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Oak Hills Park Authority faces ‘tight’ winter, financial scrutiny

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Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer said he doesn’t expect many golfers during the rest of December at the park. (Archive photo.)

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s business as usual, according to Clyde Mount – the Oak Hills Park Authority is concerned about making it through the winter.

Revenues are up at the Oak Hills Park golf course, but so are expenses, members said at Thursday’s OHPA meeting. “Cash is tight every winter.  That is very typical for a seasonal business like we have.  We really have about 120 to 140 days to make it all work,” said Mount, OHPA chairman, in a follow up email.

The city loaned OHPA $150,000 in March 2013 to get the Authority through that winter. Although it made it through last winter without help, the numbers are not as good this year, Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron said at the last Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting, according to the meeting’s minutes.

“We always have potential money crunches in the winter.  I am confident we will make it through this year as long as we have no other surprises like another boiler going bad, or more roof leaks, like we have fixed in the last few months,” Mount said. “… This is another reason for wanting the school/practice facility; it will really help in the off season with cash.”

Revenues are up $10,000 in the period between June and November when compared to last year, but expenses are also up to the tune of $80,000, Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer said at Thursday’s meeting. That included the boiler replacement at $12,450, he said. Members decided to take the $10,000 that is still left in the Mayor’s Trophy tournament account and transfer it to the operating budget to cover most of that.

It was quiet as members scrutinized the financial ledger, with occasional comments of interpretation.

Members said water expenses have been high. Finance Committee Chairman John McKenna said the credit card fees are higher than expected. While $592,000 had been forecasted in the budget for expenses between July and November, the actual figure was $626,000, a 5.8 percent difference, he said.

The restaurant has been paying its rent on time, Mount said. McKenna said there have been savings due to the low cost of fuel, which should continue. Guyer said labor costs are down $3,000 for the month, because people have been furloughed and the administrative staff reduced.

Ernie Desrochers mentioned that required soil remediation after the 2013 removal oil tanks would be paid for as part of the $1.5 million state grant the authority expects to receive.

Mount said in his followup email that the concern stems from “normal operations and paying attention to our and the city’s observations.”

“Cash balance is lower than last year, and we are much more in tune with the financials, so we are watching it much closer and are keeping everyone up to date, so there are no surprises,” he said. “We had more expenses this year than expected, and that hurts cash.  The specials we are running is helping, so hopefully the influx of gift certificates and early renewals will continue.”

McKenna said, in a follow up email, that the numbers are preliminary un-audited financials that are being reviewed by the commission

Guyer said he also had a 2015 budget ready to submit to the city. He is projecting an 8 percent increase in rounds but had toned down the revenue projections in response to criticism from accountant Wally Englert and Barron.

“They are scrutinizing it, and rightfully so, I think they have raised some valid concerns,” McKenna said.

“He is pushing us to make sure we are on track,” Mount said, of Barron.

Guyer said he is projecting $30,000 net revenue next year.

November 2014 Financials

November 2014 Golf Revenue

In other OHPA news:

• The Authority heard a presentation from Tom Arbron of Arbron Media Associates, one of two companies vying for a marketing contract with Oak Hills. Arbron, the former Norwalk Historical Society board president, instructed members in social media, while emphasizing that he is a salesman who has a company lined up to assist in things like Twitter analytics. He pointed out to the Authority that Google Maps leads people astray if they search for Oak Hills golf course. The difference is between inputting 165 Fillow St. vs. 1 Charles Marshall Drive, Guyer said.

Marketing Committee Chairman Bill Waters was absent. Arbron was told to come up with a proposal for what could be done with a $20,000 to $30,000 budget.

The other bidder is Hearst media, according to OHPA minutes.

• Guyer reported that sales and cart rentals were down in November, which he attributed to weather. Revenue was actually up $1,000 because the Authority started selling ID cards on Nov. 28, he said. In three days the course raked in $5,100 due to ID cards, he said.

Guyer said there were 34,000 rounds at Oak Hills last year. This year will finish with almost 37,000 rounds, he said.

Update, 6 p.m., clarification of the numbers regarding expenses. 

Comments

67 responses to “Oak Hills Park Authority faces ‘tight’ winter, financial scrutiny”

  1. Suzanne

    Surprise! The public park that isn’t, that has requested forgiveness of debt to the City, that was doing so “fabulously” well this year with rounds, that finally cannot complain that the restaurant is the yoke around their neck and have devised a strategy to make sure that 1.5 million from the State goes to nothing but the euphemistic “learning center” instead of course infrastructure, is short on funds again for the winter or maybe, just maybe, might “make it” through the winter.

    Please tell me they won’t be going to the City trough once again to support their recreational sport, unnecessary to but the few who are allowed to play on this beautiful property. (Regular Norwalk citizens sure can’t.)

    Again, once must ask, after all of the success hyperbole of the playing season, does the OHPA know nothing about a budget? Why do Norwalk taxpayers have to keep on supporting this exclusive sport?

    If all seasonal businesses ran this way or any business at all, they would have been out of business a long time ago. A reiteration of the same old song that no one in City government is listening to, “Enough is enough.”

  2. OhNoNorwalk

    Stop the hemorrhaging of our tax money. Give the boot to all the officials involved with wasting our money. They don’t have the guts or the smarts to save our money. They are failures like the golf course.

  3. Avid Golfer

    Surprise is right! After months of hearing how great everything is at Oak Hills now this…..again.

