Oak Hills numbers up; restaurant rent paid

Oak Hills Park Norwalk 079-2014-03-29
Golfers enjoy an early season day at Oak Hills Park.

NORWALK, Conn. – Efforts to market golf Oak Hills Park are paying off, putting the course’s revenue well above where it was last year, Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer said.

Revenue from sales of ID cards is up $14,000 from where it was in mid-April last year, and while the revenue from cart rentals is down $4,700 from last year, the overall picture is that the course’s revenue is about $19,000 more than it was at this time last year, Guyer said at Thursday’s Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) meeting.

First the bad news.

“March was a horrible month. Last March was a horrible month. This March was worse,” Guyer said.

Rounds were down 50 percent in March; revenue was down 45 percent.

“We opened later this year because of the weather. After we opened the weather stayed very cold,” said Guyer. But, looking at the bottom line in terms of fiscal year (July to June), things are “still well ahead of where we were last year,” Guyer said.

Judging by how the course is doing in April, “The future of the rest of this year is pretty bright,” Guyer said.

April 5, the official Opening Day, was very busy, Guyer said. There were about 300 ID cards sold; 232 of them were new ID’s, and 43 of those went to Norwalk residents.

Opening Day featured promotions revolving around the number “45,” as this is the 45th year for Oak Hills. That included ID cards for $45 and a $4.50 lunch special at the restaurant.

“We made over $19,000 that day, which is probably the biggest single day I’m aware of that we have ever had,” Guyer said. “So the promotion worked, a fantastic promotion… It just kept going all day. It was a fabulous day for us.”

For the first half of April, the greens fees revenue is up 17 percent from last year, Guyer said.

“The weather has been terrible, yet we’re up 17 percent,” he said. “I believe our marketing efforts have a lot to do with that as well as that Monday special. We’re seeing a lot of new faces”

Total ID sales from January to mid-April are up 31 percent over last year, he said.

“We continue to see people coming back who didn’t have ID cards last year. They’re coming back and renewing,” he said. “Our greens fees are even with last year in spite of what happened in March.”

The cart rental revenues are down because the course has been too muddy to use them, he said.

A Groupon promotion sold out, he said. The course is being marketed on GolfNow, where golfers can sign up for tee times, but Guyer is going to try a 30-day trial with Golf18Network.

“It’s free, we’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “We’ll see how many more golfers they’ll drive to the course.”

Guyer and others discussed a possible Mother’s Day promotion and said they wouldn’t be checking to see that the women who come to play are really moms.

Guyer said he’d be able to present a Fiscal Year 2015 budget in the next meeting. “We’re late, but nobody is bugging us,” he said.

Restaurant’s rent paid

Last month, Guyer said the bottom line was lower than it should be because the Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green was behind two months in rent. On Thursday, Guyer said the restaurant has caught up.

The owners have paid through March, he said. While they hadn’t paid the April rent yet, it won’t be considered overdue until April 30, Guyer said.

OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said he had a long talk with restaurant co-owner Amar Haouri.

“They want to make it work. I told them we want them to work it out. I got a strong sense of commitment from him that he wants to make it work. He did say that March was way better than last year,” Mount said. “April is tracking above last year, so he was very positive. I did say to him that you cannot fall behind ever again. I don’t want the calls from the BET about what we are going to do about it and he can’t fall behind again, otherwise we will talk about a Plan B. I told him we were looking at Plan B … I said, ‘If you’re going to be late on the rent, you need to let me know personally.’”

Authority members expressed some concern over some service issues, but recommended the food. User reviews on online restaurant directories Yelp and Urbanspoon are nearly unanimous in their praise.

“Last year the Mother’s Day brunch was wonderful,” Ernie Desrochers said. “… The food there is very good, it really is. It’s just a matter of making it work, that’s all.”

“His food is unbelievable,” Mount said.

Considering incentive for the first hour

Authority members discussed procedures and processes at the course and the effectiveness of the starters and the rangers at keeping play moving.

It was suggested that an incentive be given to the foursomes that go out in the first hour, such as a discount in the restaurant if they finish before their allotted time. That’s because studies show that if players in the first hour get done on time the schedule is maintained for the rest of the day, it was said.

