NORWALK, Conn. – Refined plans for a park-like driving range at Oak Hills Park were presented to the Oak Hills Park Authority Thursday, including options to divide the restaurant building so that it would include the pro shop.
The plan presented by Jim Downing, Mark Curtin, and Doug Smith of Total Driving Range Solutions includes shifting the first tee and putting a practice green next to it. A new cart barn would be put behind the restaurant’s parking lot, and might include administrative offices. No restaurant parking would be eliminated, but some employee parking would be moved.
“I think it’s a major improvement,” Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers said of the revisions done in response to criticism from authority members.
“This isn’t just plopping a range. We’ve been thinking about, as the issues come up, we’ve been talking about them and trying to address them,” said committee member Clyde Mount, now OHPA acting chairman.
Opposition continues from the golfing community, at least in the person of John Sharkey, one of only two people to speak to the authority.
Sharkey said “safety first” as he predicted golf balls from the driving range would hit those on the course.
The other person to speak, Paul Cantor, said the range would not solve the park’s financial problems.
Smith agreed that balls would come onto the range of the second hole.
“That is a concern,” he said. “That’s not a perfect situation. We’re going to put up the biggest nets that we can to contain the ball.”
Alterations to the sixth green are also an issue.
“That’s one of the negatives. We’re not hiding that, it is what it is,” Smith said. “There are definitely ways we can adjust that green, make it work a little better.”
Planners showed off drawings of the proposed building for the driving range. Curtin said it was a basic steel building, dressed up with mesh that could eventually be the foundation for plants, like at Wrigley Field.
“The intention of the design is to create a park setting. You go to Central Park, you go to Jones Beach, you’ve got a place that the architects think big,” Curtin said. “But we don’t have a lot of height that we’re allowed and I was thinking of something that might be both practical and beautiful at the same time.”
“This building could almost be alive with plantings and things like that,” Mount said.
Smith and Curtin would lend master design services to the park as part of their deal. They’ve been studying the park full time since the last OHPA meeting, Desrochers said. Their presentation included some insights.
“The existing green that’s there, closest to the first green is a hindrance to proper flow, big time hindrance,” Smith said. “It’s also small and not the greatest design anyway. It’s also on a hill – you know, it’s sloped up, it just looks odd. I’m not sure how that ever ended up there. It would be much better over by the shifted first tee and it would help everything out.”
The revised plan includes a tree-lined promenade, in the area that now includes a circular drive to the pro shop. That shop would be demolished, freeing up 5,000 square feet.
Putting the pro shop in the restaurant area would give the pro a view of the first tee, which is important, Smith said. The promenade is designed to allow room for carts and the trees might be lit up at night.
The general idea is, in part, a way to draw people into the restaurant.
The meeting ended with some members asking about the other bidder for a driving range, Tad King of King Golf International.
Desrochers repeated what he has said in previous meetings, that the financial aspects of the Total Driving Range Solutions plan were much better for the park.
“The other proponent was given the opportunity to make a best and final bid. His business partner felt they couldn’t go any better than what they proposed,” he said.
Breathing new life into the restaurant building is important, he said. The park has great bones that need to be built upon.
“Oak Hills Park to be successful needs to be reimagined,” he said. “…We have now put the polish on it. There are other things we have done operationally as a business.”