    I have lived in Norwalk a long time, playing golf for many years and have played at OH many times. Any fool could predict this as the genius team comprised of operations started off the season giving all the surrounding town players golf passes for $45 which is less then what I paid for my Norwalk pass! Here’s a tip….They have nowhere to play in there towns.

    Hey OH here’s another tip, winter comes every year and I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay in the near future, maybe you should start planning now. Giving us and all of our out of town friends ridiculous discounts that end up hurting you in the winter months is not working as I just purchased 10 rounds of golf at 20% off! But now I see why you need my money now…to make it to April.

    Am I the only one that sees all the great deals now will only put you in the hole even deeper later? Has anyone ever heard the phrase “robbing Peter to pay Paul”?

    Good luck City of Norwalk and taxpayers with this one!

  4. EveT

    Is the Oak Hills restaurant open now or did they close for the winter? Their website says they’re open 6 days a week, but if you go over there during supposedly open hours, the building is all closed up.

  5. Tom Reynolds

    False fact again Suzanne. None of the $1.5 million is going to the Learning Center.

    EveT – the restaurant is its own entity, who can make their own hours. The OHPA cannot make them open (although they wish they would be open more). As long as they pay their rent the OHPA cannot do much.

  6. Paul Cantor

    2015 should be the year that the Oak Hills Park Authority is abolished and the park returned to the taxpayers of Norwalk. Specifically, the park should be put into the hands of the recreation and parks department and run as a public park not an 18-hole golf course. As things stand now it is run in the interest of a well-organized special interest group of golfers at the expense of the majority of taxpayers. And because the non-golfing public of Norwalk has not, for the most part, been paying attention a few pandering politicians have been catering to that special interest group and, in some cases, doing so in an unctuously ingratiating manner. Consequently, the Authority is now being allowed to seek a marketing firm to help it induce golfers from wealthier communities to play at Oak Hills Park. What is the justification for paying a private firm to induce golfers from New Canaan, Westport, and Wilton to play at Oak Hills? In essence the OHPA is being viewed as a bankrupt commercial enterprise attempting to come out of receivership. The user fees of Norwalk golfers have not been sufficient to cover the operating and maintenance costs of the 18-hole golf course. Hence, the need to seek other sources of revenue if a minority of Norwalk taxpayers are to continue to appropriate nearly all of the land in a public park for their preferred use. But because of the well-documented nationwide decline in the demand to play golf it is unlikely the marketing strategy will work. An article entitled “in the latest edition of The Economist, points out for example: “Last year around 25m people played golf, 18% fewer than did so in 2006, although the population grew by 6%…Last year 160 of the country’s 14,600 18-hole golf facilities shut up shop, the eighth straight year of net closures, according to the National Golf Foundation…’If golf-course architecture were a publicly traded stock, it would be a penny stock right now,’ says Brian Curley, an architect who spends much of his time designing courses in China…Playing 18 holes…takes four and a half hours or more, not counting commuting or lunch. Time-starved Americans rarely devote so many hours to anything…Many municipal golf courses have closed, because governments are unable to justify support for golf when they have cut spending on education and social services…Bringing in and retaining players below the age of 45 is more difficult than at any time in living memory.” And even if the marketing strategy would work, the taxpayers of Norwalk need to determine whether they want a public park that belongs to them to be turned over to golfers from Wilton, New Canaan, Fairfield, Westport and a small, well organized and vocal special interest group of golfers in Norwalk who share their enjoyment of a time consuming game played mostly by relatively well off men who regularly have 4+ hours of time on their hands.

  7. McKeen Shanogg

    @Cantor, the Authority was created because before that, the city treated Oak Hills as their piggy bank to siphon off golf revenues to help fund citywide park maintenance. It costs a lot of money to maintain a park even if it is just lawns. Before the Authority, the golf course was badly run down and consequently lots of people didn’t want to play there. Now it’s in great condition, thanks to top notch management and competent Authority oversight.
    Drawing golfers from all around the area brings economic benefits to Norwalk. People who might not think of coming to Norwalk to shop or eat in a restaurant might think differently once they enjoy the “hidden gem” of Oak Hills. Avid golfers love the challenge of playing at other golf courses. Golfers travel to the Caribbean, California, Scotland, you name it. Why not Norwalk?
    Your comments indicate you are uninformed about how golf courses operate.

  8. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    What is sad is we are not borrowing, nor do we expect to borrow any monies from the City in 2015…so why are we being accused again… Every seasonal business has a crunch, we are in ours. It is amazing what a few citizens of Norwalk can do to information…twist it…turn it…to make it appear that there is an issue. Is cash tight? Yes, we said it. Will it remain tight? yes, we said it…are we watching it? yes, we said it. Are we coming to the city for money? NO! We never said that…Who is putting those words in our mouths? The same people who do nothing but bash any efforts we put forth?

    It is unfortunate that these same people have such a negative impact on what we, as a group, have accomplished and will continue to accomplish over the coming years.

    Mr Cantor, please document where we are getting funds from the City to run day to day operations on the City as you imply in your communications over and over again. Taxpayers do foot the bill, but guess what, it is the golfers/tennis players who foot the bill, not the general taxpayer…that special interest group consisting of many of our senior citizens, many of our children, many of our husbands and wives…all who pay to play…it is not free to them. It is free however to those who don’t play golf or tennis.

    And on the revenues, had you and your team not FORCED the current configuration of the restaurant with the pressures in the early 2000’s, we would not have 2 million in debt that we have, and currently have more than enough revenues to cover our operating and capital expenses on an annual basis. I can show you that if you would like to see it.