Master plan coming soon

The draft version of a master plan for the park is 119 pages long and will be posted on the park’s website after authority members submit comments on it, Desrochers said. Mount said he expects to hold the first of two public hearings in early May.

It includes detailed plans for a golf learning center, a nature center, a Nordic track, an outdoor fitness center and park upgrades and improvements, as well as a complete economic analysis and a budget, Desrochers said.

Elsa Peterson said she understood some people would see it as just semantics, but she has a problem with the wording of the mission statement, which says the primary goal is to become the premiere golf destination.

“Our primary purpose of existing is to be good stewards of that park and within that stewardship the golf course is absolutely the top thing,” she said. “… But to say that our first mission is to become a golf destination I just think goes against the idea that we are stewards of the park.”


11 responses to “Oak Hills numbers up; restaurant rent paid”

  1. Casey Smith

    Good for them! I’m glad to hear that they are making ends meet.

  2. Oldtimer

    Oak Hills, and the Restaurant, were a well kept secret for too long. Marketing has made a difference and a continued, well planned, marketing program needs to be maintained. It is not rocket science. All of the biggest, most successful companies in the world maintain major marketing budgets as a normal cost of doing business only because it works.

  3. Piberman

    Maybe the “wizards at City Hall” could give Oak Hills Restaurant and the Ripka’s at Calf Pasture Beach some PR at City Hall and on the City web site. Maybe City officials could even hold civic functions and meetings functions at Oak Hills. Imagine the possibilities – City officials actually promoting the use of restaurants on City lands ! Talk about marketing ! Innovation !

  4. Casey – it sounds like they are MORE than making ends meet. According to Mr. Guyer the Opening Day was the largest grossing day in the history of Oak Hills. I’m happy for them. They really do have a plan to make Oak Hills even more profitable than it has been in the past. I guess the so-called “economists” at The “Friends” of Oak Hills were wrong when they said a marketing campaign was not a good idea. The OHPA appears to be making all the right moves. I hear the course is already in great shape. They should look for other marketing and activity-based promotions that will raise enough money for an upgrade on ALL portions of the park. The Driving Range seems to be a no-brainer. From looking at other, similar ranges (of which Sterling Farms is the only one on par with what Oak Hills is planning) all I see is CASH. CASH. CASH.

  5. Beth Altman

    Before OHPA celebrates they’ve turned the corner lets look at this great marketing scheme. Offering a non resident Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, and Westport, golfers a yearly membership of $45 when a Norwalk resident pays $85 for the same pass is a great idea, I’m guessing the authority thought people from are neighboring towns are hard up on $$$ but the people of Norwalk are all flush with cash. To say they had the best day ever what did they expect? Word now is some of the non residents that bought the card for $275 before the great 4/5 date have been complaining and OHPA has been refunding them $230. Only time will tell how well this idea worked. Next time shoot for the most rounds played in one day, price it right say a buck and we can do a story how our golf course did the most rounds ever played in a single day.

  6. TomReynolds

    I belive the $45 special was a one-day event and it was offered to ANYONE buying a NEW ID card. Even Norwalk residents. $20,000 is $20,000 whichever way you look at it. And I agree with the other post. A driving range would be a cash cow for Oak Hills, for golfers and for the taxpayers of Norwalk, as much of the money will go directly back into the park. If people think Oak Hills Park is nice now, put a dricing range in there and see what the influx of cash will do for it.

  7. Joe Optimistic

    What do you mean “much of the money the money”? most of it will go to the company that will be footing the bill.

  8. Suzanne

    wpw, when did the “Friends” say a marketing plan was “not a good idea?” I think this falls under the mythology that the “Friends” would also like to see Oak Hills Park fail. NOT!

  9. Tom Reynolds

    Cantor attacked the OHPA marketing plan in one his rants to The Hour earlier this year.

  10. Suzanne

    Attacking a marketing plan does not mean a marketing plan is not a good idea. Perhaps it just wasn’t that good.

  11. TomReynolds

    Hahahahaha. Let’s see what plan not good.

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