Oak Hills driving range plans unveiled to public

Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions presents his plans for an Oak Hills Park driving range to Oak Hills Park Authority members and Norwalk citizens Thursday.

NORWALK, Conn. – The latest insurrection faced by the Oak Hills Park Authority came from its own Thursday, golfers opposed to the selection made by authority members of a driving range proposal that would put it between the first tee and sixth green, people who thought the woodlands behind the restaurant would be preferable.

The golfers got a fast rebuttal from OHPA Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers, who said the selection was made for business purposes, not to preserve the woods behind the restaurant. Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions went on to refute claims by the golfers that his driving range will be too narrow if it is put near the sixth tee, explaining that his proposal calls for shaving a hill to widen the field and give extra height to the net to catch balls.

Downing’s plans were unveiled to the public for the first time: With the modifications to the park and the way the driving range is proposed to sit, it would be 250 yards long. The “blue tee” would be moved, but it won’t lose yardage because golfers would hit their drives over the pond, which would allow them to see the green, Downing said. The first deck of the double-decker driving range would be heated. Automatic tees would bring balls up every four seconds, which would help people with bad backs and speed up play, Downing said. A shuttle service would transport bags for golfers, he said.

Five golfers spoke at the beginning of the meeting to protest the driving range plan, which was announced in August and has been in the process of negotiation.

Norwalker John Sharkey said the range would be a disruption and a distraction, that the site selected was bad because the sun blinds golfers in the afternoon.

Jim Deering was present only in writing, as Sharkey and another man read a letter he had written. Driving ranges are usually separate from golf courses and 95 percent of the golfers are against the plan, the letter said. The range would be too short behind the sixth green, golfers would be hit by flying golf balls and Norwalk will become the laughing stock of the golfing community, he wrote.

Connor O’Brien, a Brien McMahon High School junior and captain of the golf team, said the woodlands would be better. “It’s not true to say that any driving range is better than no range,” he said.

Desrochers reminded everyone that the proposal isn’t just for a driving range. As part of the deal Total Driving Range Solutions plans to develop a long-needed master plan for the park, “so we can figure out a way to provide uses for everybody.”

“The decision on its location was made from a business perspective of which operator provided a better plan for the park with respect to the amount of rent we will collect over the period of the lease,” he said. “We expect that, by the third year, our income that we will collect off the lease will probably be somewhere between $80,000 and $100,000. Our deal is to collect 15 percent of the gross revenues from the range.”

Tad King of King Golf International, who proposed building in the woods, would not agree to pay as much rent as Downing, he said.

“While both ranges had pros and cons, we felt that Mr. Downing’s proposal served the needs of the park authority very well in terms of the amount of revenue that it would generate, but also in terms of what it provided the community with respect to the comments the neighbors had made during the whole process,” he said. “I have to tell you, I find with some bemusement people coming up here tonight making comments about the range. As far as I know, the only people who have seen the proposal is Clyde and I.”

Downing said the hill would be shaved straight down at its peak. That would result in a 75-foot high natural wall, with a 20-foot net on top.

“Netting will contain most of the balls,” he said. “I can’t say it will catch all of the balls, that’s impossible. This will be high enough so no one is going to be hit in any way.”

Downing said that planners had studied the sun. This time of year the sun is much lower, he said, but in the summer it won’t be so bad.

“It’s going to be there somewhat. Is it going to hurt completely? No. You’re still going to be able to hit the ball, you’re still going to be able to see mostly where it lands,” he said. “During the summertime it’s higher when you’re practicing a lot, so when we did the study as to where it went, you’re able to see the ball hit the end of the driving range.”

Construction would take four months, he said. The idea is to start in winter, he said, but added that he didn’t know how long Norwalk’s permitting process would take. The cart barn will be moved and the holes rearranged first so as to minimize the impact on golfers, he said.

“It’ll bring in more revenue, it will be safe, but it will be able to bring in more people as well,” he said.

“The golf course looks great, it’s the best that I’ve seen it, so we don’t want anything that’s going to hurt the golf course or that is going to hurt the play of golf as well.”


12 responses to “Oak Hills driving range plans unveiled to public”

  1. Suzanne

    Right now, skiing and snow-shoeing is one of the few completely peaceful, non-regulated, enjoyable activities for those who do not play golf and can only use the Park in the winter when there is no play. People are respectful to one another, it is very low key, and very much a neighborhood activity. Now, why mess with that? Also, not to be too snarky, it is entertaining that this wholly conceived plan that would include an evaluation of the entire course for some, ostensibly, improvements just isn’t good enough for some of the golfers! Wow! A testament to the reality that there will always be the whiners and some can never be pleased. You are getting what you want in what appears to be a thoughtful plan – what are you whining about? Last observation – it’s sort of comforting to know that there is equal-opportunity hostility no matter who is talking. I don’t know why, but for some reason, on the video, it appears to be a “tough room.”