    We are not perfect, but the attempts to kill the course by a few residents of Norwalk should be the real talking point here. What gives those 11 or so people the right to dictate what group should use the park, the golf course, the tennis courts, the walking trials. This park is 11% of all the parkland in the city… and receives no funding from the city unless it is a loan. Each park has a different use. This one is primarily for Golf and Tennis. And with our grant we will be bringing more to the park.

    By the way Mr. Cantor, we had a marketing firm last year…that is not new. We are interviewing them to see if we can get more for our money…spending wisely.

    I am certain I will now be blasted here…That is ok. I am not doing what I do to be popular, I am doing it to make Norwalk better, to make the park better, make the golf better, the tennis, nature, etc…so being blasted for that is fine with me. The proof will be in where this all ends up.

  9. Tom Reynolds

    Paul – you sound like the “small, well (semi-) organized and vocal special interest group”. Oak Hills is not supported on a yearly basis by tax dollars. There is no line item in the City budget for Oak Hills. Tell people that instead of trying to create a riot for your own cause. And I AM SURE that Parks & Rec do NOT want to manage the park. THAT would require real taxpayer money from the tax base that you are slowly brainwashing with your false facts and outdated references.

  10. Paul Cantor

    @ McKeen Shanogg.

    You write that the city siphoned off golf revenues to help fund park maintenance. That has never to my knowledge been the case. So, do you have data to back up that assertion?

    You write, “it costs a lot of money to maintain a park.” It cost a great deal more money to operate and maintain a golf course and user fees at Oak Hills Park do not come close to covering those costs.

    You write drawing golfers from “around the area brings economic benefits.” No doubt you are assuming that the golf course benefits restaurants and other business to such an extent that it ends up leading to lower taxes for residents. But do you really want to argue that taxpayers should subsidize the golf course in order to attract shoppers to Norwalk?

  11. Avid Golfer

    Mr. Mount just stated the mliilion dollar question….or should we say the $150,000 question as in a few short years ago.

    “Are we coming to the City for money?” And time will tell….

  12. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    “It cost a great deal more money to operate and maintain a golf course and user fees at Oak Hills Park do not come close to covering those costs.” NOT TRUE

    Mr Cantor, operating expenses are fully covered by park revenues…anytime you want me to show you at a meeting, I will. We can cover normal operating expenses.

    The cash-flow we expend on the debt is where we run short. That is the real fact about why we are short. Operations produce cash flow, but being the only Authority that is paying the city back for monies borrowed, we run short with paying the city 230k+ a year for capital improvements, some of which were forced on the Authority by previous administrations.

    Again, the taxpayers that are “subsidizing” this, are the park users/golfers/tennis players…they all pay to play, unlike the rest of the parks in the city.

  13. cc-rider

    “who share their enjoyment of a time consuming game played mostly by relatively well off men who regularly have 4+ hours of time on their hands.”

    Way to insult the entire golfing population […]. Do you offer up the same analysis of other sports other than golf?

    This post has been edited to remove a passage that violated our comment policy.

  14. Suzanne

    Mr. Reynolds, Show me where, factually with the text as I have seen it, where that 1.5 million is going. It is NOT to infrastructure but to the “Learning Center.”

    Love the “spin” on just how money is budgeted for this course. As a contributor mentioned above, winter comes every year. What a concept!

    I sure don’t understand the logic: paying back the City for debt causes the Course to run short of funds. The money that is being paid back was for the Course and, yes, that restaurant every OHPA member seems to resent so much. Where can the resentment go now that the restaurant is meeting their obligations?

    Debt service is part of a budget – a line item that should be included just like maintenance for the course. There should be no controversy in this and no squabbling. When you have bills, you pay them – for us taxpayers, that means going to collection when you cannot on money already spent for your own benefit.

  15. Paul Cantor

    Clyde and Tom,

    You write: “every seasonal business has a crunch.” You are the chairman of the OHPA. The OHPA is not a business. It is an autonomous body set up by the city to operate a golf course so that it covers its operating and maintenance costs. User fees no longer cover the operating and maintenance costs of the golf course. Who, therefore, do you think, is covering those costs? Who provided the OHPA with low interest tax subsidized loans that have had to be restructured? The question of course answers itself.

    You write that “my team” and I forced the current configuration of the restaurant. No, I was opposed to the new restaurant. The previous restaurant was attractive and suited to the needs of golfers and I used to go there to watch football games. I was very much opposed to its being torn down and replaced by the current building.

    You imply that I am motivated by a desire to kill the course or hatred of golfers or the game of golf. That is nonsense that does not require a response. When Vinny Grillo Senior and Vinny Grillo Jr. were operating the course it seemed to be doing well without a large restaurant or driving range. In my book Vinny and his father were a class act. But Vinny Grillo Jr. was forced to resign. Why?

    Of course from the point of view of golfers it is unfortunate that user fees no longer cover the costs of operating and maintaining the course. But that is the reality and the solution to the problem from the point of view of all taxpayers is not to construct a large commercial driving range or to try, with the help of a marketing firm, to entice golfers from surrounding communities to play at Oak Hills. The solution, again from the point of view of all taxpayers, may well require opening up the park to alternative uses and reducing the size of the course or eliminating it altogether.

    Tom, you are right that maintaining a public park costs money. But the cost is likely to be far less than the cost of maintaining a money losing golf course and the benefits would accrue to all taxpayers not just golfers. Hence, the benefits would outweigh the costs whereas from the point of view of all taxpayers the costs of the golf course (in terms of subsidized loans and forgone opportunities to enjoy other activities in the park) outweigh the benefits.

