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Petition draws throng to computer in defense of Oak Hills golf course

Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount.
Oak Hills Park Authority Chairman Clyde Mount.

NORWALK, Conn. — A silent outcry has arisen in Norwalk, sending an overwhelming message in support of keeping the Oak Hills Park golf course 18 holes — even though no one in the position to change anything was seriously considering anything else.

More than 1,600 signatures have been collected under the message, “We want Oak Hills Golf Course to remain 18 holes, to continue to improve course conditions and provide a superior experience for all park users,” in an online petition posted in early May.

Government leaders say they are not considering turning Oak Hills into a 9-hole course, although the idea has been advocated by some people attending Oak Hills Park Authority meetings.  About 300 of the signatures were obtained after OHPA sent out a May 15 email blast to the park’s fans, which gave rise to questions at last week’s OHPA meeting from government watchdog Diane Cece about the legality of using official city email for political purposes.

“I asked Ed (Ruiz) to send it, so if anybody is in trouble I am,” OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said, in response. “… Of course we would go out to the golfers for support. They are the people who use the park.”

NancyOnNorwalk sent Mayor Harry Rilling an email Sunday explaining that there was a petition and an email to Sunday. “I … wonder why this was even needed. What precipitated it?” he replied. An NoN reply email asked if anyone in Norwalk government is seriously considering making Oak Hills a 9-hole course. Rilling replied, “No.”

NoN emailed Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) and asked, “Is there any support among council members for making Oak Hills a 9-hole course? Any thought for dissolving the authority and putting back under Recreation and Parks?”

“No,” Kimmel replied. “We haven’t discussed these issues, at least I haven’t.”

Why, then, would OHPA send out an email to its customers asking them to sign a petition?

“The argument has been presented at numerous OHPA meetings as well as at the last public session in the community room and the argument is very flawed,” Mount said in a Sunday email. “Just check the minutes of the meetings or comments on your site.  I want the mayor and council to know as this vocal minority speaks about their vision for the park and its golf course, the opposition is strong against reducing the course down in size. There are over 1,800 sigs already.”

That includes signatures collected on paper petitions available at the course and in the Oak Hills Restaurant on the Green.

Mount said he is aware that the mayor and the council have not been speaking about making Oak Hills nine holes. “If you look at the public comments you will see there are people arguing this point. I think it is a very important point to get across to all that course will not shrink in size,” he wrote.

Rilling said he receives “lots of correspondence regarding Oak Hills and the driving range, the OHPA master plan, converting to nine holes.”

Cece said in a Sunday email that her problem with the email was based on the process to develop a master plan for the park.

“My objection is to them using OHPA resources to solicit responses that ONLY favor one side of the opinion, and is in lieu of any attempt by them to survey the residents of Norwalk, a practice that was common among the other park master plan processes,” she wrote. “OHPA should be soliciting a master plan and ALL ideas in an impartial, unbiased manner. in my humble opinion of course.”

The online petition that was posted on MoveOn.org in early May by “C. Browne” challenges “a small minority who wish to reduce Oak Hills from its current 18 holes to just 9 holes.”

It’s clear that some of the people signing online were not aware of the issue before hearing about the petition.

• “Hey politicians! Do we need more condos?? More development??? NO,NO AND NO!! Eat up all the open spaces. IDIOTS, leave the golf course alone!!!!! Run the city efficiently get out of our back yard,” Norwalker Robert Hayduk wrote.

• “This is Crazy,,People Bought their houses Years ago To Overlook A magnificent Piece of property,,,Some of the Only open space Left in this Ever growing City,,Leave Something for the youth of Our City,,There is Plenty Of housing going up on west ave,,Buy the same Money hungry Builders/Investers who shut Down mom and Pop Shops all over this Town To line their Pockets with Money ,,,,,and Now They want to buy up The GREEN Space,,,Totally Disagree with with this proposal!!!” Norwalker Thomas Yaggi wrote.

