Sailor beware

By Paul Cantor

To the Editor,

In the 1951 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film, “Sailor Beware” (available on YouTube), Jerry Lewis is swabbing the deck of a submarine as it is submerging. It calls to mind the OHPA’s just ignore it approach (and by extension those on the Common Council who go along with it) to dealing with the “slow decline in the number of golfers” – a nationwide trend.

As an article in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal put it, for instance:

“The kickoff event at this year’s PGA Merchandise Show was a slick, TED-like presentation in a hotel ballroom that drew about 1,000 people. The topic, not uncommon at PGA Shows, was how to reverse the slow decline in the number of golfers. … One possibility is that golf always will be a niche sport, incapable of growing as the shareholders of high-flying manufacturers demand. David Fay, the former executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, dared to suggest as much from the stage Wednesday at the State of the Industry Forum.

“‘The industry got bamboozled,’ he said. … ‘I’ve always been skeptical that the number of golfers people talked about was real,’ he told me after the forum. Golf’s failure to become a mass-market sport and the huge oversupply of courses have spun a pessimistic aura around the game. In 2013, for the eighth consecutive year, more 18-hole equivalent courses closed in the U.S. (157.5) than opened (14), according to the National Golf Foundation. Between 1986 and 2005, 4,500 net new courses were added. Other explanations for golf’s dwindling supply of players include increasing time pressure, two-earner families and the poor economy. Whatever the cause, golf in the last five years has lost 25% of its core players…” (“More Debate Over the Need for Alt-Golf, by John Paul Newport”, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 24, 2014).


Paul Cantor



21 responses to “Sailor beware”

  1. Charles Brennan

    A point that you missed was that the rounds were up at Oak Hills over the past year. The course is in better shape than most of the courses in the area and it is bringing golfers in. The Fairfield County area was not overbuilt with courses as in many parts of the country.

  2. At this point, I’ve stopped reading anything by Paul Cantor and his group….

  3. Tom Reynolds

    Fairfield County doesn’t have enough public courses. There are plenty of private courses around, so Oak Hills is primed to be “a destination” again. The course in 2013 was considered to be in the best shape of any golf course in Connecticut. That fact isn’t from the National Golf Foundation. It is from the mouths of many golfers who came to Norwalk to play golf last summer. I am looking forward to playing at Oak Hills GOLF COURSE this summer. And, oh yeah, it happens to reside within Oak Hills Park.

  4. EDR

    Hey Jerry! Did you read the 1/24/14 article in the NY Times? “Golf Trade Bounces Back With the Economy”? 1,000 exhibitors and 40,000 people attended the show. 20% more exhibitors than last year. You have an agenda to close Oak Hills plain and simple. At least be honest about it.

  5. Piberman

    Other leisure activities have also been slow rebounding from the Great Recession, e.g. boating, airplanes. Golf is here to stay.

  6. Beth Altman

    According to Oak Hills P&L statement that you can find in the Oak Hills minutes posted on the city’s website, the net income from July 1 to December 31, 2012 was a positive $19,401.37 versus the net income from the same time period one year later July 1,to December 31, 2013 is a NEGATIVE $91,316.57 and it was a great year with the weather. I’m not in favor of going to 9 holes (BAD IDEA) but this place needs to look at the people running the course and start asking some tough questions about these disturbing numbers. They are spending more than they have A LOT MORE or are these figures incorrect?

  7. 4thepark

    Nonresident rounds were up from the depressed level of the previous year while resident rounds were down 3.7%. The Park is there to serve the interests of the taxpayers of Norwalk not nonresidents. Another point: nine hole rounds were up 40.7%. That is an argument, taking everything else into consideration, for reducing the course to nine holes.

  8. Charles Brennan

    Total rounds were up 3.7% from the year before for a total of 34,000 Rounds. Why don’t you tell the whole story. Eighty percent of the rounds at the golf course were 18 hole rounds. There is no argument for reducing the golf course to 9 holes. The golf course has never been in better shape and with the staff in place it will only get better. The golf course pays for itself. I am sure the taxpayers would love to see their taxes go up to support another park that would be used by non residents also.

