Oak Hills Golf Course: A Jewel in Norwalk
Golf Pro Vincent Grillo Jr. 2008
Torpey on Tour
Editor's Note: This is the second report in a series on Norwalk, Connecticut, area golf courses. Hour copy editor William F. Torpey will provide readers with his comments on the courses he has played.
A foursome was just teeing up on the signature 13th hole at Oak Hills Golf Course as I turned off Fillow Street recently and made my way up Charles S. Marshall Drive to a crowded parking lot at Norwalk's "crown jewel."
It was a sunny, mild, spring day and I was looking forward to joining three Norwalk old-timers to try to tame the 18-hole, 5,920-yard course (that's from the white (middle) tees. It's 6,307 from the blues.
No Practice Area
As I approached the area where players drop off their clubs before parking their cars, I noticed there was no longer a practice area where golfers could hit their golf balls against a target. The two practice greens were still there, however, and I found out later they are used alternately on odd-and-even days. More importantly -- for us chow hounds -- there was a small food cart adjacent to the putting greens offering such fare as hot dogs, soda, candy and coffee.
I dutifully arrived 15 minutes before my 12:42 tee time, as required by the starter, recalling that, in the late '60s, I was a member of the Norwalk Jaycees when that civic organization played a small role in supporting the creation of the city's only public golf course. I first played the course in the early '70s, when the old Oak Hills Commission was almost psychotic about the possibility of anything going wrong because of a scandal that occurred back then surrounding it first chairman, having something to do with a lawnmower and criminal charges that didn't pan out.
Things seem a lot more relaxed and friendly these days. I was thinking along those lines when I met and shook hands with my playing partners for the day: Frank Lapolla, Ed Seferian and Don Shanks. We agreed to play the white (not so demanding) tees. As it turned out, it was a really good decision, based on the way we played that day.
Anyone who's ever played Oak Hills has to be aware that making a good score for the day often depends on how well you do on the first six holes -- they're all pretty short and if you can finesse them without landing in the two ponds and escaping out-of-bounds, you're off to a great start. If you're not on the ball, however, you may feel like walking home instead of past the pro shop on your way to the seventh tee.
First Six Holes Call for Finesse
Our foursome had a little (?) trouble getting started. The first hole isn't really tough if you play a decent long iron or three wood. But you have to remember there's no warm-up area at Oak Hills -- and the first six holes call for finesse, not power.
Frank and Ed and Don outplayed me on Hole No. 1, but I may have outwitted them by taking a riding cart (they were walking, dragging their clubs.) You may have difficulty remembering how you played the first hole at Oak Hills, but, if you're walking, you're not likely to forget dragging those clubs up that humongous hill en route to the second tee.
The second hole, a par 4, is only 295 yards from the whites, but weekend golfers (that's us duffers to the uninitiated) have a demanding second shot to a small, elevated green. That's probably why the hole is followed by a particularly easy, 109-yard par 3 (This hole was definitely carved out to soothe the egos of those bruised by the second hole, even though there's a tiny pond that collects golf balls from many poor souls.)
The par 4 fourth hole runs from an elevated tee down the fairway to an elevated green. Nothing complicated. The fifth hole, a par 3, 174-yard shot over a big pond is fun if you miss the water that protects three sides of the green. The sixth hole, a short par 4, also requires a tee shot over water and then meanders past some overhanging tree limbs to an elevated green.
Watch Out for the Snack Bar
On the seventh tee, your main objective may very well be not to hit anybody around the snack bar up the hill and to the right, near the 10th tee. Then it's a challenging second shot, for most of us, from the top of the hill to a green on the left side (I'm not going to mention those big hitters who drive it down the hill in pitiching iron range.)
Most golfers, I think, are genuinely happy to reach the eighth tee: For some of us, it's as if we were just starting the round because finally, for the first time, you can whale away with a driver and forget trying to finesse the darn ball. Same thing for the ninth and 10th holes.
The ninth is by far the toughest hole for us short hitters, a 440-yard par 4 more like a par 5 for us. There's also a risk of hitting one of those power lines that run through portions of the course -- as happened to one of my partners the day we played. The frustrating thing is that the ball never hits the wires unless you've hit one of your best shots.
I grabbed a hamburger and Yoo Hoo at the shack at the 10th tee, but my walking partners played on without any refreshments.
The back nine, like the front, is a par 36, also with two nice par threes and two wicked par 5's. The 10th is a long (528-yard) par 5; the 11th is a short par 4 dogleg left, the 12th a long, interesting par 5 (501 yards), the 13th is a 154-yard par 3 that long ago, I remember, was only about 90 yards. The 14th hole is a challenging par 4 with another elevated green.
Stay Off Charlie Marshall Drive
The signature 15th hole is fun to play. A small pond near the tee shouldn't come into play (so they say) and Charlie Marshall's drive runs along the entire left side of the fairway and catches more than a few balls. If that isn't bad enough, there are two bunkers on the left and short of the green and more water on the right.
The 16th and 17th, 342 and 336 yards respectively, are difficult par 4s for us hackers, particularly with that sunken ditch that runs between them. One of my partners said the 16th is the one that haunts him the most. By the way, it's on that level patch of land (level, that is, if you don't count the elevated green on the 16th) that the Oak Hills Authority plans to put a driving range. The 18th is a relatively easy par 4 that mercifully allows you to finish on a high note.
Between shots, my playing partners told me they weren't so much interested in the Authority's plans to build a driving range as they were in a sit-down restaurant where they could stop for a drink and a sandwich. The consensus was that some West Norwalk residents have been overreacting to the proposals.
Greens fees at Oak Hills are competitive with other municipal courses in Fairfield County. Residents pay $14 on weekdays, $15 on weekends. If they want a riding cart, two partners usually share the $25 fee (plus $2 returnable deposit.) Guests (often out-of-towners) pay $32 weekdays and $37 weekends, plus the optional cart fee. Pull carts cost $3 plus a $1 deposit. The course is supported by fees and city money; ever since it was completed, state and federal money was neither sought nor received.
Members no longer have to wait for tee times in the early morning hours. They get their time a week in advance, and are required to pay the entire fee when the time is reserved. Weekday tee times are made a week in advance by telephone. For weekend times, there's a lottery; members show up Tuesdays at 7 for Saturdays and at 7:30 for Sundays.
I wrote this second part of a four-part series titled "Torpey on Tour" for the sports pages of The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on June 18, 1999. The information cited reflects the facts as they existed at that time.
Series Part I – Longshore Golf Club, Westport, Connecticut:
Series Part III -- Sterling Farms Golf Course, Stamford, Connecticut:
Series Part IV -- Fairchild-Wheeler 'The Wheel,' Bridgeport, Connecticut:
"The Golf Tour -- On a Small Scale" (A parody of my "Torpey on Tour" series written by The Hour's Assistant Sports Editor George Albano.)