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Oak Hills as a 9-hole course? Former Norwalker has a cautionary tale

NORWALK, Conn. – The debate over the future of Oak Hills Park and Oak Hills Golf Course – forever intertwined – has gone on for months. Driving range? No driving range? Where to put a driving range. Whether to give the course – and the park – a makeover, and, if so, how to go about it.

And then there’s the vocal minority calling for the course to be cut in half, creating a 9-hole layout and giving the rest of the land back to the park for non-golfer pursuits.

Paul Cantor, a member of the Friends of Oak Hills Park, has lobbied hard for the short course, citing experts including Hall-of-Fame golfer Jack Nicklaus as saying the trend is toward 9-hole courses because of money and time constraints. Cantor, in an opinion piece published on this site, cites multiple sources that claim the short course is the future of golf.

Oak Hills Park Authority officials dispute that, and say the local figure back them out.

OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said that only 11 percent of the rounds played at Oak Hills are 9-hole rounds. Executive Director Shelley Guyer said golfers who opt for the short course do it first thing in the morning and after 4 p.m.

“You’re not going to make half the revenue,” Guyer said.

“Turning away the 89 percent of the golfers that play the 18 rounds wouldn’t be the smart thing that anybody on this authority could ever think about,” Mount said.

A former Norwalk resident now living in Rotonda West, Fla., about midway between Sarasota and Fort Myers on the Southwest coast, told NancyOnNorwalk a short course in his community simply could not compete with the 18-holers.

Don Mahon said there are five 18-hole courses in the area. The 9-holer, Pinemoor East, owned originally by a group of businessmen, didn’t get enough play to sustain it, he said.

“I played often and found it to be a challenging course he said. “A good mix of short and long holes.”

But, he said, he never needed a tee time because there was very little play on the course.

Mahon said the original owners sold to Rotonda Golf Partners, the company that owns the other five Rotonda West courses, about five or six years ago, but it never caught on. The course was sold and is now maintained by the homeowners association.

“They offered it and its 160 acres to the (Rotonda West) Association for $50,000, a steal,” he said. “One of our residents … wanted to do something special for the community and put up the $50,000.”

The former 9-hole course is now called Broadmoor Park. Go to the website to see a slide show and a video.

The OHPA unveiled a proposed master plan for the park in March, drawing a mixed reaction. The authority plans to have more public input this month before committing to anything.

There is an OHPA regular meeting planned for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Comments

42 responses to “Oak Hills as a 9-hole course? Former Norwalker has a cautionary tale”

  1. David

    Let’s be clear about this: The “friends” of Oak Hills are pushing for a nine hole course *because* it would force the golf course to fail. That is their goal. Leaving the course as is presents a risk – yes, the course might fail under its own weight, but then again the economy might come back to strength, rounds might go up, Oak Hills may become very successful.
    .
    Anyone who is half serious about playing golf knows that a nine hole course won’t survive. If there was demand for nine hole courses, there’d be more of them in our area.

  2. Paul Cantor

    No David. The Friends of Oak Hills goal has never been to force the golf course in Oak Hills to fail. But the fact that the 18-hole course has not been able to cover its costs is a manifestation of the decrease in the demand to play 18-holes of golf. And it is also an indication that the 18-hole course’s continued existence will require taxpayer subsidies. So the question taxpayers and those who represent them need to address is: “Would the benefit of continuing to subsidize a money losing 18-hole golf course in Oak Hills Park outweigh the cost?” And in addressing that question 90% of taxpayers who do not play golf might note that the cost of the course is not measured by their share of the subsidies it requires alone. The cost of the course is also measured by the fact that it prevents them from using the Park for a host of activities they enjoy. Meanwhile they might point out that in their view a park dominated by an 18-hole golf course has nowhere near the value that a park open to a much wider variety of uses would have. Indeed, the only real beneficiaries of the 18-hole golf course are the 10% of taxpayers whose green fees are paid in part by all the others. So by reducing the size of the golf course to nine-holes you would decrease the cost and increase the benefits of Oak Hills Park to most taxpayers. And golfers who prefer 18 holes to nine could always go round twice or play one of the numerous nearby 18-hole courses instead.

  3. David

    I’ve yet to see actual proof that taxpayers are paying subsidies to the golf course. I’m talking subsidies, now, not loans. Please provide it.
    .
    Your financial analysis is childishly simplistic. If the Golf Course goes to 9-holes, the costs, as a percentage of revenue, will go up, not down. A cashier, for example, still needs to be employed full time, but now their hourly wage will need to be covered with lower revenue. Same cost, lower revenue. Higher expense ratio. Repeat this formula across all fixed costs asset and operating expenses. Half the course, half the revenue, NOT half the fixed costs.
    .
    Of course, your logic relies partly on the notion that if there were a nine hole course, that golfers would flock to it in droves. Do you play golf Paul? I do. My friends do. No self respecting golfer would associate themselves with a 9-hole course. Revenue would drop dramatically. Fixed costs, of course, would stay exactly where they are, driving the expense ratio’s ever upward and driving Oak Hills out of business.
    .
    But everybody knows this. You know this. That’s why no one takes it seriously. No one except those who want to see the golf course collapse, of course.
    .
    If you have a problem with economic “subsidies”, take it up with the Mayors office, the BET, Common Council, etc.