  9. Paul Cantor

    In response to Mr. Brennan’ comment that there is no argument for reducing the golf course to 9 holes:

    Brando Tucke, Senior Write, World Golf, http://www.worldgolf.com/column/12-hole-golf-courses-11475.htm writes:

    The 18-hole-or-bust standard may very well be one of the main reasons golf is in a state of decline. It’s no secret that the number of rounds played each year is declining, and new golf course projects have slowed to less than two dozen worldwide this year. Twelve-hole golf courses are becoming a hot topic, especially after Jack Nicklaus told Golf Digest in 2007: “We should consider the possibility of making 12 holes the standard round. … Eventually it would be accepted because it makes sense in people’s lives.” http://www.worldgolf.com/column/12-hole-golf-courses-11475.htm

    And as the letter in the Hour on Sunday pointed out, according to Jack Nicklaus makes “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.”

    That letter points to a number of other golf oriented web sites that make the argument for reducing the size of 18-hole golf courses.

    Furthermore Golf Digest with the backing of the USGA and PGA is making the case for nine hole golf courses in their time for nine campaign.

    So clearly there are plenty of golfers who see nine hole courses as being a solution to the troubles 18-hole golf course are having due to the decline in the demand to play 18 holes of golf.

    Here are some excerpts from another Time for Nine article in Golf Digest that you can find by going to http://www.golfdigest.com/magazine/2013-06/new-initiative-time-for-nine. “For today’s lifestyle, here’s the message: New Initiative: Time For Nine.. Golf Digest, with the support of the USGA and the PGA of America, created a list of “nine-hole-friendly” courses on Golfdigest.com. The list includes courses that allow and promote nine-hole play for men, women, juniors and families on layouts that make it easy to play partial rounds. High marks will go to the most playable courses, for golfers of all skill levels. By Bob Carney June 2013 You might be asking yourself: What the heck is Golf Digest, bible of the 36-a-day addict, home of the 75-rounds-a-year “avid” golfer doing promoting nine-hole rounds? …Look, rounds played have been dropping, and you’re telling us it’s harder to get out to play. So … we’re trying to help. We think you’ll play a whole lot more golf if you get with a growing number of golfers who have come to love “partial” rounds. Eighteen is great. But nine is fine. We’re pleased to announce that PGA of America and the USGA agree with us. They will help us build a list of “nine-hole-friendly” courses and will encourage their members and member clubs to offer and promote nine-hole play. What’s more, the USGA is contemplating various ways that it can encourage golfers to play nine-hole rounds, when they have the time, and wants to make sure that golfers understand that nine-hole rounds are compatible with the Rules of Golf and the USGA Handicap System. Management consultant Kristin Maschka has calculated that we’re way behind our parents in personal leisure time. She says the combination of increased time at the office—from 500 to 1,400 additional hours a year—and more time with the kids—an additional 440 hours a year—leaves us with at least 2½ hours less free time every day. No surprise that most of our leisure activities have shrunk to two hours, max: dinner, a movie, a workout, a (short) ballgame. Marathons have given way to half-marathons, and even cricket matches have time limits. Is it any wonder that weekend golfers have to adjust, too? “In 1998 our percentage of nine-hole rounds was 30 percent,” says Leigh Bader, who runs the Pine Oaks nine-hole course in South Easton, Mass. “In 2011 that was 70 percent. Nine holes is the staple. Even on weekends, the standard 18 is no longer true.” At the tonier end of golf properties the same can be true, says Cathy Harbin, vice president of golf revenue at ClubCorp, which operates more than 150 resorts and clubs. “So few people want to go out and play 18 anymore,” Harbin says. “That can’t be our message in the industry. We have to say, ‘You can do 18, but look, there are all of these other options.’ “Worldwide, nine is already fine. In France, where 18-hole rounds dropped nearly 7 percent last year, nine-hole rounds were up a tiny bit. …In the Czech Republic almost half the courses are nine holes, and it’s common for golfers in Prague to play nine before work. In this country “there’s been a stigma attached to playing nine,” says Ryan Walls of Troon Golf. “Oh, you’re a nine-holer; you must be a high-handicapper. But it’s changing to where nine is more about time and experience and less about ability level.” Corporate and industrial leagues aren’t quite as popular as they used to be, say course owners, but social leagues have had an uptick. “We said to our facilities, ‘Why not promote nine-hole rounds?’ ” Walls says. “Some people are put off. They see it as a low-base, municipal kind of promotion. But it’s coming.” “What you hear is that pace of play is important to people,” Major says. “When you dig into that, you realize it’s that people want respect for ‘me and my time.’ ”

    Bottom line: Nine in fine. Nine is fine in the view of golfers and non-golfers alike. And nine might just be the solution to the problems the OHPA is having covering the costs of providing golfers with a first rate golfing experience. And nine would open up Oak Hill Park to people who don’t play golf.