    Tom, you also refer to my “outdated references.” The “outdated reference” in my comment above is from the latest issue of The Economist (December 20 to January 2nd Special holiday double issue, pages 108 to 110). The article referred to is entitled “The decline of golf.” Another outdated reference I’ve referred to in the past is an April 18 article by Bill Pennington in the New York Times that points out, “People under 35 have especially spurned the game, saying it takes too long to play” so “in recent years, golf courses have encouraged people to think of golf in six-hole or nine-hole increments.” Finally, a third “outdated reference” you might consider is the current Oak Hills Authority’s Master Plan which states on pages 4 and 26: “It became obvious that with the decline in rounds over the previous few years a more aggressive approach to marketing and management was needed… The National Golf
    Foundation (NFG) indicates that the average number of rounds played per 18-hole golf course has declined from a peak of 30 million round in 2005 to 25.3 million round in 2012.”

  16. Avid Golfer

    Maybe the Authority should concentrate on using the user fees to cover operating costs AND capital improvements like all successful companies do.

    Just covering operating costs alone is only half the battle, you can put the blame on the restaurant debt and other administrations all day long (as you do all the time) but it does not solve the problem and as you can tell from the bank account it is a problem.

    Obviously the user fees do not do that now, maybe your doing something wrong such as spending too much and charging too little?

    Do the conditions of the golf course really need to be that good or can we save money? Do we really need to have that many employees or can we cut back? Is it smart to spend $20-$30k on a marketing firm when all golfers in the area already know we exist? Are we charging enough to play? And so on…these are the questions you should be asking.

    The restaurant and it’s associated debt is not going away unless our elected officials decide they no longer will like to be in office and forgive the debt, so unfortunately members of the OHPA, you are the ones who have volunteered to figure it out.

    So please stop blaming others from previous administrations and figure out a way to make what you have work or give up and let someone else try. I’m sure it’s very difficult, but going into debt further to try and make OH better then what it is, a muni golf course, is a ridiculous Hail Mary plan that potentially could cost the City and it’s taxpayers millions.

    It must be possible, not every muni golf course is in dire straights like OH or are they?

  17. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    It is part of our planning, and we have paid back almost $700,000 (seven hundred thousand dollars) in the last three years…I don’t see any reference to that number.

    “Spin” comes from statements like ” Why do Norwalk taxpayers have to keep on supporting this exclusive sport?” This is your Spin and has no basis. Please show me where the non-golfing taxpayer is supporting this “exclusive” sport. An outdoor activity where over 8,000 rounds of golf were played by our Norwalk seniors, are they exclusive?

    So please, spin is your game…We are paying our debt and our bills. Stop trying to turn this into another generic park, that is not a good move for Norwalk or Norwalk taxpayers.

  18. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Clyde Mount

    You admit that you are having trouble paying back your debt of $230,000 per year. Why can’t you understand the concern over your borrowing millions more of taxpayer dollars to build the so-called school/practice facility ? You are asking this money from people who don’t even play golf.

    Why can’t you understand the concern of homeowners in the area who aren’t impressed with your grand marketing plans to bring additional traffic into a RESIDENTIAL NEIGHBORHOOD ?

  19. piberman

    Lets encourage everyone to have a meal at Oak Hills. Great views and good food !

  20. Tom Reynolds

    You jokers are really great at bashing, but you really offer no help in solving these “problems” that you claim Oak Hills has. Why not try and come up with a plan of your own to help the OHPA if you know more than they do. Help fix what problems you see. The OHPA members volunteer their time to try and make things better than the way the previous administrations (and definitely previous course management teams) ever did. You can read all the magazines you want, but for every negative article on any issue, you can find 5 articles that say the opposite.

    Also Paul, part of the reason the old Oaks Restaurant was torn down was because it was falling apart. Just walking to the bar made you wonder if you were going to fall through the floor. It had to go. The $2.5 million appropriated back then (early 2000’s) was to build the restaurant AND the driving range, but because the construction had to be managed by the City the entire amount had to go towards an ill-designed and over budget restaurant. The ill-design was a result of trying to accommodate the wishes of the immediate neighborhood – people like you. The only reason the restaurant is making its rent payments now is because the OHPA gave them a break in the rent just to keep it occupied. GUESS WHO now needs to make up the different in the rent? You guessed it – – the OHPA. They are really trying to help.

    If you spent more energy solving the problem instead of crying wolf, you would be better off. And people would probably follow the pied piper.

  21. Avid Golfer

    @pieberman

    Great idea! But unfortunately that will not help the OHPA bank account. But it may help the restaurant pay the rent.

  22. EveT

    The restaurant’s ability to pay its rent does indeed help the OHPA bank account.
    I understand about the restaurant having the right to set their own hours. What I would like to know is, are they open during the hours that their website says they are?

  23. Avid Golfer

    @tom

    Problems That WE CLAIM Oak Hills has? I just read the NON article and its Bob Barron of the City and the Authority’s own Accountant who are claiming there is a potential problem.

    I am only commenting about what is in black and white, the OHPA financial reports I’m sure tell the whole story.

  24. Suzanne

    Mr. Reynolds, I think there has been plenty of accounting advice offered to the OHPA. In addition, why should citizens who have no access to a public park “help” the administration who controls the lack of access to that facility? Nope. The OHPA is on its own on this one (and I think there is a real lack of perspective by the OHPA regarding their responsibilities to the taxpayers and the City.)