  4. Joe Espo

    Wasn’t it Paul Cantor who wrote Obama’s puchline: If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor? Written in reliance that the low information readers are gullible enough to believe any misleading calp-trap such as being put forth as an analysis of Oak Hills cost/benfits.

  5. DeeeeMoooo

    Still unanswered questions with the “vocal minority” plan:

    Should the park become a non-revenue-generating tract, what will be the cost to taxpayers for the parks department to manage and maintain a park 10%-or-so more land? Have any university-trained economists calculated that number?

    Is there any reason at all to believe that Oak Hills’ outstanding loans wouldn’t become the sole responsibility of the City (and thus, the taxpayers) with no revenue from golf operations?

    Parking lots don’t pave and plow themselves, garbage cans don’t empty themselves, etc., so what are the proposed fees to walkers and hikers that would make Oak Hills a break-even park, and how much for playing frisbee at Cranbury? Now that we apparently require all parks to be revenue-neutral, what is the actual plan for revenue from other activities? Or is it just golf that troubles these folks?

  6. EDR

    The city of Norwalk collects about. $900,000 per year in users fees in its parks exclusive of Oak Hills and spends $4 to $5 million a year in maintenance and capital items for those same parks. By my math it costs the tax payers for these parks at least $3 million per year. It is in the city budget if you want to look it up. Just saying! I am not against paying for parks but some people need to develop a little intellectual honesty who have responded on this blog. I

  7. Joe Espo

    Intellectual honesty or any other kind has never been the hallmark of the “Friends” faction. They seem to […] live by this principle of propaganda: “If you repeat a lie long enough, it becomes truth.”

    This comment has been edited to remove an offensive reference.

  8. isabelle hargrove

    It is well known by now that the majority of West Norwalk residents are in favor of building a driving range. The West Norwalk Association ran a survey on this matter and the results were compelling. See below, pasted from the WNA website:

    “WNA Oak Hills Park Golf Course Survey
    As promised, the West Norwalk Association conducted a survey to learn the position of our neighborhood regarding the proposed building of a golf range at Oak Hills Park.
    We provided information on this website, sent an email blast, put the information on our Facebook page, and published a Letter to the Editor in The Hour to inform and encourage West Norwalkers to take part in this survey.
    Each household was allowed one “yes” or “no” vote.
    Total Votes: 154 Yes: 110 (71.4%) No: (28.6%)”

    Mr. Cantor only represents a small, although vocal, part of the community. The park is large enough to support nature trails, an 18-hole course and a driving range. Keeping the 18-hole course and adding a driving range is the key to making the golf course and the restaurant profitable. The range of services needs to be expanded to attract more golfers more frequently. The operating costs of the club are mostly fixed. Reducing services will only exasperate the problem; driving most golfers who want an 18-hole course, golf lessons with a pro or just to practice to other locations.

    I am not a golfer, but I am a tax payer. All we are doing is driving a restaurant and golf course out of business. I don’t want another park the city will have to maintain at tax payers’ expense. I want a park with a thriving golf course and restaurant surrounded by nature trails for all to use while generating revenues the city can benefit from. The current proposal is an extremely well thought-out plan and I hope the city implements it without further delay!

