By Scott Kimmich
NORWALK, Conn. – If asked only whether an economically viable golf course should be maintained at Oak Hills, I would have no problem voting yes.
Unfortunately, the Oak Hill Authority itself states that the course is not financially viable and is seeking a loan of $150,000 from the city, or about what two teachers make in a year, in addition to the $3 million it already owes the city.
The Authority believes that a driving range will attract more golfers to the course and boost revenue. Like an old Mickey Rooney movie, the range has become the deus ex machina that will rescue the enterprise. However as planned, the range has limited hours and thus may well become another liability like the restaurant. I have heard no estimate of prospective usage, e.g. the number of people using the range per day or week or year, or how many new rounds will be generated.
Recently the Authority’s Ad Hoc Committee tried to patch together a woefully inadequate RRP (request for proposal) for the range that no contractor in his right mind would touch with a surveyor’s rod!
The authority, which runs the park in the name of taxpayers, not just golfers, has ignored other uses that are in the master plan. Building the driving range would raze one of the few heavily wooded preserves within the city limits, leaving only a thin curtain of trees on its periphery and making a mockery of wild-life conservation and ecology. Also, it is not at all clear that the environmental authorities would even permit its construction. The authority says that it is too strapped financially to afford a feasibility study.
The Quattro Pazza Restaurant was built to support the golf club, but couldn’t even support itself. In hindsight, a very bad call, given that an alternative, player-friendly restaurant had been considered and then rejected. The idea of a 50-60 yard pitching range to help people warm up with a bucket of balls was also dropped.
The marketing outreach to golfers has been ineffective. The recession and rain have further hurt revenue. Oak Hills lies on ledge rock which doesn’t allow drainage, an ongoing problem that limits playing time and, hence, revenue.
At the current fees, Oak Hills does not pay for itself. Hoping to attract more players, the authority has slightly lowered its fees in hopes of increasing the number of rounds played. I wish them luck on this tricky and risky endeavor.
In brief, the authority has failed to present compelling reasons for a driving range. It should come up with a plan B. A pitching range would be a good way to let players warm up and improve their skills and could easily be installed without felling any trees.
Taxpayers should not have to pay for another huge error in judgment, this time manifested not just in dollars but in environmental damage. We taxpayers have far more important priorities than driving ranges.