NORWALK, Conn. – The competition for the right to build a driving range in Norwalk’s Oak Hills Park appears to be over, but the architect behind the spurned proposal is coming out of the woodwork to fight for what he sees as a sure money maker – for himself, for his business partner and for Norwalk.
Tad King of King Golf International, who is currently building a golf course overlooking the Great Pyramid of Giza, said the course he has planned for the park’s woods would be a destination, “perhaps the finest and most unique practice facility in the states.” The Total Driving Range Solutions (TDRS) proposal to build a driving range on the course itself, which was chosen by the Oak Hills Park Authority ad hoc driving range committee, would only draw people who want to play golf at Oak Hills, he said. King has therefore come to NancyOnNorwalk to share the details with authority members and dispel what he sees as misinformation.
“I am finding it increasingly difficult to rationalize how the chairman of the Authority can continue taking TDRS’s proposal seriously,” King said in an email.
The proposed location, in the area of the first hole and the sixth tee, is too narrow, King said. When the authority voted unanimously in August to go with the TDRS proposal, it did so with no knowledge of what King was proposing, King said. His proposal also includes master planning services, but authority members don’t know about that, or his offer to renovate the first hole pro bono, he said.
King takes issue with Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers’ statement that TDRS was chosen as the best business deal, not because of trees, and a statement Desrochers made at last month’s OHPA meeting about a turning point just before the committee’s August recommendation to go with TDRS.
“The other proponent was given the opportunity to make a best and final bid,” Desrochers said, of King. “His business partner felt they couldn’t go any better than what they proposed.”
King said he told Desrochers there was plenty of wiggle room left at that juncture, even if his partner, Titan Capital, said they couldn’t do any better.
“I’ve got leverage,” he said.”Without me Titan Capital gets nothing. I explained, there’s wiggle room left. This is not the best and final offer … It was never a best final take it or leave it, ever. I reached out and told him in October — we can sweeten the pie. I just keep getting ignored.”
He and others thought the TDRS selection was just a negotiating ploy, King said.
“We chose what we felt was the best business deal for the OHPA,” Desrochers said in an email. “There were also several other environmental benefits that makes the deal even better from a community standpoint. We stand by our belief that we made the best decision for the OHPA and the city of Norwalk.”
King said he “has lost his line of communication” with Desrochers, but has circulated some of his master planning ideas to golfers. Like those presented at the last OHPA meeting by Jim Downing of TDRS, they are centered around the first hole.
“Oak Hills has a serious congestion problem,” King said. “It’s been piecemealed over, every few years, somebody, the committee, comes up with an idea. There’s no fluidity to it. It needs help, all around the clubhouse, the first tee, the starter shack, everything.”
Like Downing, King would demolish the current pro shop and move the operations into the building that is the restaurant.
He would widen the cul de sac currently at the first tee to make it wide enough for an SUV. The golfer would come, a caddy would take his golf bag and he would go park. He would add two new tees, which would be elevated, making it a par 5 for men, and leaving it a par 4 for women.
“I have offered to do the work that I am speaking of pro bono,” he said. “I’ll throw that in. I’ve already got all the resources, machinery and talent there. What the heck, why not?”
King said Desrochers did not share the information that he would do master planning at the lowest price Desrochers said he would accept.
“Both King and TDRS agreed to provide the same services to the OHPA for the same cost,” Desrochers said. “His team was given ample opportunity to improve on their final offer and they chose not to.”
King said his last formal proposal revision, submitted July 18, offered the authority $30,000 rent a year plus 5.5 percent of the gross revenues for the first 10 years, increasing after that.
“King Golf’s facility outperforms TDRS financially even under that proposal, when using King Golf’s projected revenue,” King said in a statement, attached below.
That offer has since been improved, King said. While his original response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) asked the city to guarantee his loan, King said he has proof of funds for 100 percent of the capital necessary to build his range, $2 million. The original response was a misunderstanding, he said.
“This thing is going to make money and I got it funded in less than two months, with no guarantee,” King said.
He said he didn’t think Downing had the financing he needs to build the TDRS proposal, based on a press release Downing put out when his plan was selected.
Downing replied in an email that suspicion is “not true.” Desrochers said, “He has someone who is willing to provide him financing but we have not finished with our negotiations yet. Finalizing a business deal in terms of granular details is a lot more complicated than people think. That has been a work in progress.”
King said Desrochers took him to the alternate driving range location, the one chosen by Downing, in July and asked if he would design something for that spot. King declined.
“You can’t even achieve mediocrity with the lay of the land. It’s too narrow,” he said. “… I’ve been in the business long enough, I know you can’t make money there. It’s not possible. … I’ve been building golf for 26 years. I’ve built it on four continents, for Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson. I’ve got what is considered the best nine hole golf course in the world, on record, and these guys are not giving me the time of day.”
Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email that he is “very much” against putting a driving range in the woods outlined in the authority’s RFP.
King was hired in 2011 to rebuild an existing nine-hole course near Chattanooga, Tenn. The resultant Battle Creek golf course is “potentially one of America’s — and thus the world’s — very best nine-hole courses,” wrote Adam Lawrence, editor of Golf Course Architecture.
Opponents of putting a driving range in the woods at Oak Hills have suggesting making room for one in another location by shortening the course to nine or 12 holes, which they say is a trend. King said it’s not that far-fetched an idea.
“I have a client in Colombia right now and we are considering building a 12-hole golf course,” he said. “I think 18 holes – what happened in the ’90’s and 2000’s were all these signature designers started 75-hole championship golf courses that were much too difficult, too expensive to maintain and much too expensive to build, they all take too long to play. Tom Doak at Bandon Dunes built a 13-hole golf course on the coast in Oregon and it’s phenomenally successful. When he did it he was crazy. I wouldn’t take that off the table.”
King’s design for Norwalk, detailed in a separate story, uses existing trees to give golfers a choice of obstacles, simulating challenges they find while playing different holes on a golf course. Downing’s plan is a typical driving range, like Stamford’s Sterling Farms, he said. The area the hitting bays are in is wider than the end the golfers would be aiming at.
“It just narrows down. You’re just hitting golf balls,” he said. “… They’re not going to take any of the market share from Sterling Farms. The only guys who are going to use it are the ones who are warming up, they’re going to play a round at Oak Hills. You’ll get some stragglers but it’s not going to be a destination thing. People are not going out of their way to come here.”