Oak Hills Golf Course Inches Closer To A Driving Range

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The Oak Hills Park Golf Course is considering building a driving range on its property. Photo Credit: Alfred Branch

NORWALK, Conn. – An ad hoc committee of the Oak Hills Authority on Tuesday began putting together a request for proposal for a new driving range at the public golf course, but not before at least one angry resident claimed the committee was out of bounds.

Committee Chairman Ernest Desrochers, a member of the authority, said the committee is simply putting together a document to gauge interest among developers and operators of the potential driving range, and that the public will have ample opportunities to comment on the plan.

“No one here will be bullied,” Desrochers said during a heated exchange with West Norwalk resident Paul Cantor. “We’re looking to make the course economically viable, and we want to open a dialogue with the neighbors.”

Cantor, who opposes the driving range, interrupted Desrochers on several occasions to read a lengthy statement that putting out an RFP is a mistake, in part because he believes more public comment is needed.

“You have a responsibility to see that the park becomes more accessible to people who do not play golf,” said Cantor, adding that the secluded section where the driving range may one day rest could be used for “passive recreational use.”

Committee members said they are willing to consider all options for the driving range, the idea for which has been kicked around city government for more than 20 years. A driving range at Oak Hills on Fillow Street was even included in the city’s 1999 Master Plan.

“This is the first step in many to getting this done,” said Desrochers. “Your input is very important.”

The committee plans to place the draft of the RFP on the city’s website and hold a public hearing on it on Feb. 12.

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Comments (24)

OLD TIMER:

It sounds like the authority is trying to re-invent the wheel. There are a number of golf courses close by. If Oak Hills is not meeting expenses, a little research with the other courses, both private and municipal, could save a lot of work. What is the OHA doing wrong and what are the other courses doing differently so they manage to stay afloat ? Do the other towns subsidize the golf courses ? Do the other courses charge higher fees and/or attract more golfers ? Do the other courses have better control of expenses ? I don't play golf and know nothing about golf course operation, but it seems there are a lot of people nearby who know a lot about running golf courses. Why not ask some of them for advice before deciding the lack of a range is the problem. The free information may be very helpful. Maybe all we need is a really good course manager, and to pay him/her well enough to keep him/her on the job.
I was under the impression the course ran well for years without any subsidy from the City. If that was true, what changed ?

kybrdplyr:

All excellent points. Now if only the OHPA would read and take heed.

Lhendersn:

@kybrdplyr
Since I am not a golfer, I may represent more than just golfers. Therefore, I may, in fact, represent the majority of the 90% of non golfers and the majority of the 10% of golfers. Stop playing with ridiculous percentages of who you think you represent. You don't have to be in favor of a driving range, the Authority, or the golf course. But you only represent yourself. Same as me. Bottom line, from the attendance at the meeting last night, there were many more attendees in favor of a driving range, the Authority and the future of the golf course, than not.
And, if you are going to quote me, please do it correctly...I said, "I am sick and tired of the FEW naysayers..." I didn't say majority of naysayers.

kybrdplyr:

lhenderson (this would apply if you are the same person as "Lisa Henderson"): You have mentioned with great pride the involvement of your children in golfing. I happen to love the sport and believe it is especially advantaegous for young people to golf. I am assuming, and perhaps this is incorrect, that since your family is so deeply involved with the sport that you represent golfers as well. That you do not golf but your family very much does I believe puts you in the minority of people who have great interest in preserving Oak Hills as a golf course and adding a driving range. I would agree with the former but am definitely against the latter.

At the Ad Hoc Committee meeting for the Driving Range earlier this week, bottom line, there were many more people representing themselves as against the driving range. Mr. Virgulak has spent a great deal of time with the respective golfing clubs getting out the vote so to speak as is his right.

However, I believe in fiscal responsibility and this is severely lacking with this management team: I am not speaking for myself when I say that 3.1 million was not enough for the OHPA to keep the course going and self-supporting. They now want $190,000.00 more of taxpayers money, a fact and NOT "speaking for myself", because they have not managed the monies nor the memberships they have already been given. (Additional information, widely quoted, from letters from Vinny Grillo to the Hour further illustrate how poorly this OHPA manages the Course.)

