Preparations for catering for a massive week of tennis are well underway as Shepparton and Mooroopna build to hosting Country Week.By Marc McGowan
Shepparton’s strong support of Country Week played a major role in the region securing Australia’s biggest grass court tennis tournament for the first time.
The coup was announced in May last year and Shepparton and Mooroopna lawn tennis clubs will co-host the event between February 10 and 14 next year.
Victorian Country Tennis Association administrator Pat Gilchrist visited Mooroopna yesterday to see how preparations were going.
‘‘We’ve always wanted to bring Country Week to Shepparton, but they’ve never had enough courts,’’ Gilchrist said.
‘‘That was always the issue, but it has been possible with (Greater Shepparton City) Council coming on board and financially supporting it.
‘‘It’s really exciting, because Shepparton, to me, has always been one of the biggest tennis communities in the state.’’
Shepparton’s 22 grass courts and Mooroopna’s 10 barely make a dent in what is required to host Country Week, which attracts about 1200 competitors of varying abilities.
Shepparton Lawn president Malcolm Thiel said temporary courts would be developed at Shepparton’s Victoria Park Lake and Mooroopna’s John Gray Oval to reach the required number.
‘‘We’ll take six courts in Victoria Park Lake, which is up from the three we had at Easter time and here at Mooroopna they have 10 existing courts and are looking for another 25 to 30,’’ Thiel said.
‘‘We’re getting towards 75 or 80 courts in total.’’
Thiel said it was a great chance to showcase the sport in the region.
‘‘Tennis in the Goulburn Valley has a long and strong history and an opportunity came up to lobby for this event and the council jumped on board,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re going to all have a crack at this and see if we can pull it off and support tennis in the community in the Goulburn Valley.’’
Next year’s tournament will mark Gilchrist’s 23rd straight year of involvement since replacing the late Alex Tipper in the role.
‘‘It’s somewhere (tennis players) can come and relax for a week and a lot of them consider it their annual holiday,’’ Gilchrist said.
‘‘We make it possible for all ages and abilities to participate and they know they’re going to come, be looked after and have lots of matches.
‘‘There is also the social side of things; they can play and then go out of an evening and enjoy themselves. It’s a phenomenal event.’’
Gilchrist said Country Week was a ‘‘community event’’ and Shepparton suited that theme.
‘‘All the business houses and entertainment venues will know Country Week is in town and I do believe most of the accommodation is booked out, so that’s fantastic,’’ she said.
‘‘The spin-off in tourism is invaluable.
‘‘People will come and spend a week here, have a look at what’s available and a lot will come back afterwards, because Shepp is going to put on a magnificent event.’’
Gilchrist said it was good to be able to ‘‘give back’’ to Shepparton, since players from there and surrounding towns were some of Country Week’s greatest supporters.
She said it was not unusual for host clubs to create temporary facilities.
Gilchrist pointed to Swan Hill rejuvenating a soccer field adjacent to its courts as an example and also highlighted similar set-ups in Yarrawonga and Wodonga.
She also praised council’s role in securing the event and its professionalism since.
(front) VCTA administrator Pat Gilchrist, (back) executive committee member Stan Cornish, Greater Shepparton councillor Dennis Patterson, Mooroopna Lawn's Michael McCarrey, Shepparton Lawn president Malcolm Thiel, (middle) VCTA president Helen Hastie, executive committee member Heather Lees and treasurer Carol Pearce are excited to have Country Week in the Goulburn Valley next year.
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