Director: Oak Hills authority members split on location of proposed driving range

Norwalk Oak Hills 031-20130518
It would be cheaper to build a driving range in these Oak Hills Park woods than it would be to build on the golf course, Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer said.

NORWALK, Conn. – Nothing is set in stone as far as the Oak Hills Park Authority’s plans to allow a driving range to be built in the park go – including its location, according to Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer.

Although the OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee has recommended the proposal submitted by Total Driving Range Solutions to build a 30-bay driving range between the first tee and the sixth green, Guyer said that some authority members favor the plan put forward by King Golf International to build in the woods behind the restaurant at the park.

This comes in the wake of a presentation of the committee’s preferred plan to the authority by Jim Downing of TDRS on Nov. 21.

“It appears over the last couple of days that we’re seeing that there’s little disagreements among members of the authority as to which is really the better choice,” Guyer said at Tuesday’s tree committee meeting. “There are a lot of things to consider here. It’s a question of revenue, taking out a lot of trees potentially and in the end what is best for Oak Hills golf course.”

The authority is “reasonably split,” Guyer said.

Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers said he could not talk to Guyer about it, as Guyer is unavailable over the holiday weekend.

“I am sure he misspoke, but since I was not at the meeting I cannot really comment on what he said,” Desrochers said in an email.

Guyer doesn’t have a vote in the matter but told tree committee members that he would prefer a driving range be located in the woods behind the restaurant.

“It’s a better location and a better facility for the long-term survival of the golf course,” he said.

The range proposed in the woods would cost $2 million, he said, while the TDRS range is estimated to cost $2.7 million, he said. Norwalk doesn’t foot the bill but the vendor needs to make that money back, he said.

King’s proposal calls for 41 mats, while Downing’s provides 30, meaning more potential profit, he said. The integrity of the course would be maintained with King’s proposal, he said.

Downing’s plan calls for shaving a hill near the sixth green and placing a net along the top.

“We’re kind of concerned about having a net behind the sixth green,” Guyer said. “That will kind of alter to some degree for people who play that hole as well as some of the potential foot traffic issues of having it there. You’ve got the first tee, people coming off the sixth green, people going up to the nets to hit. It will affect another potential plan that we are looking at to lengthen the first hole and make it a par 5. That seems to be needed because as equipment is getting better people are hitting the ball a lot farther.”

“I do know that some of the authority members raised concerns and had several questions about the range and it’s design,” Desrochers said in an email. “The driving range committee wants to be sure all of those concerns are addressed by TDRS at the next public meeting in December. The questions of our colleagues are fair and I am very confident they will be answered to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Desrochers and authority member Clyde Mount studied both plans and negotiated with both bidders before selecting the TDRS plan and recommending it to the authority, partly because it includes master planning services.

“After working with Jim Downing over the past few months I am very confident that the location that we have recommended is a win for the authority and a win for the community,” he said. “We are excited about re-imagining Oak Hills. We think it can be a truly fine community golf center. We had a great year in 2013 after an extremely difficult beginning. We all want 2014 to be even better.”


8 responses to “Director: Oak Hills authority members split on location of proposed driving range”

  1. Oldtimer

    What would it cost to get advice from a well known golf course architect ? Whatever location they choose, they will be stuck with for a long time. It would be good to get it right.

  2. Piberman

    Council members Hempstead and Kimmel weren’t reluctant to express their views about a controversial P&Z Big Box issue in a well circulated OpEd.

    Why are Council members so reluctant to express their views on the controversial golf driving range ?

    Do Oak Hill Authority members represent the best of Norwalk ? And, is. Driving range part of Mayor Rilling’s new future for Norwalk ?

    Looks like our politicians are ducking for cover here.

  3. Suzanne

    Part of this conflict is the process: there was no openness to the evaluation and I have read complaints about that. Those that believe the woods would be a better place, with the information I have read on other threads, are not completely familiar with the parameters that limit a range being placed in those woods. In fact, perceptions about what can and cannot be done based on economics if not the natural limitations of wetlands, ledge and homeowners, is sorely lacking in these “pro-woodland driving range” advocates. So, there is division. The better decision to place the range at the course was going to receive a mixed reception at best with these golfers. Disagreement among any group is implied. However, the end result, once the reasoning and evaluation is fully explained, should be the range in the Course. Leave the woods alone. Extra bays are not a necessity to a driving range’s success anyway – it is the number of rounds played and timing. The current plan has pop-up tees that time a person’s participation at each bay maximizing the numbers and, therefore, the number of balls and profits. Whether those mechanisms could be applied to a in the woods range is immaterial: what others are imagining is possible in those woods has limits, strict limits, that will not allow the increased bays or range size they are imagining. Look at a survey, see the limits. Then, like all good golfers, support the OHPA you thought was all that when you were getting everything you wanted in having a range at all.

  4. Don’t Panic

    Curious as to whether any of these enthusiasts use Studio 18.

  5. Benthere Donethat

    What’s the problem? Just add a Drive-In movie and something like Old Mac Somebody’s Farm.

  6. EveT

    When will the “public hearing in December” be? You can count on lots of golfers showing up to complain about anything that will change the course.

  7. Debora

    Better check those historical documents again folks. Funding the driving range with developer funds who will be the beneficiary of revenue from these publicly purchased lands, especially without the approvals that apply only to the original (non-existent) matster plan is likely illegal.
    The OHPA has to honor the conditions of the lease with the city and this new capital project must be approved all over again.
    The park must be ein for the benefit of the park, not just the golf course. It’s not a private concern. It should not be incurring more debt without a viable financial plan for becoming self-sustaining as it is legally required to be.

  8. Suzanne

    And that, the financials, is a more important factor than even the design at the moment. This could be a bunch of smoke (or “hot air”) if the legality of those dollars are in question based upon the legal documents establishing the golf course. Since this range development process has been sequestered to just a couple of people, we have no way of knowing whether they have done any due diligence with regard to the legality of the Range. So, once again, the citizens who pay for the asset do not have transparency into a vital process establishing an important amenity to the community. Why not? Why not reveal the terms? It is over due.

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