• “You don’t need more condos that will sit empty in a state where the housing market is in a slump. Think of the neighborhood and the people instead of extra lining in your pockets!” Anita Hambor of Milford wrote.

OHPA adversary Paul Cantor is a frequent advocate of a 9-hole course. On Sunday he dismissed the validity of the petition.

“It is easy for a special interest group — a club or a group of golfers — to generate signatures on a petition from themselves, members of their families and friends. The signatures do not represent a scientific survey of the general population.  And they are certainly not representative of the views of the majority of citizens of Norwalk, most of whom do not play golf,” he wrote in an email.

His email continued:

“The nine-hole solution is something that has been proposed by many golfers as this quote from an April 18, 2014 story in the New York Times makes clear:

“’golf has lost five million players in the last decade … with 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers apt to quit in the next few year.’  Hence,  ‘In recent years, golf courses have encouraged people to think of golf in six-hole or nine-hole increments.’

“The OHPA is overseeing the operation of a money losing golf course.  A nine-hole golf course may also lose money but not as much.  And it would serve the interest of the overwhelming majority of golfers while freeing of space in Oak Hills Park that might be used for other purposes appropriate to a public park.

“The proposed driving range is not a solution to the Oak Hills Park Authority’s financial problems.  Rather it is more likely to add to them.  The Mayor is dead wrong to claim that the nine-hole course will be the demise of Oak Hills Park.  The only thing it will be the demise of is a money-losing 18-hole golf course that imposes costs on all taxpayers while benefiting a small minority of them.

“So will I continue to advocate for a nine-hole course?  I will continue to seek a solution to the controversy regarding how a park belonging to all the taxpayers of Norwalk is managed.  It should be managed in the interest of all the taxpayers of Norwalk.

“But the OHPA does not manage Oak Hills Park in the interest of all the taxpayers of Norwalk. Rather, it views its mandate as championing the interest of a minority of most relatively well off male golfers at whatever cost to the rest of the taxpayers of Norwalk.  And its response to those who object to its lack of transparency and disregard of the interest of the majority of citizens of our city is a rally the troops response.

“But in order for the Park to be managed in the interest of taxpayers so a nine-hole course will be something that is considered it must be turned over to the Recreations and Parks department.  The Oak Hills Authority is an autonomous body that, as noted above, champions the interest of golfers at the expense of the majority of taxpayers.  And the hail fellow one and all relationship it has with elected representatives is not a healthy one.

“So my view is that the Park should be turned over to Recreations and Parks and Recreation and Parks should manage the park in the interest of all taxpayers. And in doing so they might consider reducing the size of the golf course to nine holes as one possible course of action.”

OHPA members said Thursday that the financial picture at Oak Hills continues to improve. Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer rounds in April were slightly ahead of those last year, a 7.12 percent increase. Revenue is up 21.3 percent, he said, because many of last year’s rounds were sold at a discount.

Ruiz, the course’s golf pro, said there has been a “great deal of increase in daily activity.” The first of eight golf clinics for youngsters sold out, he said, with 19 participants, he said.

“Just to see 6- to 11-year-olds running around with bags is a real good indicator that golf is on the rise again,” he said.

Mount delivered a soliloquy at last week’s OHPA meeting on the 9-hole topic.

While “The idea to cut the course back to nine holes seemingly on its surface makes sense for some … revenue would be reduced to $350,000 a year at best based on three surrounding nine-hole courses, one located in Milford, one located in Fairfield, one located in Stratford. We have documented from two, expect to have the third before the public hearing. The two we can confirm are less than $300,000 a year in sales.”

That would mean Oak Hills would no longer be self-sustaining, he said. The restaurant would close and 20 jobs would be lost, including the superintendent and golf pro, he said. OHPA would not be able to pay its debt to Norwalk, he said. And, “That is nothing compared to the cost to repurpose the park for other uses,” he said.

He urged OHPA members to stay the course, not to be “scared off by the vocal minority.”

