By Paul Cantor
To the Editor:
NORWALK, Conn. – The controversy over whether or not to construct a driving range in Oak Hills Park provides an object lesson in how special interest politics undermines your and my welfare.
Golfers, a special interest minority (less than 10 percent of the population plays golf), want the driving range for two reasons. First it will enable them to practice their swing and/or warm up before a round of golf. Second, they think it may generate enough revenue to help alleviate the financial problems faced by the 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park.
And politicians pander to golfers in order to buy votes with taxpayer dollars as long as the public at large is not paying attention. Hence, for example, you hear Common Council member after Common Council member refer to the 18-hole money-losing golf course in Oak Hills as a “jewel” to be salvaged. But the real jewel from the point of view of the non-golfing public is not the golf course but the precious 144 acres of land on which it sits. That land can and should be turned into a multiuse public park that might include a nine-hole or smaller facility for golfers.
A public park is open to everyone, not only golfers, and its benefits are immeasurable. That is the reason you find them in New York, Paris, Prague, Venice, Rome and all the other great cities of the world. In parks but not on golf courses you come across families with children, people in wheelchairs, readers on benches by water fountains, ball players, joggers, roller bladders, skate boarders, dog walkers, community gardens, bikers, picnickers, sun bathers, nature trails, etc.
Nevertheless the Oak Hills Park Authority, the body that has been placed in charge of Oak Hills Park, argues an 18-hole golf course with a large driving range should be favored over a multi-use public park because it does not cost taxpayers anything. But in the case of golf course in Oak Hills Park that is not true.
Indeed because there has been a decrease in the demand to play 18 rounds of golf and because it has had to compete with better-managed courses in its vicinity the golf course in Oak Hills has been and is losing money. Consequently the Oak Hills Park Authority has not made good on its promises to meet its obligations on millions of dollars of tax payer subsidized loans. Now it claims a driving range constructed and operated by a private firm will help it solves its financial problems.
Fat chance. One thing is sure however. A large ugly driving range will not add to the sparkle of the jewel that is Oak Hills Park.