  25. EDR

    This just in from the National Golf Foundation! Great article for everyone to read.

    The Big “Story” of 2014 – The Media Coverage of Golf’s Supposed Demise

    The year in golf could perhaps be summarized by two high-profile relationships that went south. The first one is that of PGA TOUR superstar Rory McIlroy and his then-fiancé, Caroline Wozniacki. Immediately upon their breakup in May, Rory won his first event in 18 months at Wentworth and then proceeded to capture The Open Championship, The Bridgestone WGC, the PGA, and regained his world #1 ranking. His return to form has been extremely popular.

    Unfortunately, 2014 was also the year when the relationship between the media and golf took a turn for the worse. Press coverage took on a sharply negative narrative about the recreational game and business of golf. Hundreds of non-golf media outlets decided that the so-called “demise of golf” was a popular story worthy of their airtime, ink and pixels.

    If you make your living in the business of golf, we’re sure you noticed an increase in the volume of negative articles beginning in the early spring. That’s when Dick’s Sporting Goods, the country’s (and golf’s) most powerful sports equipment and apparel retailer, a public company, blamed underperforming revenues in golf and hunting for the company’s poor financial performance. Several very influential media outlets took notice.

    Some say the fuse was lit when Dick’s CEO Ed Stack was quoted as saying “We don’t feel we’ve found the bottom yet in the golf sales number.” Editors/producers from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, CBS Marketwatch, HBO Sports, Fortune, The Economist and many others assigned golf business stories to their respective staffs. The resulting pieces almost universally focused on the presumed unrecoverable decline in participation and characterized the entire industry as “falling off a cliff.” Few articles extolled the virtues of the game and business of golf, the 2 million Americans employed, the $3.9B golf generates for charity or even the $70B in economic impact owed to the game.

    It would be natural to ask why so many in the media have such an appetite for negativity toward the greatest game. Why target golf? One theory is that golf continues to be perceived as elitist, a game only for the rich, despite a more inclusive reality. The articles themselves are the clearest testament to a belief that the masses in America want to see golf taken down a notch, as if it were Wall St. executive compensation packages they were covering.

    Reports of golf’s demise are short-sighted, and not supported by the facts. As the year went on, the negativity on golf remained in the news cycle. We understand that these journalists may just be doing their jobs, but that doesn’t make this cycle of gloom and doom any less upsetting and distracting to those in the business. In many instances, data from NGF or other sources is used out of context and misleads readers on the extent of golf’s headwinds. One article recently (and erroneously) stated that golf had lost more than 4MM players in a recent year. The piece failed to mention that roughly the same amount entered the game that same year, with the overall net change in participation easily ending up within research error. The article could have written that golf attracts 3-4MM new trials each and every year (split roughly 50/50 between beginners and returning former golfers).

    In fact, golf participation has shown signs of stabilization since the 2008 recession drove a departure of less-committed, less-frequent golfers. There’s no doubt that golf is meaningfully off the peak participation number of 30.6 million from 2003, but the trajectory of the decline has flattened and the golfer number has stayed right around 25 million participants since 2011. With the departure of many infrequent players, the average rounds played for today’s golfer population has actually risen in recent years.

    Over the course of the year, we all probably spent too much time reading articles, watching interviews and clicking on stories that gave golf the appearance of being “on the ropes.” Closures of golf courses, expected to be around 150 annually for several more years, will continue to spawn new articles, particularly in local newspapers in the markets where the closures occur. The articles will continue to give many people the impression that golf is declining. What the articles won’t say is that this gradual reduction in supply is part of a necessary and natural market correction following the opening of more than 4,000 new facilities between 1986 and 2005. Rounds per 18 holes nationally are still below late 90’s levels and, all else being equal, closures will slowly raise these numbers and help the financial health of course operators. Since our 15,000+ golf course businesses are the main engine of the recreational golf economy, this is a move in a positive direction.

    Despite reports to the contrary, interest in the game remains strong, even among the 18-34 year-old Millennials. More than 28 million Americans who don’t play are “very” or “somewhat” interested in playing golf now. More than 12 million of those are of millennial age. So those articles that have professed “OMG… Millennials are so over golf” didn’t have all the facts, perhaps only a desire for a headline writer to engage you. Millennials make up 25% of all golfers (6.2 million) and spend more than $5B annually on playing fees, equipment and apparel.

    Plain and simple, golf isn’t going anywhere. Demand appears to be stabilizing, there is a healthy pool of interested prospects to activate, rounds per golfer are up, and the supply and demand imbalance is gradually moving toward a more healthy equilibrium.

    Even Ed Stack of Dick’s Sporting Goods recently expressed measured positivity. After a difficult 2014 in retail, he is “cautiously optimistic” (about golf sales) in 2015. Perhaps the other sport he called out after disappointing Q1 earnings… hunting… will have a similar recovery next year, as Rory did in 2014.

    Incidentally, we don’t recall reading or seeing any inflammatory articles or stories this year covering any supposed downfall of hunting. Please let us know if we missed any.

  26. Avid Golfer

    Great! this is good news for the future of the game I love, but Can someone please explain how this article helps the OHPA financial position now?

  27. TomReynolds

    As I said earlier, for every negative publication there is probably 5 good ones. Some people in the minority seem to only latch onto the negative to plead their case and not onto ALL of the facts.

  28. Suzanne

    One might construe that the National Golf Foundation just printed a great public relations piece.

  29. ANS

    What if someone proposed a 9-hole transformation that included a massive range within sight of Fillow Street? Would this appease all of you who fight progress at Oak Hills?

