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It’s all good at Oak Hills: Players are happy, restaurant is busy and the state check’s (almost) in the mail

Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green
The view from the Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green patio Monday included this woman hitting golf on the 13th hole.

NORWALK, Conn. – The good news is pouring in at Oak Hills Park – revenues continue to be up, the restaurant is doing better and renovations to the 45-year-old golf course appear to be set, with the approval last week of a $1.5 million no-strings-attached gift from the state.

“We will be doing a lot of the renovations, fixing and moving tee boxes, bunkers, cart paths, nature trail markings and school set-up, new welcome center/pro shop … tennis renovation and looking to make sure all the mechanicals that we have not fixed are updated, like the boiler in the restaurant,” Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) Chairman Clyde Mount said.

The $1.5 million grant was requested by state Rep. Larry Cafero (R-142) and approved Friday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Bond Commission. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton on Monday confirmed that Norwalk has no obligation to repay the money.

The only hurdle is for the city to approve the Oak Hills master plan. The state will not award the money without that municipal blessing of OHPA’s intentions.

Hamilton said the approval of the plan would not mean the city is planning to lend money to Oak Hills.

“Consideration of the OHPA master plan is not the same thing as actually appropriating city capital dollars or agreeing to any potential loan agreement between the city and the OHPA to finance any improvements to Oak Hills,” Hamilton wrote in an email. “In other words, the master plan is a long-term plan of development for Oak Hills Park, representing the improvements that the OHPA believes should occur in the coming 10 years. The lease agreement between the city and the OHPA actually calls for the Authority to develop such a master plan and to present it to the city.  However, a master plan (even if it is approved by the Common Council) does not constitute a legal appropriation of funds, nor does it legally commit the city to financing any improvements that may be outlined in the master plan.

“A legal appropriation of capital funds would typically be considered as part of the city’s annual capital budget approval process,” Hamilton continued. “Unless and until there is a legal capital appropriation and an authorized loan agreement between the City and OHPA (a loan agreement presumes we would be expecting Oak Hills to repay the city for whatever funds the city agreed to appropriate), there is no legal basis upon which city funds could be spent.”

Oak Hills Park is enjoying a resurgence, fans of the course say. The bottom line at Oak Hills continues to improve, Executive Director Shelley Guyer said at the July OHPA meeting.

Guyer said revenue for paid resident rounds were 11.9 percent higher this June than they were a year ago. Cart volume is up 9.4 percent. A deal advertised on Groupon brought in $13,242, he said; 406 of the 738 rounds sold were redeemed before the sale ended in late May, he said. The remaining 332 rounds can still be redeemed, but those wishing to use the coupons will have to pay the difference between full price and what they bought the deal for, he said.

More good news: the GPS installed on the golf carts at no cost to the city are a hit, Guyer said. Course employees can look at a satellite image that shows where the carts are in real time, and monitor who is moving along at a good clip and who is falling behind, Guyer said.

The GPS was installed by an Internet company, which is selling rounds and making money from advertisements, Guyer said.

More good news: Even the much-maligned restaurant facility appears to be showing positive developments.

“Golfers are going to the restaurant midday after a round of golf more than they were in past years,” OHPA member Paul Ciffate said at July’s meeting. The number of events are up as well.

A New Canaan man who enjoyed a shotgun tournament at the park Monday said Oak Hills is “much better all around.”

“It was kind of a lull period for a while,” Michael Glazer said. “I think the rebirth started with (the restaurant building)… It used to be this old worn out, like a barn – it was a ghost town here. There was nowhere to sit down, so it has become a social gathering place for dinners, so it becomes a dinner place with a golf course, and a golf course with a place to eat.”

Oak Hills
Lunch is prepared at the Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green for golfers who played in a tournament Monday.

Amar Haouri, co-owner of the Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green, said he is benefiting from positive word of mouth, and that corporations, as well as golfers, are booking events.

“Things are stable,” Haouri said. “We took over a restaurant that was closed so … I see a restaurant as a big plane that needs to take off and it takes time to stabilize it. So we feel stable so far. We are looking forward to another positive year. It is getting better every day, more and more events and more synergy now than prior owners. … It seems like it’s working out.”

The restaurant was built more than eight years ago. Haouri and his partner are in their second summer in the large space. Although they were behind on the rent last April, they are current now, OHPA members said.

Glazer had been invited to the tournament by new OHPA member Jerry Crowley. “The greens are wonderful,” Glazer said. He is with the New Canaan Senior Men’s Club and has scheduled two events, which will bring 12 to 20 players, he said. He is also involved in a tennis group, which will have its year-end party at the Oak Hills restaurant, he said.

