To the Editor:
Light up the Oak Hills Park Authority’s proposed 36-bay double-decker driving range so it can be operated late into the night every day of the year and, in the unlikely event it can be constructed for no more than $3 million, it stands a chance of generating enough revenue to cover its costs.
That in a nutshell is the conclusion of the analysis the Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) paid the National Golf Foundation (NGF) $21,000 to carry out. Now the OHPA will use the NGF’s conclusion to try to convince the Common Council to loan it the money it needs to construct the driving range.
But in fact the NGF’s study makes it clear that the Common Council should turn down the Authority’s request for a taxpayer-subsidized loan to construct a driving range. First there is the issue of the lights.
Always in the past the OHPA has promised it would not operate its proposed driving range past dusk (see, for example, www.norwalkct.org/documentcenter/view/4409). Why? Because a large commercial driving range operating at night with lights would have a devastating impact on the residential quality of the AAA-zoned West Norwalk neighborhood in which Oak Hills Park is located.
However, according to the NGF’s analysis, unless the driving range is operated until at least 9 p.m. almost every day of the year, it will not generate enough revenue to cover the cost of its construction. Indeed, “lighting for night use is viewed as critical to the proposed addition” because “much of the demand and ultimate use of the new facility is projected to be at night.”
Yet even if the driving range were allowed to operate late into the night every single day of the year, there is no guarantee that it would be able to cover its costs. In other words, even in the best of circumstances the NGF study makes clear that from a strictly financial point of view a driving range in Oak Hills Park is, for at least four reasons, an exceedingly risky proposition.
First, “the specific location is not ideal for a commercial driving range” because it is not “located near, and visible from major roadways.”
Second, “significant rock outcroppings” on the proposed site would make the cost of constructing the driving range more than double the one to one-and-a- half million dollars that the NGF usually finds to be sustainable.
Third, the number of people who play golf has declined dramatically both locally and nationally.
Fourth, it would have to compete with the more conveniently located Sterling Farms driving range in Stamford.
Finally, touched upon explicitly or implicitly in the NGF’s study are three additional considerations that argue against constructing the proposed driving range.
First is the negative impact relocating “some existing elements of the golf course” will have on golfers. For example, “a portion of the range structure will likely be ‘in play’ to some degree on the first hole of the golf course.”
Second, is the cost to the environment and wildlife of the 100-foot netting that the driving range would require.
Third is the fact that that most of those who would benefit from a driving range in Oak Hills Park are white men from Norwalk’s wealthier surrounding communities, while those who would bear its costs would be the taxpayers of Norwalk. Indeed, as the NGF study points out money, testosterone and Caucasian ancestry are all factors “correlated with higher golf participation.”