“I am not ‘damn the torpedoes,’” he said. “I am not doing things that I don’t think are good for the city and good for this park. I am doing what I think is right.”

Oak Hills email004

 

Comments

7 responses to “Petition draws throng to computer in defense of Oak Hills golf course”

  1. Bruce Kimmel

    The last time I did a search on the financial problems of golf courses across the country, it seemed that 9-hole courses were having as difficult a time surviving the recession as 18-hole courses were. Hole reduction is obviously not that simple an issue.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Here is the petition statement asking for your support: “We want Oak Hills to remain 18 holes, to continue to improve course conditions, and provide a superior experience for park users.” Hmmmm. Am I the only one who sees bias and deception built in to this very statement? Who wouldn’t want the last two parts of that statement to be true, even if they weren’t fully aware of the details of the first part of that statement pertaining to 18 holes, including golf course trends for shorter rounds predicted by industry leaders including top players, golf course designers, and financial analysts in numerous publications including Golf Digest?
    .
    Since there are many properties on wells near Oak Hills beyond where the city water mains end, and recently Stamford discovered many residents’ wells in North Stamford are contaminated affecting property values and huge taxpayer investment in extended water lines, here’s another way of posing the question in an online petition:
    .
    “If the testing of wells, ponds, and streams in Norwalk were to reveal contamination with carcinogenic pesticides from groundwater contamination from tons of pesticides and fertilizers applied on the current 18-hole golf course at Oak Hills (costing over $200,000 a year), reducing property values and potentially costing taxpayers millions of dollars to mitigate with extended water lines, would you support a feasibility study, as part of a professional master plan process that includes all stakeholders, for a shorter more sustainable 9-hole golf course which trends show are gaining popularity around the country? Do you also want to continue to improve course conditions, and provide a superior experience for park users?” The last sentence under quotes is taken exactly from the original petition.
    .
    What do you think the results of that petition would have been? Even though our city leadership should seriously be questioning the long term financial and environmental sustainability of Oak Hills, and even if we all conclude it should stay 18-holes but with major changes to current chemical-based maintenance practices for instance (Audubon certification perhaps?), we will now be subject to the spectacle of OHPA waving this petition around as a red herring to deflect attention away from their highly flawed master plan process which did not follow the established city public park master plan process, and used city staff in a highly dubious process that violated the terms of the park lease with OHPA that requires full reimbursement to city taxpayers for the use of ANY city staff. (Although OHPA now says P and Z Director Mike Greene donated his time, but since he offered the help of other P and Z staff, was that donated as well, and was that allowed by the unions, and is there paperwork that supports this donation of staff time including time sheets and payroll records)?
    .
    This entire process was flawed from the beginning, including the lack of a professional master plan process to precede the introduction of the driving range proposal. It is a shame because as a landscape architect I like the driving range design and associated improvements, and think it would enhance the course experience. Unfortunately it seems it may be declared DOA because of the flawed process surrounding it, including the shifting financial aspects that are still not fully developed. I want Oak Hills to succeed on all levels, financially, environmentally, and aesthetically, and I am even thinking of taking up golf soon. But like so many other folks, I am just discouraged by how this is all being handled at this time, and how the serious long-term financial and environmental sustainability of the course really is the most important issue that should be addressed by a professional park planning firm in the same master plan process that was used on most of our other public parks recently. That process should include testing of wells and surface water bodies including ponds and streams to rule out any potential contamination that may need to be cleaned up or dealt with first. We seem to have put the cart before the horse.