  9. Suzanne

    According to City-Data.com, West Norwalk’s population as of 2011 was 6,246. How does the 154 votes surveyed by the West Norwalk Association account for a majority of West Norwalk residents? Ms. Hargrove, it is disingenuous to denigrate Mr. Cantor on his views based upon a so-called survey that represents exactly nothing. I live in West Norwalk and never received any information on it. Exactly who do you represent that this would supply adequate information for your views? I don’t agree, BTW, with the reduction of the course to nine holes but I do agree the Course should be supporting itself as established by the city charter. It does not do that. I can’t understand why monetizing the Course has been such a major problem. I would guess that throwing more money at greater cost (cue in the driving range) would not be the answer and marketing the nuts and bolts of a beautiful course would. Meantime, Ms. Hargrove, your views of the master plan and what it represents does not grasp the monies required to realize it. Where is this money coming from? You? Me? All of Norwalk? Hardly a fair balance for those who do not play golf while providing a fairly private course to a few. No one wants to see the Course or the restaurant to my knowledge go out of business. But the business stepping up with this Master Plan is just that, a business. Nothing is free and I have yet to hear just how profits will be made for the business while also supporting the cost of the Course, restaurant and, additionally, a huge driving range. Even a modicum of research on the sport would reveal that Oak Hills is sharing in a national problem where expected revenues disappoint. This is a process and an issue that will take a long time to resolve and require a lot of HARD PUBLIC DATA that seems to be missing. That would include your letter I am afraid, Ms. Hargrove. Please don’t muddy the waters further with out supporting your argument more carefully. Also, the word is “exacerbate” not “exasperate”. Last word, one nine hole golf course in a place in Florida where, for goodness sakes, golf can be pretty much played year round unlike in the Northeast simply does not represent the entire scope of nine hole courses, eighteen hole courses or the state of golf. This is not a well-researched article in that there is no balance represented as to any of these things. Again, no data, anecdotal evidence does not make a good argument for nine holes, 18 holes, costs, revenues, etc. Finally, in reference to your comments, Ms. Hargrove, the word is “exacerbate” not “exasperate”.

  10. Suzanne

    Sorry about the repeated word correction above in my comments. Not the grammar police here just didn’t cut when I pasted!

  11. David

    @Suzanne: I think Isabelle explained very well the sourcing of the survey. It was based on households, not population (how many households are there in West Norwalk?). There seemed to be an adequate attempt to publicize the survey, by the WNA (facebook, the hour, etc).
    .
    Still, wow! Of those WNA households that bothered to respond, 70% said they wanted the driving range? Why wasn’t that result publicized?
    .
    Suzanne, you cite the lack of cold hard facts on the Oak Hills situation – and I agree with you. I’ve heard it alluded to that Oak Hills is funded directly by tax payers, but I’ve yet to see hard evidence of that. What is the subsidy for each round of golf played at Oak Hills?

  12. Suzanne

    David, the numbers are out there but I do not have them as to the loans granted to Oak Hills for operating expenses over the years. The neglect of planned repayments has also been published. But, based on the number of rounds, what is the subsidy? I have not seen those numbers run. I am wondering if this is real data, too, in that not just the number of rounds but the number of repeat rounds must be considered. That is, how many individual players are being subsidized and not just whole numbers. I let my WNA subscription lapse after that so called survey. If I am one of the households actually paying dues and I did not receive word of this effort, how exactly does social media cover the bases? Not everyone uses it and the effort was not thought out well nor is it accurate as a result. Seventy percent favor the course? Seventy percent of 154 households – hardly representative.

  13. David

    Suzanne: Loans are not subsidies. Loans must be repaid. Subsidies are direct payments towards a good or service provided. I bring this up because, when it comes to “subsidies”, the numbers are NOT “out there”. There are veiled accusations that somehow, each and every Norwalk tax payer is subsidizing rounds of golf played, with no evidence to support it.
    .
    Regarding the survey – I’m not going to defend the WNA in their methods. The whole organization has a monty python feel about it. A lot of banality in their arguments. The WNA was leading the shout against a driving range at Oak Hills, and their own survey of their own members – even if it was performed in a bush league manner – didn’t support their clarion call. You might want to take the process up with the WNA.

  14. Paul Cantor

    Subsidies come in many forms including low-interest government backed loans, generous loan restructurings, the provision of free services by government employees, the grant of parkland to be used free of any charge, etc. The golf course in Oak Hills is a government-subsidized enterprise that competes with privately run courses that are not subsidized. That is the reason it can provide golfers with lower green fees than privately run courses.

  15. Suzanne

    David, I do know the difference but also thank you for your clarification. The repayment schedule is what has been dubious. Therefore, the “loans”, in not being repaid in not only not a timely manner but, in some cases, one wonders whether it will be at all, transforms what those loans are into a “give” for “services provided”, that being rounds of golf on a beautiful course. The numbers to which I was referring were long ago published: amounts of loans, how many and how much had been re-paid. At that time, there was the veiled idea of “forgiveness” of the debt for establishing the restaurant and other amenities at such a high cost. That would then transform what was initially a “loan” into a “subsidy”, or money out right given for the serving of food. Now that Oak Hills is entertaining the idea of not only a driving range but a wishes filled master plan, I think it is worth asking, given Oak Hills’ financial history, where is the money coming from and why is this not public knowledge? I don’t agree with the 9-Hole course concept but at least it is trying to look at the growing financial debacle (assuming the master plan is enacted and, again, with what funds?) with some kind of conceptual solution to the problem. On the other hand, maybe no one would play it and the whole idea would end up a dismal failure. I have seen no plans, just words, about what the Course would look like given nine holes released to other uses. How? What uses? Where are the drawings to address that?