  10. Tom Reynolds

    4thepark – (or should we call you Cantor?). 9-hole rounds are only “up” because they were not offered in the past. Oak Hills should always offer 9 holes as an option, but 99.999% of golfers prefer to play 18 holes. That’s how golf was designed. That’s how handicaps are judged. You know, High Schools only play 7-inning baseball games. Maybe we should try and get MLB to shorten the major league games because they take too long.

  11. Charles

    Mr. Cantor you keep putting out the same stuff did you run out of time trolling the internet. Why don’t you just state your agenda which is to have your own private park across from your house. Again stick to the issue which is Oak Hills. The rounds are up and the golf course is becoming a go to course in Fairfield County. The league at the company that I work at is growing every year and they are playing at the course and enjoying it after many years of not playing it.

  12. Suzanne

    I know golfers in Norwalk want to “hold the line” but I do believe it is important to be accurate. Golf was a game of random numbers at the very beginning. As stated in this link which disabuses the idea that 18 holes was a standard, http://www.snopes.com/sports/golf/18holes.asp, even St. Andrews was not originally an 18 hole golf course – it was twelve. If you want to point to golf history, then, the number of holes a course has is mutable. While Oak Hills might be doing well this year, I think a long term strategy for profitability or even breaking even is long overdue. Every year, we hear how the number of rounds is “up” and a greater and greater number of golfers from everywhere are looking to Oak Hills as their go-to municipal golf course. Look at the numbers long term: it simply isn’t true. Now, if you are a golfer and want to retain the 18 holes and from a strictly aesthetic and sporting point of view, I don’t blame you, at least come up with facts and not emotional responses to arguments cited, with references, that support the opposite of what you are saying and what you object to. Mr. Cantor has made some good points and referenced all of the professional golf organizations out there. You can say this doesn’t apply BUT, long term, Oak Hills has not only not born out the optimism (which I wish you all would take and promote the course instead of complaining about it) but the long term numbers and self-sustaining strategy has not worked. I like Oak Hills the way it is BUT, at the same time, the economics does not bear out the current strategy as defined by the City Charter nor does the conditions: nine holes would provide additional uses in the Park for all citizens. As to Mr. Cantor wanting his own private park, well that is just silly to contemplate. Additional features to attract MORE citizens, means more traffic and more participation by more citizens. That does not sound like a private park to me.

  13. Charles

    No one is complaining about the course . The golfers are talking it up and there are many new golfers coming to the course because of the condition which is better than it has in many years. You don’t have to hear the rounds are up they were up again facts. Golf was random at the beginning that is true but the number of holes was settled on 18 holes and it has been that for quite a long time. The last authority meeting a marketing plan was brought up to market the course. Then the complaints were that the OHPA was going after non residents. Does it matter who plays the course or that it is successful? Oak Hills 18 holes has been part of Norwalk for 45 years and it has never been better. Mr. Cantor didn’t want the traffic for the range but traffic for a park is okay!

  14. cc-rider

    Cantor himself knows nothing about the game or business of golf so he has to quote others to make his thinly veiled point. How many golf courses actually reduced their number of holes in 2013? It is not news that golf has had participation issues since the economy went off the rails. One commenter referenced this above, but like it or not Fairfield county is a golf desert compared to most parts of the country. There is no reason Oak Hills can’t be successful as an 18 hole facility in this area.

  15. Suzanne

    I don’t personally mind if golfers come from Timbuktu to play at Oak Hills. In fact, I think it is better for a person’s game if every strategy on a course is explored by playing different venues. What I think is being sought in this case is some equal time on a large parcel of land that has been given over to a single purpose instead of to the many purposes as described in the Charter. That’s just following what was required based on the monies obtained from the Federal Gov’t when the Park was established. I would like it if “There is no reason Oak Hills can’t be successful as an 18 hole facility in this area.” BUT, that hasn’t been the case for a long while now. I do think a residence/non-residence card is a barrier to play – while this maybe a way to raise funds for the course, I think it would be easier as with most courses (Torrey Pines comes to mind – a public course that, if you pay the fee, you play) to not require such permits to play and make it an easier transaction: pay for your round and play (I digress). This tradition for course play, though, seems to die hard in this area (the “golf desert” as described above.) So, equitable use is what is being sought and that was what was agreed to at the very, very beginnings of establishing a course at Oak Hills. Mr. Cantor’s arguments for a shorter course complies with that – although I do like the course just as it is, this sole use does not provide a venue for all the people of Norwalk and, I am afraid, functions more as a private club. That is not how a Public Park is supposed to function.