  2. M Allen

    @Suzanne – skiing and snow-shoeing? You get more snow on your side of town than I do here? And yeah, it is a tough room. People are frustrated. The vast majority of people who actually use the premises would like more say than the ultra-small minority who uses it for other purposes. That isn’t a comment on majority versus minority rights, just a comment on human nature. Frustration happens.

  3. Oldtimer

    Aren’t they getting a little ahead of themselves ? A proposal maybe, but a decision ?
    This could end up as the approved proposal, but isn’t there some process required before any contract is given ? Where is the money coming from to finance construction, if this proposal is approved ?

  4. David

    I think the comments reported on by those present are ludicrous.
    First, as there was no polling of golfers, how can anyone say that “95%” of golfers are against this plan and keep a straight face. It may reflect the opinion of these individuals inner circles, but not golfers as a whole. From my (equally unscientific) observation, while playing golf at Oak Hills this year, there was nothing but excitement and enthusiasm at the prospect of having a driving range at Oak Hills.
    Second, the idea that a driving range is “usually separate from golf courses” is hogwash. Just go to Sterling Farms – their driving range abuts two holes (the 8th at the end and 9th to the left) and I’ve even see range balls on the 10th green! These are municipal courses, space is at a premium.
    Third: The sun is blinding. In unrelated news, it’s dark at night. Have you ever been to the Sterling Farms golf course at 6am in the summer? The sun is blinding. And let’s face it, unless the driving range is made to point due north, at some point in the day the sun will be in the golfers face.
    Personally, I look forward to the opportunity go practice someplace that’s only 10 minutes from me. I can easily justify a lunch hour at the driving range. Bring it on!

  5. Steve Serasis

    I golf at Oak Hills three times a week. This is a great plan to please all sides of the coin, will be less intrusive to the environment, and it will benefit all aspects of long range planning that will accommodate both golfers, and non-golfers. It’s a beautiful public park everyone, we should strive to please everyone who wishes to visit…Whether you’re swinging a club, cross country skiing, checking out the wildlife, or hiking.

  6. Debora

    This looks like a well-thought out proposal for the range, and seems to really consider what the golfers would enjoy. Kudos.
    However, I do hope he misspoke in referring to a master plan for the golf course. The lease calls for a master plan for the entire park, not just the course. The capital work approved under the original master plan (if it exists) was used to secure the bonds to put in a practice range–those funds were used up to build the restaurant.
    This has to be part of a new master plan for the entire park, and all approvals would be required, and funding needs to be secured.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Debora

      This is the paragraph from the story. It does refer to the park, not just the golf course:

      Desrochers reminded everyone that the proposal isn’t just for a driving range. As part of the deal Total Driving Range Solutions plans to develop a long-needed master plan for the park, “so we can figure out a way to provide uses for everybody.”

  7. Debora

    Thanks Mark,
    That’s what I get for “premature posting”. After I wrote it, I played the rest of the clip and it was there too. D’oh!

  8. Debora

    BTW, my comment about the lease and the funding stands. All approvals will be needed from the City before this can go forward, since the approvals that went with the previous (elusive, if not non-existent) master plan went away with the exhaustion of the original bond funds that were used to build the restaurant.

  9. Joe Norwalk

    “I have to tell you, I find with some bemusement people coming up here tonight making comments about the range. As far as I know, the only people who have seen the proposal is Clyde and I.”

    Really? Here is the problem: stop excluding the public from having input on decisions and stop making decisions behind closed doors. Have the bidders present their proposals in public meetings and allow the public to comment without belittling people’s opinions when they disagree with yours. Listen to all the input, then, as a board vote and make a decision. If you do not want to listen to the public and you can’t handle people disagreeing with you, then you shouldn’t be serving on the authority.

    “Desrochers reminded everyone that the proposal isn’t just for a driving range. As part of the deal Total Driving Range Solutions plans to develop a long-needed master plan for the park, “so we can figure out a way to provide uses for everybody.””

    Again, really? You are going to do a master plan for the park AFTER making this very large investment that will be the most significant alteration to the golf course since it’s original construction? Why does this makes sense? Do the master plan first, then do the driving range.

    I hate to be critical of volunteers but the Oak Hills Authority’s decision-making isn’t much better than the board of NEON’s.

  10. Piberman

    One can only be impressed with the pie in the sky financials of this proposal. Reminds us of how NEON has been managed. Let’s hope Mayor Rilling will step in and demand a financial presentation that can withstand rigorous financial scrutiny if not environmental scrutiny. Ditto for the new Council.

  11. Amy

    Mr. Downing/Total Driving Range Solutions has NEVER even built a driving range!! In addition, Mr. Downing did NOT provide Mr. Desrochers/Mr. Mount with a “proof of funds letter” with his proposal as opposed to King Golf. To date, Mr. Downing has not raised 2 cents for this venture and is still shopping around for private money to build this ill-conceived driving range. WHY DIDN’T MR. DESROCHERS INFORM THE AUTHORITY OF THESE CRITICAL FACTS WHEN THE BOARD VOTED ON THIS ISSUE??

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