility of starting golfing later or ceasing completely. "With the hot weather, we like to get out here early."
Tuttle, 71, and friend Florence Murphy, 76, have played the course at least once a week for the past 10 years, and they said they have never seen anyone hit a ball onto the track.
"We are hopeful that this can get taken care of and that both golfers and horses can coexist," Dougherty said. "I know a lot of people golf out there, but we don't want a rider or trainer getting hit."
The horse racing board meeting begins at 9 a.m. and a live audio cast can be heard at http://www.chrb.ca.gov.
Robert Jordan covers Dublin and Pleasanton. Reach him at email@example.com or at 925-847-2184.