  3. Joe Espo

    Every town traditionally has a village idiot to contend with but Norwalk, for one reason or another, has more than a few; I count, at least, a half-dozen. The half-baked idiocy of closing down 9 holes at Oak Hills can best be explained by analogy. Let’s turn football into a fifty yard game and eliminate half of the Brien McMahon and Norwalk High fields. How about making all city basketball and tennis courts half-court sized, or eliminating half the end zones in hockey rinks and soccer fields, or cutting the baseball diamonds down to half the number of bases, and the bases to half-regulation length. Seems reasonable doesn’t it? After all, not everyone plays football, basketball, tennis, hockey, soccer or baseball, so why should the taxpayers fund the operation and capital expense of full sized playing facilities when only half will do. We can save a half-ton of money by cutting back and, perhaps use the new treasure trove of real estate for half-length walking trails and bike paths. The south half of the Brien McMahon football field would make for a great dog park. Our new motto: Norwalk, the city that’s too smart by a half. I’ll bet we can find a half-witted professional to draw up a master plan to turn Norwalk into a half-assed city of full-bore idiocy. And for half the price, at that.

  4. Mike Mushak

    Joe Espo, most golf industry leaders and analysts are exploring the possibility that shorter courses may save the industry from drastic declines in popularity across the country, just as the financial and environmental costs of running golf courses are increasing dramatically with price increases on water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizer. These numerous references have been linked to numerous times on NON . Anyone can google “9 hole golf trends” and read all about it, in articles from top players and industry leaders.
    .
    Being aware of nationwide trends and a hot debate in the golf industry is hardly being a “village idiot”, but I wonder what name Joe Espo would call someone who pretends like the industry debate is not out there at all by denying it exists, or pretending an off the cuff opinion using revenue figures from other 9 hole courses while ignoring their expense levels is a true feasibility study?
    .
    I noticed the article quotes Clyde Mount saying that 9 holes would mean the course would no longer be self-sustainable, and the restaurant would close. What facts are that conclusion based on? Many shorter courses are now offering “nine and dine ” packages to attract evening play after work for two hours (instead of 4 to 5 hours for 18 holes) with a dinner included. Wouldn’t that work at Oak Hills too? Why aren’t we marketing that regardless of the current course length, since that might fill the restaurant and attract folks on weeknights who don’t have 5 hours to kill on their busy weekends?
    .
    The costs of running a 9 hole course would also be cut in half, with fuel, water , mowing and leaf blowing time, chemical use, etc all cut in half. I have heard folks say it would still cost the same as 18 holes because the person manning the window taking in the fees would still work the same hours. That is absurd as it totally ignores all the other dramatic savings.
    .
    I suppose all these golf experts in all the articles who know the industry well are village idiots, and anyone who suggests their opinions are valid and worth exploring are also village idiots. I guess that’s one way to argue a point-call folks childish names who are referencing industry experts who have a different opinion about the direction the industry is heading.
    .
    I am not convinced 9 holes is the way to go by any stretch, but how will we ever know if we dont do a real feasibility study as part of a professional master plan process? Too many folks are dismissing this option on a purely emotional level without knowing any facts about it, including jumping on the conclusions of a clearly biased petition as I described in my earlier post. There is no need a healthy debate with facts and without childish name calling can’t happen here.

  5. Paul Cantor

    A FEW OF THOSE VILLAGE IDIOTS:

    “Shorten the Game”
    Jack Nicklaus
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xOLnVAs6CnU

    “Since 2006 we’ve lost 20 percent of the women and 20 percent of the kids in the game of golf. I mean that’s a horrible statistic…If that’s the case, why? Well why is because it takes too long. I mean my kids don’t play golf anymore or very little because they are spending time on the weekends with their kids playing little league, soccer, lacrosse, football, basketball, whatever it might be. They’re not playing golf. Those soccer games and those lacrosse games they take up a field for an hour, an hour and a half. So we’ve got to have a game that takes that amount of time. Everybody’s got 18 holes. Why [can’t it] be two nines holes. Why can’t it be two nines? [Or] three sixes. Everybody’s in a cart anyway. What difference does it make…You’ve got to figure out how to keep people in this stupid game. And the only way I know to go about it is to shorten the game from what it is.”

