Obituary: Bill McHarg

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The Independent Online
William Wilson McHarg, racecourse manager; born Scotland 1919; OBE 1962; married 1947 (one son, one daughter); died Ayr 5 March 1994.

'MR SCOTTISH RACING' was a phrase used of Bill McHarg to the point where it became a cliche. None the less, his influence was huge. During his 40-year involvement with racing administration, he managed six of Scotland's racetracks, becoming the longest-serving clerk of the course by the time he retired in 1988.

McHarg's father Alex was secretary and then clerk of the course at the now defunct Bogside racecourse, but there was no immediate involvement in racing for his son, who studied law at Glasgow University before serving with the Royal Artillery, during which time he received a Military Cross. He later served with the Territorials until 1962, and was appointed OBE for his involvement.

In 1947 McHarg resumed his law studies before working for his father's legal firm, where he found himself dealing mainly with racecourse contracts. He became clerk of the course at Edinburgh and Perth in 1949, taking over at Ayr, Bogside, and Kelso on his father's death in 1956.

To many, the job of clerk of the course seems a pleasantly ideal one, a case of raising hats and glasses with friends on race days. While this image is not always inaccurate, McHarg did much for the fortunes of the courses he managed, making great effort to improve facilities for racegoers, from the cheap enclosures upwards.

His efforts were most notable at Ayr, the leading track in Scotland, and home of the Scottish Grand National, which McHarg moved to Ayr after the closure of Bogside in 1965. McHarg's achievements at the smaller Hamilton Park were also notable. He took over as managing director in 1973, when the racecourse was in financial trouble, and bought many of the shares in the course himself to secure its future.

One of his most notable efforts came during the 1980s, when he campaigned successfully for a less disadvantageous rating system for Scottish racecources, compared to their southern counterparts. Another achievement, which was not the most glamorous decision racing has seen, but one which showed foresight, was his role in the formation of the Racecourse Association. McHarg was one of the first directors of this body, along with Leslie Whittle and Leslie Petch. From their original idea has sprung a trade body which now handles million-pound contracts on behalf of Britain's 59 racecourses.

(Photograph omitted)