  16. Mike Mushak

    The Oak Hills lease calls for any administrative services from the city to be fully reimbursed by OHPA to the city taxpayers. Yet, P and Z Director Mike Greene was at a recent meeting offering up his help and his department’s staff time to assist in the master plan process. Did OHPA get a bill for that time?
    .
    Why isn’t OHPA following established city process for completing a professional master plan as the lease requires? The original master plan from the 90’s is inadequate and obsolete, with a specified expiration date of 10 years which has long passed years ago, and the restaurant was actually built in violation of state law as determined by the state attorney general.
    .
    It is not plausible to compare the popularity of a 9 hole course in Florida with its huge retiree population who have unlimited time to play golf year round, with Norwalk as this letter does. Also, fixed costs of running a 9 hole course would be reduced by roughly half compared to an 18 hole course, as the largest expense in running the course is fertilizer and pesticides ($200,000/year), water bills to keep the course green when purchased water is needed during droughts as us often the case, and mowing and blowing time including staff time and fuel. As someone said above, saying the cashier would need the same salary and do it would cost the same to run a 9 vs 18 hole course is just wacky based on what I just said.

  17. David

    Suzanne: You bring up some very good points – duly noted. I’m not necessarily against subsidies that promote livability in the city – as someone else pointed out, there’s a frisbee course in Cranbury (?). Not everybody engages in that sport, but then again, not everyone goes to the beach, or sends their kids to school. That’s all subsidized. But it’s being put out there as a black/white proposition and it’s never been quantified. Westport, Greenwich and Stamford have the exact same model.
    .
    Either way, the idea that a 9 hole course is the solution is ridiculous. We seem to have moved off that idea in this thread, I notice.

  18. Silence Dogood

    The margin of error on the survey listed above is 7.8%, which is still statistically insignificant for the results. Glad to see that an overwhelming majority of West Norwalk residents understand the value of having a full service municipal golf course in the city and what that means for their property values.

  19. Ark

    The reasons Oak Hills does not self-support are Cantor, Joe Tiburri and Alex Knopp, who working together saddled the Course with an over-priced restaurant building that does not meet the needs of the Course and has never generated anywhere near enough revenue to pay for itself. Take out the $2 million the OHPA owes the City for that restaurant and the Course would cover itself. It is outrageous that Cantor continues to claim to want to help Oak Hills when forever he has wanted to close down its use. That is why we have a restaurant that cannot support banquets and weddings and with a bar too small to generate revenue to cover operations. Cantor just does not want more folks driving (in cars not on the range) by his house. The City would be well served if Cantor moved away and let someone who likes golf live in his house.

  20. DeeeeMoooo

    I wonder how many times I have to ask the following questions to get an answer from the 9-hole-shut-it-down crowd:
    .
    Should the park become a non-revenue-generating tract, what will be the incremental cost to taxpayers for the parks department to manage and maintain an additional 10%-or-so more park land?
    .
    Is there any reason at all to believe that Oak Hills’ outstanding loans wouldn’t become the sole responsibility of the City (and thus, the taxpayers) with no revenue from golf operations?
    .
    If activities at a City park must be paid for entirely by revenue from the activity, has a plan for revenue from other activities (besides golf) been proposed? Has anyone proposed a fee schedule for activities like walking, hiking, sunbathing, kayaking, frisbee golf, mountain biking, etc.?
    .
    Still waiting…

  21. isabelle hargrove

    Suzanne, I thank you for the vocabulary lesson. Luckily, I don’t find it exasperating (see, I am a quick learner). In fact, I have managed to gain some rudimentary command of the English language by welcoming lessons from native English speakers.

    I do not represent anyone, except me. Why would you assume I represent anyone else just because I don’t happen to agree with Mr. Cantor or you? I am entitled to a voice, just like you, and it only muddies the water to the extent that it provides an inconveniently different point-of-view than Mr. Cantor’s.

    Although less than 10% of households chose to respond, the WNA survey does provide more tangible information about how residents feel about the driving range than anything you have to offer. Actually, using basic statistical analysis, with 154 households responding out of 2,400 in WN, there is a 95% chance that indeed 70% of people favor the range; with a margin of error of +/- 7% (so 95% chance that 63% to 77% of households support the range). Not an over statement after all…

    9 million baby boomers play golf and are about to enter their prime playing years, representing more than twice the group they will replace. The golf industry might have more reasons to be optimistic than you think. And finally, it seems to me that OHPA is trying to do just the opposite of what you accuse them of doing. They are not looking for taxpayers to subsidize anything, quite the contrary. They want to create a self-sufficient business that might even generate revenues for the city… I know it’s not the kind of thinking we are accustomed too, but I, for one, like it!!