    “Nicklaus says the length of time it takes to play an 18-hole round is alienating many golfers, particularly youngsters who are used to playing most athletic contests in 2-3 hours. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gameon/post/2011/05/jack-nicklaus-12-hole-rounds-of-golf/1#.UtQKkWRDtZg

    Fairways Under Fire:
    Are Little-Used Public Golf Courses Worth the Space?
    By Peter Harnik and Ryan Donahue
    Landscape Architecture Magazine, June 2011
    http://archives.asla.org/lamag/lam11/june/parks.html

    “’Continuing to invest in golf courses that are not financially self-sustaining at the cost of other urban recreation is completely unjustifiable,’ says Meredith Thomas, the director of San Francisco’s Neighborhood Parks Council. In cities with tight budgets and little open space parks are expected to serve multiple demands in small spaces. Golf courses, in contrast, says Thomas, are ‘pretty much the definition of sprawl as far as parkland goes,’ especially since ‘other forms of recreation like field sports and off-leash dog areas are bursting at the seams.’

    The game of golf has never been an efficient use of space (hence the development of miniature golf), but in the past it could be argued that it was still a worthwhile public investment that subsidized a system’s other parks through green fees. No longer. Golf’s popularity is not keeping up with population growth nor with the explosion in the number of private golf venues; it’s also losing out to other self-directed activities like running and cycling. In the late 1980s, the average course saw about 40,000 rounds a year; that number has fallen to about 33,000 today. A 2004 study of the recreation facility desires of San Francisco households found that golf ranked 16th out of 19 amenities; highest on the wish list were trails, pools, and community gardens.

    The decline of public golf would be less taxing if courses were low-cost facilities. But many, predicated on the assumption of growing affluence and participation, were designed to compete with the private sector. They require a full-time staff, constant maintenance, and often a fleet of electric carts, a shop, and a restaurant. It is the triple combination of moribund rates of participation, high costs and sprawling land use that is putting the squeeze on public, urban golf courses.”

    Luxury golfing: The appeal of the nine-hole course
    By Charles Kerkow On October 8, 2013
    http://www.sportinglife360.com/index.php/luxury-golfing-the-appeal-of-the-nine-hole-course-12-15122/

    There are many courses consisting of only nine holes that are just as much, if not more, of a challenge than the traditional eighteen. Some of these smaller nine-hole courses can be great fun, even the most experienced players…These courses are attractive to many players for a number of reasons, one being playtime. Where an eighteen-hole course may take three to four hours to play, the shorter nine-hole courses only average about one and a half to two hours allowing players to “squeeze in” a round when short on time…Many small towns around the world host nine hole golf courses…When a player is just getting started in the world of golf, a smaller, less threatening course may be more comfortable. When the starter and the maintenance man are one in the same, the amount of pressure seems to be less. Another great advantage to learning on a smaller course is the second round option. Any nine-hole course can become an eighteen simply by playing a second round. For the less experienced player, this allows them to play the same hole twice, thus learning from and adjusting for their mistakes. Whether you are a highly skilled, experienced player or a beginner, playing the smaller nine-hole courses can be rewarding for many different reasons. For over a century they have been in existence, and for good reason. If you are looking to play a quick game or just a new golfing experience, a nine-hole course may be the solution. Remember, just because a course has eighteen holes does not mean it is a better course. Many seasoned golfers can tell you of a nine-holer that was, “the best course they ever played.”

    A Return to the Nine-Hole Round
    By Bill Pennington
    The New York Times, May 5, 2013

