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To the Editor:
As was the case 14 years ago, hysteria and intellectual dishonesty have entered into the debate about Oak Hills. We refer to, of course, the recent Letters to the Editor by Scott Kimmich, Paul Cantor and others, which are full of misinformation and distortions.
We are residents and taxpayers of the City of Norwalk and avid golfers who call Oak Hills our home course. We are also members of the Oak Hills Park Authority who believe that golf is a "game for a lifetime" for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Oak Hills Golf Course has a distinguished heritage. It was conceived and developed in the 1960s, when golf was becoming an up-and-coming middle-class sport. The architect of Oak Hills, Alfred H. Tull, was a design partner of Devereux Emmet, one of the most noted golf architects of the early 20th century. Tull designed several other great golf courses in the Northeast, including the Country Club of Darien. Oak Hills is something that all Norwalkers can be proud of, even if they don’t golf.
The plan presented to the OHPA at its most recent subcommittee meeting was a plan that was paid for by the authority 14 years ago. It was a plan to lift the course to the level it deserves given its rich heritage. Critics of the practice range have claimed that the specific location is not feasible because of terrain and other issues. The purpose of showing the plan to the community at large was to address those criticisms. The plan also shows what can be done with a first-class local practice range where members of the community, at all skill levels and ages, can come to practice and learn the game of golf. Of course, any range that is eventually built will be subject to the scrutiny of the OHPA.
The practice range plan as presented was to retain as much of the natural terrain as possible. The range would have had target greens rather than a wide-open fairway. It would have had 22 tee boxes for hitting out, not a two-story concrete structure that has been utilized in other towns in the area. It would incorporate the latest in sustainable practices, with nets no higher than 50 feet. The area would not be “clear cut,” as some people have claimed; it would have had large wooded buffer areas around the practice range. Nets and poles would be barely visible at all. The total cost then and now, even with inflation, is a fraction of the $5 million Mr. Kimmich stated.
Unlike the large-scale driving range at Sterling Farms in Stamford, an Oak Hills practice range would be smaller and more in keeping with the beauty that is Oak Hills. Even so, one consultant at our hearing stated that the driving range in the first year alone would easily add 6,000 additional rounds of regular golf at the Oak Hills course. And that’s not counting additional revenue for the restaurant, in-season golf camps, and from the brave souls who play year round. (We are sure the OHPA will provide for year-round stalls if feasible.)
Poor weather and resulting course closures last season prompted the OHPA to ask for and receive approval for a working-capital loan from the city to cover expenses through the winter months. A review of its budget for the remainder of the year indicates that Oak Hills will be profitable for the full year at its current level of annual play. By contrast, apart from Oak Hills, the city spends $3.5 million to operate and maintain the other 1,215 acres of park space. So everywhere but Oak Hills, it is the taxpayers who are supporting all of the outdoor activities enjoyed by the residents of the city.
The members of the OHPA are all committed to seeing that the course achieves and maintains the high standard it has enjoyed in the past. As part of our commitment to excellence, earlier today the OHPA announced the hiring of a new superintendent who was a former senior associate superintendent at The Stanwich Club, a top 30 U.S. Golf Course. We are already looking forward to this season!
Building a practice range is an important component for the long-term viability of Oak Hills as a premier and valuable asset for the city of Norwalk. Only a very few people were able to deny Norwalkers this recreational resource last time. Let's not let that happen again. Those in favor need to let the OHPA and the city know that they support the efforts of the OHPA.
Ernest DesRochers, Shannon Giandurco and Clyde Mount
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