  22. Suzanne

    I have not pressed on the subsidizing comment, rather I asked for an explanation of it, and the idea of subsidization of golfers seems to be most generated by the “Friends.” I believe Mr. Cantor does give a further explanation of his meaning above. That said, I do wish the OHPA would honor their commitments. No need to get defensive, Ms. Hargrove, irrespective of your math. I live in West Norwalk and I feel, since I was not contacted (nor my neighbors) about the survey, in addition to it representing very few households, I do not come to the same conclusion. It does not represent a majority but, as is accused with the Friends group, a vocal minority, i.e., less than 10% of the households by your reckoning. I don’t care if you agree with me or not. That is not the point of these comments – at least I don’t think so. What is important is that the questions most on people’s mind about the sustainability of the course and who is going to pay for it get batted around and, one hopes, answered at some level. The inadequate numbers released by the OHPA only undermines their authority and make people suspicious. Why not show a bit more transparency about costs, debts, intentions, income? Every spread sheet I have seen raises more questions than answers. Shorter format courses have been mentioned quite a bit in other countries, particularly in Europe as well as increased play of golf generally trending in Asia. Just one example of the explanation of this: http://thefuturescompany.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The_Future_of_Golf.pdf At the same time, the United States is losing its “game” so to speak with recommendations for shorter formats, family friendly courses and more appeals to women. This report is just one of many where I have seen this information. So, the idea of shortening the course is not entirely out of left base (to stretch a metaphor.) Ancillary comment: is sustainable management practices being used at OHPA? This would be an example of lowering costs while maintaining a beautiful course. What the OHPA wants to create, a self-sufficient business, IS a good idea but, please note, it is what is required by charter. This is an existing responsibility not a new idea. If the driving range does that for them, more power to them. But I still wonder where the money is coming from for that grand master plan and whether the numbers projected can be met to make it a profitable business. If the Course is not attracting enough players now, what makes the OHPA think the driving range will?

  23. David

    Suzanne, what do you mean by “not attracting enough players now”? Golf operations, from everything I’ve read and heard, are in the black. The restaurant is not. It seems like all of the proposed changes are to cover for the failure of the restaurant business. But that’s not surprising, restaurants fail at a high rate anyway.
    .
    The document you shared is a great one, but it talks about nine hole courses “complimenting” traditional golf courses. I’ve said this before, I say it again, going to a 9-hole course won’t “save” Oak Hills because core customers won’t play the same 9 holes twice. ANY self respecting golfer will tell you that.

  24. Suzanne

    The budget numbers at the beginning of winter showed a $60,000 plus cash flow for the winter. For an operation that requires a lot of maintenance and a lot of income to cover costs, I would not call that enough of a reserve. So being “in the black” does not necessarily mean adequately funded.

    The big whine has always been the restaurant: well, it would help if the ALL of the golfers would help this establishment along and if the neighbors, who,to my understanding don’t, would allow special events there. Why aren’t more City Hall meetings and events held there? It is there to stay and can be a drain or a success. No amount of great food or good management will help the restaurant succeed without customers.

    Complement, yes, and as I have repeatedly said, I don’t agree with cutting the course down to nine holes. Not only for the play (which I think is great especially for a public and historic venue) but also because I have yet to see a comprehensive picture of what the alternatives might be with nine holes as opposed to 18. The public appeal to including more activities in a public park available to all has yet to be imagined, again, to my knowledge. I think, “Great. Now you have cut the course by nine holes. Now what? What are you going to do with all those acres? Where is the “Friends” master plan?”

    So, I come down somewhere in the middle: I think the OHPA has to show fiscal responsibility because that is their charter. I love the Course as it is. On the other hand, it is a park. A public park should be available to all residents. And, the small woods/nature area just doesn’t do it for me. So, again, I think this is a battle that will be fought for sometime – I just wish it was shorter on emotions and larger on the data side of things. The OHPA has to be more forthcoming about real numbers if we as taxpayers are to trust them. Perhaps then a few more people would get out of their faces and let them do their jobs.

  25. David

    Suzanne, I think we agree a lot more than we disagree. I’m not a cheerleader for OHPA management – I would also like to see more transparency. The “nine-hole” thing is so ridiculous for many reasons – including the lack of a business plan, as you so rightly pointed out – that I’m surprised NoN even gives it credence any more.