"Few"/"Majority", you have your right to be quoted correctly and I apologize. But what you say as far as being in favor of a driving range is just YOUR statement. I am supporting MY statement with facts and figures. When you can PROVE that this new driving range will bring this disaster of a management team out of its fiscal demise, then I guess your desires and your opinions will represent a whole lot more than yourself.

jlightfield:

There are so many issues here tangled in the usual muck of misinformation.

Firstly, I think Norwalk could use a driving range. And if the City wants to subsidize it, then it should think carefully about whether it wants to take up land it already has designated as park and recreation, or acquire new land form the state, say along Glover Ave. which is conveniently located and essentially unbuildable. (look for the usual weeds and trash)

Second, West Norwalk has open space in which to amble in nature, courtesy of a conservation easement due to the change in use of the property from something, to corporate something to hotel. (Unlike South Norwalk, where a cement plaza, enclosed Maritime Aquarium play area, blocked access to the Norwalk Harbor, whatever you want to call Ryan Park. a football/soccer field, whatever you want to call Flax Hill Park and the vast amount of asphalt parking lots in Mathews Park supply all the "natural walking" trails available.)

Third. the Oak HIlls Authority has bungled this issue, has allowed the Oak Hills Golf Course to decline and fail to generate its operating expenses. This board has failed the City of Norwalk.

So let's wind these issues backwards shall we ... if the Oak Hills Authority has any management skills what-so-ever, they would have conducted customer surveys to determine if the existing golf customers would support a driving range, at what price point and and what frequency. Then they would have conducted a market study of the area to determine if others would utilize the driving range, and finally what the market conditions at nearby driving ranges indicated.Then they would be in a good position to figure out if a driving range on-site or off-site made fiancial sense. So when they got to issuing an RFP, it would outline some basic objective with some ideas about the driving range cost and revenue goals. It would also identify what the city investment would be, either by utilizing existing park space or acquisition. And finally whether it made sense to privatize it or have it operate as a municipal owned operation etc.

With no data on hand, this Authority continues to make emotional decisions based on convenience instead of business decisions based on facts. That is the real issue every taxpayer in the City should be concerned about. They have substituted their individual wants instead of focusing on what the CIty and Oak Hills Park needs.

kybrdplyr:

jlightfield, I am not sure what your point is about having West Norwalkers having access to Dolce. Is this supposed to make those residents satisfied with the open space that already exists there and, therefore, forego any efforts to preserve Oak Hills?

Cranberry Park is 219 acres: does the lack of land available for perambulating in other parts of the City have any relevance to the driving range installation at Oak Hills? Are you saying it's o.k. to remove the woods for the driving range because West Norwalkers have enough space to be in the woods already? How does this take into account the fact that OHP is for every Norwalk citizen?

Based upon the parameters suggested by one of the current golf pro's, having 20 to 40 double bays would account for a lot of traffic if used to capacity.

No nearby driving ranges, and I have played them, were recently created by destroying existing landscape. For example, Sterling Farms was already there in some driving range form and they renovated existing cleared driving range land. This OHPA driving range dream is a whole nother game.

I appreciate you outlining the development process so carefully - it would seem that the Authority would have done the bulk of this process before suggesting an RFP. However, the golfers I have spoken with don't care about any of this - they just want that driving range. I wish the Authority's emotional approach would turn off the driving range faucet and concentrate on reinvigorating and marketing for the Course instead.

I am not sure what misinformation you are referring to but I admit to feeling a little defensive: I have read countless published accounts from four different news sources, researched the agendas and meeting minutes, the 1999 efforts for this same idea, the City Charter establishing the parameters of use for Oak Hills and more. And, with that, have come to the same conclusion as you re: this Authority and mismanagement.

jlightfield:

Perhaps I was not clear. There are natural wooded public areas in West Norwalk, so I don't think that Oak Hills Park needs to fill that need. In a larger sense, Norwalk has an abundance of parks, and it's fine to serve different needs. It would seem prudent to have a plan for park amenities city-wide. My pointing out the result of piecemeal decisions in South Norwalk show that following such a path results in parks that end up serving no one.

kybrdplyr:

Excellent point all the way 'round.

kybrdplyr:

Lhendersn, The "me" you represent is less than 10% of all Norwalkers. The Oak Hills Park (notice it says "Park" and not "Golf Course") is, by Charter, for use by every last one of the citizens of Norwalk. So, that means 90%, potentially, of ALL Norwalkers do, in fact, represent the majority of taxpayers and residents. The fact that you are "sick and tired" of a MAJORITY of naysayers is a good thing - it means that the effect of those Norwalkers, who have a right to the Park as much as you do, are being successful in their efforts to be heard (not just the golfers who have plenty of advocacy on their side with this City government.)