“It’s not just the golf course, it’s the package, it’s the restaurant,” Glazer said, of the resurging appeal of Oak Hills.

Crowley called Oak Hills one of the best municipal courses in the state, and better than some of the private courses. Friends from New Hampshire were impressed with the views, he said. A Wallingford man was in Crowley’s foursome – he said he was coming back to play again.

All the good news is good reason for the state to spend such a large amount of tax dollars on the course, admirers say.

“As a lady who worked here for 12 years, a lot of changes and things come and go, I’m for it,” said recent retiree Christine Shibley, after playing a round in the shotgun tournament Monday. “The things that have to be done here — the super is doing a great job, the two pros are doing a great job, the course is in immaculate shape and it has to be kept that way to attract more golfers.”

Comments

13 responses to “It’s all good at Oak Hills: Players are happy, restaurant is busy and the state check’s (almost) in the mail”

  1. TomReynolds

    Thank you, Nancy. This is the FIRST positive article written in the City of Norwalk that highlights all that is right with Oak Hills. That “vocal minority” who just hate the OHPA regardless of what they do are just [spitting] into the wind now. Oak Hills is strong. It is a place to enjoy for anyone who wishes to go there. The state of Connecticut saw what a gem we have there. I just hope the Common Council has the proper sense to keep the ball rolling.

    This comment was edited for language.

  2. EveT

    I consider the vulgar language in the 3rd sentence of @TomReynolds offensive.

  3. One and Done

    Don’t forget to save for a rainy day. We haven’t had rain in 10 weekends. The down years it rained almost every weekend. The anti golf crowd won’t be happy to hear this good news, but OHPA still needs to be conservative in their approach.

  4. DeeeeMoooo

    “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (what I imagine the anti-golf crew said when they read this article)

  5. Suzanne

    “We will be doing a lot of the renovations, fixing and moving tee boxes, bunkers, cart paths, nature trail markings and school (driving range) set-up, new welcome center/pro shop … tennis renovation….” Wow. And this is more important than city streets, education, general city infrastructure including bridges. Wow. If the Course is doing so well, it is time to pay the bills to the City of Norwalk – all of them – and, forsaken to the OHPA I am sure, forget about the driving range and focus on keeping the course in pristine condition so all of those rounds can pay for expenses. OHPA might consider saving enough for the winter months as well.

  6. Oldtimer

    Always good to hear good news. Some of us can’t help wondering if somebody was skimming off the top and isn’t anymore.

  7. DeeeeMoooo

    Ah @Suzanne… “it’s time to pay the bills… all of them…”
    .
    The lady dost protest too much, methinks! Please be a little more specific about what “bills” you believe are immediately due and/or unpaid. Or maybe you are suggesting that the course should settle its loans ahead of term?

  8. Suzanne

    Settling its loans would be great – less debt carried would be good for all of Norwalk including the golfers who, I presume, pay taxes too.

  9. Suzanne

    And how is it protesting too much when golf for the few is placed at a higher value than improved infrastructure that affects every Norwalk citizen?

  10. Paul Cantor

    Only 11% of the residents of Norwalk play golf, Mr. Reynolds. You do not speak for all of them. So wouldn’t you say you are part of a vocal minority? DeeeeMooo: The OHPA is requesting a $900,000 loan for course and infrastructure upgrades. Had it funded a capital account in anticipation of the need for those upgrades it would not need to take on another loan on top of the others it is struggling to pay back. You might consider that a bill unpaid. The challenge for the OHPA is to demonstrate that it can manage the golf course so that user fees cover its costs.

  11. Very Concerned

    At least $500,000 of this should go into a Repair and Replacement Reserve that is to be used only for emergencies. For example, harmful oil leaks, gas leaks, and regular checkups for potential contamination issues.

  12. TomReynolds

    Okay, enough with the 11% already. You spew that percentage every chance you get. It means NOTHING unless you can also tell us the percentage of “taxpayers” who use the following:
    Cranbury Park
    Lockwood-Matthews
    Calf Pasture
    Taylor Farm
    Vet’s Park
    Fodor Farm
    Ryan Park
    Sheffield Island
    I’ll bet that most (if not all) of them are less than 11%, save, perhaps Calf Pasture.

  13. Suzanne

    In the aggregate or gross? Available to EVERY citizen any of the parks you mention can be used by 100 percent of the people who live here. Not the golf course at Oak Hills where only 11 percent are able to participate because of its limiting factor: golfers only. Not a good argument.

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