  26. Debora

    @DeeeeMoooo: Nobody advocating for nine holes is advocating to shut the course down. That is a reductio ad absurdum charge from other posters.
    .
    To some of your questions: “Should the park become a non-revenue-generating tract, what will be the incremental cost to taxpayers for the parks department to manage and maintain an additional 10%-or-so more park land?” This is not an option. By charter the park is to contain a golf course, (among other things), managed by the OHPA, to be fully paid for by revenues generated from the park.
    .
    “Is there any reason at all to believe that Oak Hills’ outstanding loans wouldn’t become the sole responsibility of the City (and thus, the taxpayers) with no revenue from golf operations?” None whatsoever. That is the way things are set up. The bonds floated by the City to fund improvements of the park must be paid, whether or not OHPA raises a single dollar.
    .
    “If activities at a City park must be paid for entirely by revenue from the activity, has a plan for revenue from other activities (besides golf) been proposed? Has anyone proposed a fee schedule for activities like walking, hiking, sunbathing, kayaking, frisbee golf, mountain biking, etc.?” Believe there are charges for tennis already. To the extent that they happen at all in Oak Hills (there is no safe place to play frisbee, nor water assigned to kayaking).None of the other activities are currently managed by OHPA in an organized way, nor do they require the kinds of labor and maintenance that a golf course does. and golf and tennis take up something like 90% of the land there, so it is reasonable to expect them to support everything.
    .
    To Others:
    Comparing OHPA to other parks is uninformative, because of the way it has to be run. When the land was purchased back in the sixties, it was partly funded by an open space grant from the state (there go those pesky tax-payer subsidies), which limits what can be done on the land forever. At present, the restaurant already appears to violate those post-grant restrictions. You can’t just stick businesses in there willy-nilly to raise money. If the grant restrictions are violated and enforced, we could be forced to pay back that grant(or forced to borrow more to buy more land to cure the violation) on top of the existing debt.
    .
    There’s the bonds used to fund the rest of the land purchase and many of the improvements to the course…OHPA did not have to make any payments on them for the first few years of the lease and they’ve been restructured at least twice that I know of (also a subsidy).
    .
    There are valid questions about how the new driving range will be financed, but it seems to be that there are going to have to be more borrowings by the City (will our vaunted AAA bond rating be affected?) to do it. It is a perfectly valid item to question if you are a tax-payer, given that the current situation may or may not be sustainable.
    .
    A word on the restaurant. Everybody talks about the restaurant as if the current lessees are somehow responsible for runnning a business to cover the debt for the building of the restaurant. The restaurant was built with bond funds meant for improvements to the park. That money, however it was used, would have had to be paid back out of golf revenues and other activities in the park whether or not a restaurant was built. All the owners do is rent the space at the rate set by the OHPA.
    .
    Lastly, there are still lease violations existing that can jeopardize the OHPA operations. There are lease terms that are not being followed. It is unclear whether the reserve fund has been replenished and whether Oak Hills is required to fund it’s capital reserve before it’s allowed to say it’s operating in the black. It’s not unreasonable to ask OHPA to adhere to the terms of its agreements and its obligations to follow regulations before it takes on new ones.

  27. David

    Debora: Your post is very informative and I thank you for your contribution.
    .
    The topic is regarding a converting the golf course to a 9-hole course, which has been advocated by a group called the “friends of Oak Hills”. The simplistic logic offered is that half the course will mean half the costs. Beyond that there is no business plan (as Suzanne and others pointed out).
    .
    As a golfer, I will tell you there is no business plan because there would be no revenue – avid golfers, core customers, will not take seriously a 9-hole course and will take their business elsewhere.
    .
    I firmly believe that the “friends” know this – I credit them as being intelligent people. I believe they know that converting to a 9-hole course will bankrupt the golf course and it will fold. That’s why they are pushing that agenda.
    .
    Debora, you made a great point about the charter, but the “friends” don’t touch that aspect. That would be too messy a details – just like providing revenue projections for a smaller course.

  28. Paul Cantor

    David, again in response to your posts:

    No one wants to bankrupt the course. For many years when Vinny Grillo Sr. and then Vinny Grillo Jr. were managing the course and it was doing well no one objected. The objections that surfaced recently were raised when the OHPA determined that the solution to its financial problems was to build a large commercial driving range.

    The current Authority does not think the course can cover its costs unless it finds an additional source of revenue – in essence an additional subsidy. I do not think a large commercial driving range is appropriate for a park in a residential neighborhood and I do not think it is going to solve the OHPA’s financial problems. And I do think that a nine-hole course would have lower costs and therefore a better chance of covering those costs with green fees.

    Furthermore, I think turning Oak Hills into a public park where people can participate in a wide range of activities is something that would be of great value to all taxpayers. And the ongoing cost of a badly needed multi-use public park in West Norwalk would be minimal. In other words, the benefit of opening up Oak Hills Park to more activities favored by people who don’t play golf by reducing the size of the golf course would outweigh the cost.

    An 18-hole golf course that cannot cover its costs due to a lack of demand and/or mismanagement is not justifiable from the point of view of taxpayers. Therefore, implicit in the original vision for the course was the view that it would not only cover its costs but generate additional revenue that would end up in the general fund or be used to maintain areas of the park for other activities.