  16. cc-rider

    Suzanne- There is a huge difference between the two options of making Oak Hills a better run facility and reducing the number of holes. Cantor isn’t making any argument. He is merely presenting quotes from people who have an opinion. If these quoted people were so bright everyone within golf would be following their sage advice. Honestly, no one knows what exactly to do about the state of the golf industry right now. It would seem like common sense, but if you put out a good product at a good price and in a fun environment people will come to play golf.

  17. Tom Reynolds

    Suzanne – Oak hills (and golf in general) may have had some issues in the recent past, but they are over now. The OHPA is doing well. Oak Hills IS avaialable for all residents of Norwalk. They can come and use the NATURE TRAILS that Oak Hills offers. They can play TENNIS if they want to. And they can play GOLF, as long as they pay the daily fee. A resident card allows Norwalk residents to play all season at a reduced rate ($26). After 2 rounds, it has paid for itself. Changing the pricing structure to a “daily fee” regardless of residency will only cause the OHPA to charge EVERYONE a higher rate to play. Currently, Oak Hills is one of the more affordable public courses in Fairfield Cty.

  18. Suzanne

    “…but if you put out a good product at a good price and in a fun environment people will come to play golf.” That is the “build it and they will come” strategy and that just hasn’t seemed to be working. Prices go up at Oak Hills, prices go down. Greens are great, the best ever, and still not enough people are playing golf. What are the number of rounds, long term and annually, that must be played at current pricing to keep the course not only viable but with enough capital reserves to anticipate unforeseen expenses (like the oil tank remediation?) Does the OHPA know? Is this another number they are keeping “close to the vest” for what reason? I have not seen those numbers, required, long term, projected in any of the endless threads regarding this topic. There is just some vague idea that Oak Hills is not making it from year to year and the numbers we get, sporadically, are not revealed until another loan is required for Oak Hills’ upkeep. Again, I appreciate the sport and aesthetic of 18 holes but can Oak Hills sustain itself as required on a long term basis without additional city support? A marketing plan is a great idea but what are the constraints, what is the program, just how many rounds need to be played to make ends meet (and then some)? Mr. Cantor is suggesting that shortening the course, given several economic indicators nationwide and given the mission as outlined in the charter for the course, might be the answer. I have yet to see a cogent argument for anything else (but that is not to say I do not regret this as a solution for reasons stated above.) The kind of numbers required, not just concepts, the kind of projections needed to make the 9-Hole argument valid and not just a trend in golf still need to be shown. But, it’s hard to argue against the idea that it is a trend nationwide given the data Mr. Cantor has provided. A good question has been asked and yet to be answered: just how many 18 hole conversions have there been nationwide? New builds can be tracked and I believe that information has been provided. Ancillary note: given the severe drought in the West, you can bet golf courses are going to be a “Tin Cup” experience for many communities further degrading the rounds played nationwide.

  19. cc-rider

    How many nine hole courses has the oft quoted Jack Nicklaus built versus eighteen hole courses?

  20. Tom Reynolds

    Maybe we should all just go to the next OHPA meeting and ask them to outline everything for us. It sounds like the only resudents that actually go to the meetings are the naysayers, all 8 of them. It’s a public forum. I’m sure we can go.

  21. Suzanne

    Been there, done that, Mr. Reynolds. This, admittedly, was under the old regime. Asking questions, respectfully, earned me jeers and cat calls. I honestly don’t need to go through that again. Why can’t a PUBLIC FORUM issue information PUBLICLY so that everyone can know the entire “scoop”/financial picture? So much obvious data is either not divulged or avoided. Financial data which is supposed to be an every month at the meeting report is usually missing and what is offered is incomplete or very selective depending upon the public face and strategy the OHPA is looking for. Just being open about EVERYTHING by the OHPA as to the operations of Oak Hills would save a lot of column space on at least two publications I think of.

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments