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Consultant promises honest opinion on proposed Norwalk Oak Hills driving range

National Golf Foundation Senior Director of Consulting Richard Singer talks to Oak Hills Golf Authority members Thursday in City Hall.
National Golf Foundation Senior Director of Consulting Richard Singer talks to Oak Hills Golf Authority members Thursday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Assurances of objectivity were made Thursday by a consultant hired to determine if a driving range at Oak Hills Park would give Norwalk a good return on its investment.

“There’s a segment of taxpayers in Norwalk who want to know how objective are you going to be?” Oak Hills Park Authority member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski said to National Golf Foundation Senior Director of Consulting Richard Singer at Thursday’s OHPA meeting. “Is your goal to tell us what we want to hear? Or is your goal to do a really green eyeshade tough assessment of whether this is a good investment or not?”

Definitely the latter, Singer said.

“Telling people what they want to hear or doing it doesn’t benefit anybody,” Singer said. “We have no horse in the race on this. We don’t design, build, operate, finance or have any interest in any side businesses on golf courses. We are strictly a research and consulting organization for the golf industry. For golf courses to make bad investments doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help the golf industry, so there is no interest to do that.”

Singer has been in town for two days, NGF having been selected by the Authority in late September to do the analysis at a cost of $21,000, he said. While the Authority is footing the bill, it’s the city’s study and will be delivered directly to Finance Director Bob Barron, Barron said.

The analysis is expected to be done by mid-November, Singer said. That, according to Barron, provides the information just in the nick of time as a capital budget request can be prepared just ahead of the deadline if the analysis shows that a $3.2 million driving range would, in fact, pay for itself.

Singer said he had done preliminary market research before getting here, and has spent a full day at Oak Hills, including a few hours touring the course with golf architect Robert McNeil, who was hired to design renovations to the course that will be paid for with state grant money.

He has looked at the park location that OHPA has selected for a potential driving range, he said.

“We are going to have to look at it a lot closer because it’s small,” Singer said. “Things are going to have to be moved around in order to make it work, but I am not exactly sure how that would be yet, or how it would fit in yet. That’s a key part of this process, reviewing the site. The site analysis is definitely a big part of this.

He also has visited Sterling Farms driving range in Stamford and Smith Richardson driving range in Fairfield, he said.

Not included in the plan is talking to golfers at Oak Hills, he said. OHPA has done surveys and he will review that information, he said.

This is “a financial exercise more than anything else,” and the numbers will tell the story, Singer said.

“These kinds of jobs, they tend to fall into thirds,” Singer said. “About a third of the time we say it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t make sense. About a third of the time we say this looks like a home run. Then there’s another third where it falls somewhere in the middle, where you may have to make some adjustments to your plan in order to make it work. Maybe the plan as you proposed it isn’t going to work but there’s another plan that could work, with some adjustment. That could be an answer.  I don’t know that yet, but it’s possible.”

OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Clyde Mount said that was one of the reasons why NGF had been selected.

“They were very clear that they have rejected and they have revised and they have approved and they have lots of examples of all of that,” Mount said.

“It’s a ‘no holds barred, tell us what you think,’” OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said. “… There is no pride of authorship at all in regard to this. This is something that has probably been going on for 30 years at least. Having someone who can objectively tell us what we should do I think is very important.”

“If they say don’t build it, we don’t build it,” Mount said.

A person attending the meeting asked what would happen if Singer came back and said the driving range should be located behind the restaurant, in the woods that some Norwalkers fiercely protect.

Singer said that wasn’t his charge.

“We couldn’t do it now anyway because part of the conditions of the state grant and the money is the nature center,” DesRochers said. “So if we don’t do that we would have to give the money back. I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do.”

Singer said he has spent 25 years visiting municipal golf courses.

“There’s a lot of what I see at Oak Hills that you have very much in common with just about every other public sector golf course in the country. Couple of unique pieces, which is common,” Singer said. “The one thing that I am always on my soapbox about saying, and I’ll say to the city and I’ll say to you, same thing, you can’t cut your way to success in public golf. You can’t stand still in public golf, you have to keep improving and upgrading and keeping up with what is going on in the world and making your facility relevant and that people want to be there. You can’t just sit on it since 1969 and not put income into it and expect there to be a success.”

Comments

5 responses to “Consultant promises honest opinion on proposed Norwalk Oak Hills driving range”

  1. Paul Cantor

    The Oak Hills Park Authority’s charade continues. The Golf Course has cost and continues to cost taxpayers money. The reason? User fees don’t cover its costs. The reason? Deficient demand especially deficient demand from residents of Norwalk. The solution proposed by the OHPA? Another multi-million dollar loan from taxpayers to construct a driving range. How to sell the loan to the Common Council? Pay a consultant from the National Golf Association for a “study” that explains how construction of a large commercial driving range will generate the money needed to sustain a money losing golf course. “You can’t cut your way to success in public golf,” the consultant says. “You have to keep improving and upgrading.” Already, he has given his answer. What a charade. And the sad thing is the Common Council, our Common Council, is buying it with our money.

  2. Yvonne Lopaur

    The OHPA couldn’t come up with a loan from the private sector to build the driving range because the private sector couldn’t be convinced that the driving range would be able to cover the cost of its construction. So should the city now go where the private sector refused to go in the hope that it knows something the private sector doesn’t? Should the city be loaning the OHPA millions to constructing a driving range with the goal of generating profits to be used to subsidize a money-losing golf course? The OHPA has hired the National Golf Association to help it make the case that the city (i.e. Norwalk taxpayers) should do just that. What a scam.

  3. sofaman

    Now we’re paying $21,000 for an “honest study” from the National Golf Foundation. LOL.

    This is a trade group whose ONLY FUNCTION is to promote the game, not look out what’s best for taxpayers.

    Comical.

  4. Tom Reynolds

    Hahahahahaha. These responses are as expected. How many times can one lose before they quit?

  5. Jim Perkins

    This is a joke, $21k for someone to tell the City officials “It’s a great idea!”

    Were the golfers of Oak Hills asked when they filled out the OHPA “survey” that the “expert” is looking at:
    PRIOR TO SAYING YOU WANT A RANGE, ARE YOU AS A GOLFER PREPARED TO PAY $4, $5, $6 OR MORE PER ROUND IF THE RANGE REVENUE DOES NOT COVER THE LOAN FROM THE TAXPAYERS?

    This is a question that the golfers of Oak Hills should be asked, because if the $3+ million dollars of taxpayer money which is borrowed to construct this FOR THE GOLFERS does not cover the loan it should be on the backs of the golfers NOT THE TAXPAYERS. Or, how about putting in the contract that every City Official that votes to loan the OHPA money for the “Learning Center” has to personally guarantee payment of the loan back to the taxpayers? You think it will pass then?

    On Mr. Singer’s tour of the golf course, did stand on the top of the mountain of ledge where the range is proposed to take a good look at the area? or maybe the ledge will just add to the character of new “golf learning center”?

    With all that is needed in this town, if this goes through the City officials should really be ashamed of themselves. But what do they care, when it finally is figured out that the $3 million loan can’t be paid back they will all be gone.

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