    Municipal golf courses compete with private sector golf courses. They do not qualify as public goods with large positive externalities. Multi-use parks do qualify as public goods. I understand you like to play golf. I like to ski. But I don’t expect taxpayers to help pay for my ski vacations or to section off almost all the land in a public park for the exclusive use of a particular activity that I favor.

    Now about the proposed driving range. The premise is that it will solve the OHPA’s financial problems. I think that is unlikely. It is going to be built by a private developer bent on recovering the cost of financing it and then some. To date the OHPA has not indicated how construction of the driving range is going to be financed or how much revenue it will receive from the developer in the form of rent or a share of the driving range’s gross revenues. I don’t expect it will receive much if any additional revenue. And even if it were the case that it would, I don’t think a large commercial driving range is appropriate for a park, such as Oak Hills Park, that is situated in a residential neighborhood.

  29. David

    Paul, that you don’t want a golf course in your back yard is not exactly breaking news, I’m not here to argue that, or present the reasons why we should have one in this city – I’m not here to change your mind.
    .
    What I am here to do is knock down the idea that a 9-hole course is a viable option. You keep on talking about “half the expense” of a 9-hole course without tackling the really important questions, like revenue. The *best* case scenario with half a golf course and half the expenses, is half the revenue! The worst case scenario is that “core” golfers don’t play it, which would drop revenues and send expense ratio’s rocketing.
    .
    But you know this. You’re a smart person. Please, continue your crusade against the golf course but don’t insult our intelligence in the process. Please.

  30. Suzanne

    Two things: talking about the concept of nine holes with additional amenities for the public without financial projections and plans is unsubstantiated by the Friends. If this cannot be presented in a dollars and cents fashion as is being requested from the OHPA then the idea has no merit.
    Second, the OHPA HAS to come clean about their finances. Erecting a respectably large driving range without presenting the financial backing and/or expenses has no merit either. The OHPA cannot be trusted to run the 18-Hole Course, as was done successfully previously, and meet their expenses. It is imperative that they reveal what they are contemplating now. Taxpayers concerned about ending up “holding the bag” have a right to their concerns.

    So, some plans from Friends to support and substantiate their claims and financials, real ones and complete, from the OHPA. Minimum requirements due and long overdue in this adversarial environment. Clear the air, let’s make it a better process.

  31. David

    Agreed on both counts, Suzanne.

  32. Debora

    @David,
    Thank you for your very respectful response. As a non-golfer, I give a lot of deference to your opinion about the lack of interest in a 9 hole course. I also have to cede my knowledge about the viability of such a plan to actual economic studies, such as the one cited by Mr. Cantor.
    .
    As a member of the public, though, it is neither my job, nor yours to produce a plan, complete with statistics and a business plan, in order to establish which of these dueling golf worldviews is correct. That is what the OHPA is appointed to do. They are stewards of public land, entrusted to run it according to the presiding legal framework.
    .
    Since they are in the midst of formulating the strategic/master plan for the forseeable future, it really is the perfect time for OHPA to run BOTH scenarios before committing to any course that commits more loan money to execute.
    .
    You cannot separate the driving range discussion from the 9 vs 18 hole discussion because OHPA is insisting that the driving range is the ONLY way to make the course viable. I do know that converting the course to 9 holes would require additional capital renovations, so it’s a heavier lift than simply “cutting the costs” in half. But if the economic analysis says it will work, then it undermines the need for a driving range.
    .
    And then there’s the economics of a driving range. Even if the range is financed by the developer (which I would argue it cannot legally do), to be the savior of the course, it would have to cover its own costs, service the debt on the projects AND have enough left over to cover the shortfall on the course. That alone is enough to give one pause.
    .
    BTW, I don’t really care one way or the other if a driving range is built or if the course is altered in any way, except that I care deeply that the park is managed as it was intended and that the other uses for the park are preserved and protected. This “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach seems headed for a fiscal reckoning that we all should care about.
    .
    And another BTW, for everyone else, the lease specifically excludes any revenue OHPA derives from interest from a endowment funded by charitable donations from the rent calculations. Maybe a good old fashioned bake sale is in order.
    .
    @Paul Cantor,
    I respectfully cite one misstatement in your post: “implicit in the original vision for the course was the view that it would not only cover its costs but generate additional revenue that would end up in the general fund”. That is not only NOT IMPLICIT in the creation of OHPA, it is EXPLICITLY NOT what an “authority” does. The “rent” is to repay the bonds and any “future bonds” and only is in effect while there are outstanding bonds for the park.