    “Less than 30 years ago, nearly half of the golf courses in America had nine holes. There was no stigma to that number. The nine-hole golf round was as common as a slice off the first tee…In America, most of the early golf courses were nine-holers. The first United States Open, in 1895, was played on a nine-hole course….if the five-hour round has not disappeared, some golfers have, walking away because they do not have time for a round of 18. To the rescue: the nine-hole round. This week, the P.G.A. of America has teamed with the United States Golf Association in an initiative spearheaded by Golf Digest called Time for Nine. The magazine’s June issue, which comes out Tuesday, starts a campaign for nine-hole play. Golf Digest plans to create a list of nine-hole courses that will focus on promoting nine-hole rounds for men, women, juniors and families on layouts that make it easy to do so. ‘As an industry, we must work to promote the nine-hole round as a complete and enjoyable golf experience, consistent with the traditions of playing the game,’ Glen D. Nager, the president of the United States Golf Association, said. And for people worried about their handicaps, the U.S.G.A. wants golfers to know that nine-hole rounds are fully compatible with its handicap system. There is no doubt that the push to promote nine-hole rounds reflects a reality that most of us now work longer hours and have more demands on our weekend recreational time. As Tarde said: “Every other recreation, it seems, takes more or less two hours: movies, dinner, cocktail parties, tennis, bowling, going to the gym. If golf were invented today, it would be a nine-hole game’… Golf is many things to many people, as it should be. But we can keep more people in our flock, and attract others to join us, if we endorse the most simple, natural and unpretentious forms of participation. Inviting people to come out for an easy, quick nine holes is a good way to start.”

    The Case for 12-to-15-Hole Golf
    by Jay Stuller
    http://theaposition.com/jaystuller/golf/88/the-case-for-12-hole-golf

    “‘We need to abandon the principle that a ‘full’ round of golf consists of eighteen holes and get used to the thought that a golf course may have just any number of holes that suits its particular environment’ says Roald, who has run an independent golf course design practice since 2002…a shorter course would require less fertilizer, herbicides and water. But in the spectrum of benefits from a truncated layout, time is by far the most operative word…Roald talks of creating courses that can be played in little more than three hours, which he considers fulfilling and yet not too long. I think 2:45 would be about right, which is coincidentally the length of an average Major League Baseball game…The reduction would immediately reduce maintenance costs, which could enable operators to lower fees…The shortened playing time means more tee times and golfers”

    The case for 9-hole golf courses
    http://www.pitchcare.com/magazine/the-case-for-9-hole-golf-courses.html

    Troon Golf – one of the largest golf operators in the world – has recently stated that they would like more 9-hole courses developed to make the game more attractive and less time-consuming. In 2012, HSBC produced a report entitled, Golf’s 2020 Vision – in which it states the need for golf to be made more attractive for non-golfers, for families, for women and schoolchildren. It also says that 9-hole facilities are the future of golf – quicker rounds and more family-focused…The real answer is to reduce existing 18-hole courses in urban and suburban areas down to 9-holes …Golfers will argue that a 9-hole course is not a full golf course, however, if well designed with imaginative features and hazards, with two distinct tee-boxes per hole, there is the possibility of creating an 18-hole course within a 9-hole course.”

    NEW INITIATIVE ENCOURAGES 9-HOLE ROUNDS;
    USGA, PGA OF AMERICA TO PROVIDE SUPPORT

    http://www.pga.com/news/golf-buzz/new-initiative-encourages-9-hole-rounds-usga-pga-america-provide-support
    NEW YORK — Americans are spending an average of 500 to 1,400 more hours at the office per year than their parents did. Most people have seen time for leisure activities shrink to two hours per day, maximum. But even a two-hour window of free time can be a chance to play nine holes of golf. In its June 2013 issue, Golf Digest, the bible of the avid golfer, is launching a campaign to support and encourage more nine-hole rounds. Many golfers can play nine holes even when they are busy—and a little golf is always better than no golf at all.

    With promotional support from the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, Golf Digest will create a list of nine-hole-friendly golf courses that will appear at golfdigest.com. The Time for Nine list comprises courses that allow and promote nine-hole play for men, women, juniors and families on layouts that make it easy to do so. Golfers are encouraged to submit qualifying courses to [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected] and the list will be published at golfdigest.com.

  6. David

    @Joe Espo: Nailed it!

  7. Oldtimer

    Joe Espo
    Bill, calling people names because they disagree with your opinion does not add a great deal to the power of your argument. Evaluating the financial management in recent years of OHPA, and judging proposals to improve the parks finances, should be serious business, a little above 3rd grade playground debate tactics.

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