I would ask yourself this question: when the City (read 90% of the citizens) stop deciding to support your hobby and, instead, decide to assert their rights to the Park that are equal to yours, what will you do then? Hit a few in their direction? Get really mad instead of just "sick and tired?"

I suggest you relax a bit and read the data - the lack of support has a lot to do with citizen access to the Park, destruction of a huge stand of trees and the cost which, if you believe the lease agreement mumbo-jumbo, well, let's just say it's worth a second look.

I would love to support you and a driving range at Oak Hills Golf Course but it just wouldn't be the responsible thing to do - not fiscally and not environmentally and not democratically. Nay.

Youth Football Coach:

Question for you Kybrdplyr, Taylor Farm is a City owned park "for use by every last one of the citizens of Norwalk". What do you think would happen if I went down there on a beautiful spring day with my 9 iron and a pail of golf balls?

kybrdplyr:

Youth Football Coach: check the City Charter. Do your homework. For what is Taylor Farm Park designated in terms of use? That would be your answer. If you did take your 9 iron down there with a pail of golf balls, I would be afraid for you risking a law suit should you hit any person or pet in some unfortunate spot.

Youth Football Coach:

my point exactly...I can't hit golf balls in a dog park...but you can walk your dog on a golf course....you said it yourself...a park is for the enjoyment of everyone....even golfers.

kybrdplyr:

Really? Did you check the charter? I would never walk my dog(s) on the golf course, BTW. That is not what it is for.

Lhendersn:

I'm sick and tired of the few naysayers saying that they represent the majority of the taxpayers and residents of Norwalk. You don't represent me! I support a driving range at Oak Hills Golf Course.

kybrdplyr:

Another option and it wouldn't cost OHPA or Norwalk taxpayers a penny: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Tdt8-hkVS_U

kybrdplyr:

Dear Trainwarrior, In business, a request for proposal defines what is being requested so that the proposals, when received from the different companies, allows the recipient to compare the cost of the same items to each other from the different companies.

Let's say it is a driving range. A request does not just say "driving range" on it and, willy-nilly, ask for the companies to submit proposals. This could lead to all kinds of mayhem: two-story bays and single story bays, 250 yard long ranges and 350 yard long ranges, lights and no lights, netting 50 feet high, netting 25 feet high. In other words, the City of Norwalk would end up with an inconsistent number of plans, all representing driving ranges but not particularly defining what is actually required or wanted by the City.

So, there needs to be a prescription to the request, definitions of what is required and expected so that apples can be compared to apples. That's why this beginning is so important: it defines the scope of a driving range that may or may not be feasible or desired. Taxpayers have a say in this because the potential for the costs to end up at their doorstep is very high if the correct RFP process is not followed. This would mean that for a very small part of the Norwalk population that golfs, the rest of us would be subsidizing their play.

The golf pro, Mr. Guyer, had some great ideas to make money without an RFP. There are local golf coaches who would love to have more kids camps to make money as well as golfing groups that would like to subscribe to play at Oak Hills on a regular basis. This has all been a matter of public, published record.

My concern is that while the OHPA and Ad-Hoc driving range committee focuses on this driving range business, the fundamentals of maintaining the existing course as well as marketing that course, which would make money for the maintenance and allow the OHPA to service the loan from the City of Norwalk, is being neglected.

What is "small minded behavior", I am afraid, is calling people names and not participating in the process with "viable alternatives to make money without an RFP." The "low class" part? Well, that is just beneath anyone to assume who has not given any real input.

It would be good, Trainwarrior, if you could attend Thursday's meeting and speak respectfully about your concerns. It is all about the democratic process - and, unless you move out of the USA, you are going to find that this type of discussion is the reality everywhere.

Trainwarrior:

This is exactly why I want to move out of Norwalk. I have never seen or experienced so many closed minded people in my life. An RFP is just that a request for proposal. REQUEST! From there as tax payers we have a say. So to get your panties in a twist when the discussion begins is low class, small minded behavior. Do you have any possible, viable alternatives to make money without an RFP? I don't but then again I respect the process and our local government.