  30. Kevin Di Mauro

    It would have been nice if EDR had provided a link to the NGF report he refers to in his comments so people could read the actual article for themselves as he suggests.

    Unfortunately, the report is not available to the general public. The cost for nonmembers of NGF to access the report is $350.00. As far as I am concerned EDR’s words are just more spin. Maybe EDR is implying we non-golfers should spend hundreds of dollars to join the NGF.

  31. Kevin Di Mauro

    Would you buy a used car from EDR ? I hear he has a Chevy Malibu.

  32. Avid Golfer

    Maybe EDR (OHPA member) should have saved the $350 membership fee that the OHPA most likely paid for and the financials would look slightly better.

  33. Paul Cantor

    EDR (Ernie Desrochers, Chairman of the OHPA driving range committe):

    The logo of the National Golf Foundation reads:

    HELPING GOLF BUSINESSES SUCCEED SINCE 1936

    The board of directors of The National Golf Foundation consists of individuals who have a proprietary interest in promoting Golf.

    Nevertheless the only substantive comment in the NGF document you posted is:

    “There’s no doubt that golf is meaningfully off the peak participation number of 30.6 million from 2003, but the trajectory of the decline has flattened and the golfer number has stayed right around 25 million participants since 2011. With the departure of many infrequent players, the average rounds played for today’s golfer population has actually risen in recent years.”

    In short the NGF agrees that the number of people who participate in the sport declined by 18% and then “flattened out.”

    Did you read the article before you posted it?

    On June 19, Business week reported:

    “Golf is suffering from an exodus of players, and courses are closing. The number of U.S. golfers has dropped 24 percent from its peak in 2002, to about 23 million players last year, according to Pellucid, a consulting company that specializes in the business of golf. It found that in 2013 alone, the game lost 1.1 million players.”

    Rather than flattening out, in other words, golf continues to suffer from a loss of participants.

    http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-06-19/golf-loses-players-as-millennials-find-it-expensive-time-consuming

    Furthermore, in August, CNBC reported:

    “More and more market participants have been banking on the decline in the popularity of golf, according to new research, with stocks that have exposure to the sport seeing an increase in short interest in recent weeks.”

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/101950530#.

    In short (pun intended) the smart money appears to be forecasting that the decline will continue.

    Hence, the Oak Hills Authority is not wholly responsible for the fact that it can’t cover the operating and maintenance costs of the golf course. It is responsible, however, for refusing to face reality.

    There is simply no justification for the Authority’s insistence in promoting the interests of the small and declining percentage or Norwalk residents who play golf at the expense of all the taxpayers of Norwalk. And no marketing scheme is likely to end up generating the revenue it needs to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the golf course.

    And most importantly, the large commercial driving range you as head of the OHPA driving range committee propose to construct if you can induce our elected representatives to provide you with millions of additional taxpayer subsidized loans will: undermine the residential quality of the AAA West Norwalk neighborhood in which Oak Hills Park is situated, make the Park even less accessible to people who do not play golf, require trees to be cut down and ugly nets to be put up and the course itself to be altered ways many golfers won’t like, and likely add to your financial problems rather than help you resolve them.

    Please consider the fact that the taxpayers of Norwalk have been especially generous to golfers. You and they should be grateful for that. Now, given the decrease in the demand to play 18 rounds of golf you should consider reducing the size of the course to nine holes and opening up the park to many other activities. That may not be to the liking of a few hardcore golfers but a nine-hole course would no doubt meet the needs of most of the dwindling number of Norwalk residents who still enjoy the game. And more importantly it would enable Oak Hills Park to become a genuine public park open to the many different kinds of activities enjoyed by all the residents of Norwalk, including most golfers.

    As Robert Virgulak, the former chair of the OHPA, put it the 18-hole golf course cannot make it financially without an outside source of revenue. That is the reality you need to face. It is, in part, a reflection of the fact that fewer people today play golf. Hard core golfers who want to play an 18-hole course have many alternatives available to them that don’t require subsidies from taxpayers who are less well off than they are.

  34. Suzanne

    Dick’s Sporting Goods? The one commercial indicator of golf’s resurgence? Hate to disappoint EDR, but articles have been published a pace for many years about golf’s decline.

    I would also suggest you divide the number of millennials by the number of golf courses in the US. Not that impressive and neither is their purchasing power if all golf equipment and fees garnered by the industry are considered.

    This article does not look at the specifics of failed golf courses nor much of anything solid regarding economics. Golf increase is an illusion with fewer golf courses. It just means that golfers who can no longer play at failed courses switch to open ones.

    Golf increasing is a speculation. Golfing in decline is a fact. See Mr. Cantor’s legitimate citations above.

  35. cc-rider

    Suzanne- Guyer states the # of rounds at Oak Hlls increased by 3,000 over last year. What do you make of this? Impossible right?

  36. Suzanne

    c-c rider, Nothing of what I have written would say that 3,000 extra rounds would be impossible. The referenced material above talks about a NATIONAL trend of reduced golf play. That does not preclude the long term effect of this trend on Oak Hills.

    People sure do get cranky when the obvious is reported: The OHPA has debt with payment due to the City of Norwalk. The upkeep of the course is covered by the course fees but the debt, which should be included in the budget as any business would, is left out of the equation or reluctantly considered when the upkeep of the course is reviewed.

    Tell me what business can not include the cost of debt previously incurred for the upkeep of said business and not get into real trouble with their creditors. I guess since it is the City, the repayment schedule is flexible for the OHPA.