  33. Mike Mushak

    Debora, you are a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

  34. Suzanne

    Debora, while I respect your knowledge about such matters, I don’t know how the “Friends” can possibly forward their agenda without some specifics to support their arguments for a 9 hole course with additional public amenities. What is the incentive for the OHPA to do that especially since they have many full-18 golfers breathing down their necks not to do it? No, the agenda for this shortened course is a public agenda from a public group that must be supported with economics and at least a general concept as to what would make their plans more feasible than 18 holes and a driving range (which, on the latter, I completely agree with you about.) Even if the process SHOULD include the OHPA to present both tracks side by side, it, I am afraid, won’t happen. Their allegiances lie elsewhere. Why not have the “Friends” take the initiative as concerned taxpayers? I think they should. The 9-Hole argument is coming from them: rather than economics of other areas and other courses as well as vague references to the additional land availed to them with 9-Holes, there ought to be a concrete illustration as to the benefits of this strong campaign. Presenting a plan of some stripe while requiring greater financial transparency from the OHPA, again, would, I think, assist this process by putting it on a more specified path. Clarity needs to reign here and there has been anything but (excluding your explanation of financial transactions and structure above.)

  35. Suzanne

    Debora, I re-read your entry and would like to reinforce a point you make: the OHPA are STEWARDS of the golf course and, as such, have certain responsibilities. Putting it in that context, rather than as a perceived Authority who hides, obfuscates, denies, etc., is a much needed reference and value. Thank you.

  36. Debora

    OHPA has the data. Friends do not. OHPA is charged with managing the whole park, Friends are not. It’s really that simple.

  37. Suzanne

    It really isn’t. OHPA may have the data but they are not inclined to use it or share it. They clearly do not want a nine hole golf course and the “Friends” do. Politically and practically, if the nine hole golf course agenda is being so avidly pushed by the “Friends”, then they have the responsibility to show us, the taxpayers, why it is such a good idea, why it is fiscally responsible and why and how it will benefit the community. Why would I, as a taxpayer, believe it is an advantage to the community without this information? The OHPA, whether it is their responsibility or not, is not compelled to share whatever data they have and support or negate the nine hole plan statistically or accurately. As long as this issue remains in stasis, no progress will be made on this idea. Therefore, the “Friends” need to do something about it or give up on the idea. Can they use FOIA to get the data? If so, they should and prove their case. Otherwise, this continued argument is, essentially, sounding like self-interested complaints with no merit.

  38. Paul Cantor

    Excerpts from a front page New York Times Article today:

    In a Hole, Golf Considers Digging a Wider One
    By BILL PENNINGTON APRIL 18, 2014
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/19/sports/golf/in-a-hole-golf-considers-digging-a-wider-one.html?ref=golf

    Increasingly a victim of its own image and hidebound ways, golf has lost five million players in the last decade, according to the National Golf Foundation, with 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few years.

    Many of golf’s leaders are so convinced the sport is in danger of following the baby boomer generation into the grave that an internal rebellion has led to alternative forms of golf with new equipment, new rules and radical changes to courses. The goal is to alter the game’s reputation in order to recruit lapsed golfers and a younger demographic.

    Still other advocates of change have focused on adapting to the busy schedules of parents and families. In recent years, golf courses have encouraged people to think of golf in six-hole or nine-hole increments. Soon, about 30 golf courses across the country will become test cases for a system of punch-in-punch-out time clocks that assess a fee by the minutes spent playing or practicing rather than by 18- or 9-hole rounds.

  39. EDR

    It was an interesting article and thank you for sharing. It is about making the game more accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds- something that Oak Hills has done over the years with its golf camps which have been greatly expanded by their Golf Professional overt the past two years.. Can you imagine what a golf education center will do to enhance Oak Hills?

  40. Debora

    Yep. How will you pay for it?

  41. Suzanne

    It’s timely that an article on the front page of the New York Times with new ideas somewhat supports the “Friends” argument. The trend maybe going there (albeit slowly) for a 9-Hole format or 15 inch wide holes, but citing articles from various sources is just more of the same and does not address in anyway the concerns of specific Norwalk golfers and the OHPA. What would “Friends” do specifically to alter the Oak Hills Golf Course, adding other amenities for the public, that would make it monetarily successful and not the money-losing facility it is now? How is “Friends” going to SHOW us, with supporting data, what would make this park so appealing once 9 Holes are removed? (I can play the front or the back nine now without having the entire course reduced.) How are other area 9-Hole or shortened golf courses doing? How is showing trends relevant to Norwalk when there is a “vocal minority” of golfers that just don’t want to change? The “Friends” seem to be finding little support with the average taxpayer who would not want to pay for this park without accompanying benefits. Without a sound argument for a hole reduction that references the specific conditions of the
    Course, including Debora’s informative information above, there is not a joined process, just a parallel, adversarial one that could go on for years.

  42. Mea

    As a taxpayer and property owner, I never received the survey from the West Norwalk Association. Which is upsetting to me, because until I get more information I cannot make a decision on the driving range. I am also confused as to why a community pool was not suggested. There is a real need as there is no longer a community pool in Norwalk.

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