Diane C2:

Issuing a request for proposals is a slap in the face to residents and taxpayers. LONG before they draft one they should be holding public information sessions on whether one should be considered at all.
Then a feasibility study to determine the, well, feasibility! (economically, environementally, etc).
Then, when the public has expressed a desire to have the driving range, would one consider putting out a bid for proposals to design, construct and operate it.

Ken P Jr:

Should be cut and dry just like a real business, it either makes money or it doesn't. Norwalk doesn't NEED a golf course at all let alone a driving range. If theres any question about profitability the idea should be shelved. We already do too much for selected groups at taxpayer expense & personally I don't want to fund somebody elses recreation with my tax dollars. Things like this should either turn a profit or go away, IF people want it bad enough they will pay whatever rate is needed to be profitable.

Diane C2:

If a range is going to generate SOO much money, then how about a driving range installed in one of the "empty" development holes in Norwalk???
Then at least we get some tax revenue on the darned thing....

Diane C2:

We’re looking to MAKE the course economically viable, and we want to OPEN a dialogue with the neighbors.” (Chairman Desroches)

The statement above speaks volumes to the fact that the Authority clearly knows two things:
1) The course is NOT economically viable now.
2) They have not engaged the neighbors, much less the public, we taxpayers, owners of the park.

The third thing they absolutely don't get is that they are putting the cart before the horse - the questions and discussion among them yesterday only further illustrates the need for a Feasibility Study, followed by a Request for Qualifications (their own dialogue on determining if a bidding company is qualified was bizarre, and clear indication that the inmates are running the asylum at Oak Hills.

kybrdplyr:

I would love to have a driving range at Oak Hills. However, unless you have seen where the plans are to put it, you cannot possibly know how many $$$ it will generate. The initial capital costs would not be worth any of the lease options mentioned so far by the OHPA unless there are crowds of people (and cars) to use it. It will cost a fortune to not just clear the land but to level it correctly and put in the rest of the infrastructure required to make a driving range viable.

This Authority is in the hole financially as far as anyone can tell. The financials were not even presented at the last meeting - why?

Made mention by the previous golf professional who had managed the course for 15 years prior to his resignation was the amount required to run the course, in the bank, $275,000.00. As far as we know, the servicing of the loan which has been refinanced to 2037, I believe, is in default. Again, as far as we know - the OHPA will not release information regarding the financial quagmire they have gotten themselves into.

The Oak Hills Golf Course was viable for many, many years. Yes, rounds of golf were down but this should not have bankrupted or seriously financially stressed the place. It is called management: there isn't any. Not any that knows how to manage a golf course, in any event.

Again, I would love to hit a bucket of balls right here in Norwalk. But, I object to spending more money and time, even through this so-called Ad Hoc Committee, when the entire Authority should be concentrating on fundamentals to get the course back on its feet: I walked the course in part at absolutely the worst time of year for assessment (this past week end) and noticed scarred tee-boxes, traps in poor condition, signage that looked like the place had been abandoned, graffitti, broken tees laying about, a ton of golf balls scattered about the practice range. (The Women's Golf Club has a new rule about play in bunkers for 2012: if there is a rock (!!!!) you can move it, footprints unraked from previous play can be raked out and the ball replaced to continue play - what??? This is just sloppy.)

The driving range IS premature: there needs to be a forensic audit (that would be what money has been spent and taken in and exactly where it has been going not just an "audit" to see that correct accounting procedures are being followed) to figure out how to manage this course better. You have to do it with your money to pay, among other things, a tax bill to City of Norwalk to live here and so should the OHPA.

Have you read about who designed the course on the OHP Web Site? This place that we see as maybe "just a course" has a heritage that is worth every penny of concentrated effort to get back on its feet. Until then, no driving range. It is just not responsible. I love a bucket of balls before play but I guess I am saying it would be like going out and buying a Mercedes before taking care of the mortgage. Lets find out how close to foreclosure the OHP is (to strain a metaphor), get the financials in order, then consider the possibility of a driving range.

Wcracka:

Yes finally a driving range. It will generate $ for Norwalk. The closest range is 8 miles away.

Norwalker4life:

Norwalk needs a driving range . A driving range would also help oak hills be more profitable . There are plenty of times were I would go hit a bucket of balls . I don't always have time to play a round .

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