    The OHPA asked forgiveness of this debt and I say no. If they cannot support the course as the Charter requires, they need to go into another business.

    I think the course is beautiful and have played golf there many times (as with “Avid Golfer”.) That does not mean that I support the OHPA when they are being fiscally irresponsible. I think considering a driving range with the amount of debt already incurred with the hope that this will eliminate their money problems is foolish.

    Pay the debt, clean up the infrastructure problems, become Audubon certified (which saves money on expensive inorganic fertilizer programs) then, maybe, a driving range will be merited. Until then, the OHPA should “stick to their knitting.”

  37. Paul Cantor

    CC-rider

    According to the OHPA’s Master Plan: “The number of golf course closings quadrupled from an annual average of 24 courses per year in the period 1993-2001 to more than 100 courses in 2005. In 2006, there was negative net growth in golf facilities for the first time in six decades, with 146 18-hole equivalents closing and 119.5 opening. In 2007, there were 113 openings and 121.5 closures, and in 2008, 72 golf course openings and 106 closures. In 2009, 49.5 openings minus 139.5 closures equated to a net loss of 90 18-hole equivalents.”

    Furthermore, according to the OHPA’s Master Plan, the number of rounds played at Oak Hills in recent years were:

    Year—-Rounds
    2008—–45,475
    2009—–42,413
    2010—–40,176
    2011—–34,159
    2012—–32,953
    2013—–34,219

    Now Shelly expects the total number of rounds played this year will come to 38,000, a 4,223 round increase over the average of the last three years but 7,475 fewer rounds than were played in 2008.

    Still, the Authority can’t cover the golf course’s operating and maintenance costs and apparently has no prospect of doing so without some outside source of revenue.

    Also, you might consider, that since the purpose of a public park in Norwalk is to meet the needs of the residents of Norwalk and not nonresident golfers it is relevant to ask to what extent resident rounds increased. And, as I recall, the Authority indicated that rather than increasing resident adult rounds fell last September.

    However, getting information about just what is going on with respect to rounds played on the golf course in Oak Hills Park or the Authority’s finances is a bit like pulling teeth. Clearly, the Authority does not think transparency is in its interest. If it did it would include information on its finances and rounds played in its monthly minutes. But you won’t find that information for recent months in its minutes or anywhere else on the city’s web site. And that despite the fact that the Authority is required to make it public.

  38. Avid Golfer

    @CC:

    3,000 more golf rounds and $80,000 less in cash at the end of the season. I’m sure if OH lets everyone play in 2015 for free they will be the busiest course in the country! Now there’s a great plan.

    Obviously doing 3,000 more rounds and making less money is very poor planning, someone really needs to figure out how to make it work where at the end of the year you actually make more money then you spend and it probably begins with figuring out how to save on expenses and charge the correct golfing fees to play.

  39. Secondhand Rose

    There are quite a few ponds in that golf course. If the OHPA is worried about making money in the winter, then why not charge a very small admission fee (like under $5.00) for kids and adults to SKATE on those ponds? And maybe hire a food truck to dispense hotdogs and hot chocolate to the skaters, with a percentage of profits going back to the OHPA? I mean, come on – it’s not as if anyone uses those ponds for anything else year-round; they’re just there to look at. Let us skate on them!

  40. TomReynolds

    Wow. 55 degrees on December 27th. I driving range would be packed today. Think of all the money that could be made.

  41. Suzanne

    Right. On a holiday week end when a good number of people aren’t in town.

    At a facility not merited because existing debt is not paid. For a group that wants to borrow MORE money from the town in order to pay for this contraption, crowded on a warm day on a holiday week end in December.

    Not enough money to meet the expenses in this “crunch” period of this seasonal business, or so the OHPA, down a few employees for the cold season could accommodate.

    I would like to see, just one, Mr. Reynolds (and this is not personal) you provide valid statements supported by statistics, facts, evidence of any kind.

  42. Charles Brennan

    I was at the range today at Sterling Farms and it was packed with a waiting list. Maybe all the people that were out of town were in Stamford. The existing debt is being paid and no one has asked to borrow any money. So if the range was there would be revenue coming in.

  43. Avid Golfer

    I was also at Sterling Farms today but to play golf, WITH A CART and they were packed on the golf course too.

    Can someone please tell me why I can’t play at my home course with a cart and I need to go out of town to play when I was more then willing to support the cause? I would think with money needed carts would be available or that may be too simple of a way to make money.

  44. Kevin Di Mauro

    How often do we get 55 degrees on Dec. 27th ?

    Tom Reynolds has previously stated that Sterling Farms is hoping that a driving range IS NOT built at Oak Hills. He still hasn’t answered my question if this is because there IS NOT enough business to support two driving ranges in such close proximity.

    Also Charles Brennan mentions the term “range”. Is this in reference to a driving range or a so-called “school/practice facility”?

  45. Suzanne

    Incorrect, Mr. Brennan. A request WAS made by OHPA of the City in order to build the driving range.

    Once again, the OHPA loses an opportunity for revenue. Please see “Avid Golfer” above. Not the first time!

