Oak Hills Park Authority looks to upgrade ‘academy,’ in lieu of driving range

Oak Hills Park Golf Course Head Golf Professional Edward Ruiz, PGA, explains a new idea to the Oak Hills Park Authority last week in City Hall.
Oak Hills Park Golf Course Head Golf Professional Edward Ruiz, PGA, explains a new idea to the Oak Hills Park Authority last week in City Hall.

Updated 2 a.m. April 26, video of GolfBoard added; 6:15 p.m. April 25 to fix GolfBoard spelling and explain what they are.

NORWALK, Conn. — GolfBoards are definitely on the way. Videos of golf swings? That’s a maybe.

So it goes with the Oak Hills Park Authority, adjusting to a world without a potential driving range but expected to be getting a boost from the Common Council on Tuesday with the appointment of two new members.

The Authority on Thursday discussed a $20,000 proposal for the golf academy from Oak Hills Park Golf Course Head Golf Professional Edward Ruiz, PGA, which had strong support from OHPA Chairman Ernie DesRochers and OHP Executive Director Shelley Guyer, but resistance from Clyde Mount, who said he liked the idea but wanted to be “fiscally responsible” rather than be “called to the mat” by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).

The Authority has for years been campaigning to build a driving range at Oak Hills, but that dream has died for now, with a refusal from city government to loan the Authority $3 million this year.

“Unfortunately, we lack a full-service range that the public is allowed to hit at, but we have seen substantial growth in our academy usage and I think if we could just add a couple of amenities to it, we could really help grow that business,” Ruiz said Thursday. “At the same time, the golf Authority could recoup some money on it and at the same time always have an asset that could be leased out to another professional.”

The teaching area at this point features “a small range with really poor mats, poor hitting areas for our customers,” Ruiz said.

Details for the proposal aren’t fine-tuned, because the business of the course has kept him from making phone calls, but the “pretty straightforward” plan involves taking a corner off the cart barn and building a platform, or deck, now planned to be 20 feet by 24 feet, Ruiz said.

Computers could be kept inside the building, and the teaching staff would be “able to use multiple video cameras for swing analysis rather than using iPads and having to walk back to the cart, which is what we do now,” Ruiz said, later referring to “two cameras and some serious systems.”

V1 Golf Academy has a “$1,200-a-year membership to what’s called a branded academy,” Ruiz said. Oak Hills investing in a membership “would give customers logons to access video analysis systems, he said.

“It’s a wish list, but I think it’s realistic for us to be competitive in our golf operation. Unfortunately, I don’t have the cash to invest,” Ruiz said. “… Ultimately, it would be another concession, another revenue stream that the golf Authority would take on.”

The existing mats are “kind of a rinky-dink,” he said, commenting on dust and dirt.

The proposal is “10 times better than what is there now,” DesRochers said. “By adding all of this it would at least give us a chance to establish some kind of golf academy. But for any kind of teaching now, everybody has swing analysis and they have all that stuff. I think if we invest some money in this, I think we’ll pick up rounds, too.”

Ruiz would pay $300 a month, or $3,600 a year, in “a licensing agreement as opposed to a lease,” DesRochers said.

The $20,000 is really $13,000 for the equipment and $7,000 for the software, Mount said.

“I would never agree to 10 years on software,” he said.

V1 has been around a long time and is continually upgrading its software, Ruiz said, but Elsa Peterson-Obuchowski suggested that perhaps another company could come out of nowhere and offer better programming than V1.

But, “It’s basically a nice idea,” she said.

“I like the idea. … I just think we need to talk about it a little bit,” Mount said.

Perhaps Ruiz could pay it off in eight months of the year, not 12, he said.

“I would like to see us recoup the money in 5 years. That would be my goal for this, the $20,000, we’re even in five years. So it’s $400 a month or whatever,” Mount said.

Referring to the BET, he said, “We’ll be called to the carpet on 20 grand.”

“Everybody misses the point in this town, which is just so frustrating: If you are going to expand the game of golf you have to have the ability to teach the game,” DesRochers said. “We have no ability to do that right now, and quite frankly, this is like a Band-Aid – not even a Band-Aid. OK? This is something that I think we need to do and at least have the capability to at least do lessons, because if you go out there, it’s pathetic. Pathetic is even a polite word to use. It’s worse than that.”

“I’ll put my BET hat on. You’re going from 32,000 to 40,000 rounds. You’re doing lessons, you’re doing the kids camps, you’re doing all that stuff,” Mount said.

“We have probably captured all the rounds (we can) given the shape of the golf course. Now we have to capture rounds based on what kind of amenities that we can give to people,” DesRochers said. “… The $20,000 and $3,600 a year returns all of our money plus returns all our money that we have invested plus a return at a coverage ratio that would satisfy any investor. It’s not like we’re giving it away.”

Mount said they needed to be fiscally responsible and that funding the pro’s equipment was putting money “into somebody else’s business.”

“We are getting rent back,” DesRochers pushed.

“We have to do this. It’s not just for Ed … from my point of view it’s a win-win,” Guyer said.

Revenues are way up, DesRochers said.

“You will get all kinds of questions and it won’t fly. …  I like the idea, I just want to be fiscally responsible. I don’t want to get called to the mat,” Mount said.

Ruiz said he would work on the proposal. It ended there.

OHPA is getting four GolfBoards soon, members said.

“I think we’re close to getting them delivered,” Ruiz said.

GolfBoards are an idea DesRochers pushed in October. They are more than skate boards and are electric powered, he said.

“You can take it anywhere; you steer it like a board. … It’s absolutely amazing. It would cost more than a regular cart would, but I guarantee people will take them all the time,” DesRochers said in October.

The boards are big enough to carry a golfer and a bag of clubs, and the golfer stands up. Think of it like golf meets “Back to the Future.”

“We’re renting them for two months on a trial basis,” DesRochers explained Thursday to NancyOnNorwalk. “If they work out, then it’s part of our bookkeeping for the rest of the year and then, as part of our golf cart thing for next year, we will include a fleet of boards.”

The company that rents them recommends 12 GolfBoards for Oak Hills Park, based on the number of rounds sold, he said.

Other discussion included the need for new Authority members, as John McKenna and David Hollar have resigned.

Minutes of the Authority’s February meeting show that member Jerry Crowley had recommended to City Clerk Donna King that Jane Walters and Pat Williams be appointed to fill those slots, with terms that end in June 2017.

Mayor Harry Rilling is appointing Walters and Williams, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.

Williams has accounting and financial management experience and is treasurer for the Oak Hills Women’s Golf Association, according to her resume. Walters is a Realtor. She attended Thursday’s meeting.

Also to be voted on are the reappointments of Joe Kendy and Obuchowski.

Expect more appointments, as there are three terms expiring in June: Bill Waters, Jerry Crowley and DesRochers.


3 responses to “Oak Hills Park Authority looks to upgrade ‘academy,’ in lieu of driving range”

  1. EveT

    “Now we have to capture rounds based on what kind of amenities that we can give to people.”
    Amenities like having the restaurant open consistently?
    From what I hear, you can’t depend on the restaurant being open at one time or another, especially for breakfast. Early morning golfers get their own coffee & bagel/muffin elsewhere ahead of time.

  2. RayJ

    I keep reading, and re-reading to try to figure out what it’s saying. Then i get to the boards???? Are those some mode of transportation?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Ray

      Yes. I thought, from all the talk, perhaps I was the only one puzzled when these things were proposed a while back…

      Golf boards are a cross between Segway and skate board — that is, more wheels and stability than a skateboard, and a platform large enough to carry a golfer and her or his clubs.

      Here’s a link to a promo video.

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