  46. Paul Cantor

    Mr. Brennan,

    Please consider the following:

    1. The location of Sterling Farms off busy Newfield Avenue and close to downtown Stanford versus the location of Oak Hills Park in an AAA residential neighborhood off the beaten track.
    2. The Sterling Farms driving range was financed with money borrowed from the private sector. The OHPA could not get funding for its proposed driving range from the private sector.
    3. If driving ranges were as lucrative as you imagine the private sector would be constructing them and the OHPA would have had no trouble obtaining a loan for its proposed 36 bay commercial driving range that it euphemistically refers to as a “golf learning center” from the private sector.
    4. The OHPA is supposed to manage the park in Oak Hills in the interest of all the taxpayers of Norwalk. It is not supposed to operate a large commercial enterprise whose primary objective is to generate revenues from out of town golfers in order to subsidize a golf course that due to a lack of demand from Norwalk golfers cannot cover its costs.

  47. Charles Brennan

    First Oak Hills does not have continuous cart paths for the whole course which Sterling farms has. With the course so wet in spots it would damage the course that is why Oak Hills needs continuous paths through the whole course. Suzanne the master plan was put forth but no money has been asked for from the city so I think you are wrong. Sterling farms does not want the Range built at Oak Hills because it will hurt there revenue.

  48. Paul Cantor

    Mr. Brennan,

    Did you ever stop to consider that competition with Sterling Farms will make it more difficult for a driving range at Oak Hills to generate the revenue needed to cover the cost of constructing it? Might that have been one of the reasons the OHPA couldn’t get a loan from the private sector for its 36 bay “golf learning center?” Again, the proposed driving range is as likely to add to the OHPA’s financial problems as to help resolve them.

  49. Avid Golfer

    @brennan

    Course so wet? It rained all spring and I drove in a cart there without continuous cart paths.

  50. Suzanne

    Mr. Brennan, Please see:

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/11/norwalk-council-to-consider-oak-hills-financial-status-in-regard-to-proposed-loan/

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/10/norwalk-council-approves-4-3-million-oak-hills-master-plan/

    The intention to ask is there: Mr. Hamilton went through an entire analysis for the benefit of the Common Council as to the restrictions for that ask. The OHPA is going to come begging based upon that Master Plan, in black and white as indicated in these articles.

    Why I can make that assumption: the complaint of the OHPA director that the debt service is hard to or not being met through course fees but the maintenance of the course is. The leap from the budget “crunch” at winter time for maintaining the course that makes the idea of building a driving range at the cost, more or less, of $4.3 dollars affordable to the OHPA. The difficulty in getting private loans to finance the venture. The fact that the OHPA has any debt to the City at all indicates to me that they have asked for loans before when the “crunch” makes managing the course too financially cumbersome.

    It is not a giant “leap” – the intention to borrow was made quite clear when the Master Plan was presented before the Common Council for approval.

    How in the heck is the OHPA going to finance a driving range when they can barely afford to get through winter?

  51. John Hamlin

    The golf course is a tremendous asset for the city. The issue is money. Norwalk should plan to kiss goodbye any additional money for the golf course. The question is — is this money worth spening to support this asset in this way? What are our priorities as a city?

  52. Yvonne Lopaur

    Mr. Brennan,
    It has been said many times by golfers and those that support them that the golf course is “a jewel” or as you put it “a tremendous asset to the city.” No. The park is the asset to the city. The golf course is only an asset to golfers. And it is an asset to golfers that is maintained with taxpayer-subsidized loans that the OHPA has little prospect of paying back. Furthermore, the “jewel” is losing its sparkle as I write because the Authority is cutting down trees in the park on grounds that the superintendent considers them a “nuisance” to golfers. And its sparkle is further diminished as hazardous chemicals are applied to its grounds in order to maintain the greens. Furthermore, many times I have pointed out to the Authority that it would add to the value of the park to all Norwalk residents if it would provide walking, jogging and fitness trails. Too dangerous is their response. Walkers, joggers and the like will get in the way of golfers. Who are those golfers? A few of them come from Norwalk. But not enough to generate the user fees needed to cover the operating and maintenance costs of golf course. Hence, the OHPA hires a marketing team to induce golfers from Wilton, New Canaan, and Westport to play on the taxpayers of Norwalk’s dime. So the golf course ends up being an asset to the wealthier surrounding communities that all Norwalk taxpayers pay for. Make sense? Perhaps, if you are one of the minority of Norwalk taxpayers who regularly play golf.

  53. Charles Brennan

    Yvonne,
    You should try to answer the person that wrote that not me but I will respond to some of your nonsense. The chemical have been addressed and there were no issues maybe this did not satisfy you. Walking ,jogging trails through a golf couse while people are playing golf is just dangerous if someone gets hit by a golf ball that should not be on the course I know my insursance would not be paying for any damages as the golfer is responsible not the course. The golf course is an asset to the city because many people who move to the town like that is has a public golf course. People who are from other towns pay higher rates just like they do to use other town parks as the beach are you going to say that we should not let them use the other town parks either.

  54. Yvonne Lopaur

    Yes, when the issue of hazardous chemicals being stored and used on the golf course came up the OHPA was forced to address it and its response essentially was “yes, we store and use hazardous chemicals, don’t worry about it.” Jogging through a park free of golfers is not dangerous. A multi-use park is an asset to a city. A golf course that cannot cover its operating and maintenance costs is a burden to the city. The OHPA has not been covering the operating and maintenance cost of the golf course for some time now.

  55. Kevin Di Mauro

    This post was disallowed for violating our policy against personal attacks.

  56. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  57. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  58. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  59. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  60. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  61. Kevin Di Mauro\

    Yeah.

    So What ?

  62. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

  63. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

  64. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

  65. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

  66. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

  67. Kevin Di Mauro\

    @ Chanles Bremmam

    People like you are DANGEROUS.

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