San Luis Rey Downs golf course to close – Owners say Aug. 6 last day

The San Luis Rey Downs golf course will close Aug. 6.

San Luis Rey Downs staff received the announcement of the closure June 6 and transmitted notice of the closure to members that afternoon.

“I knew it was a possibility, but none of us knew it was going to be quite so quick,” said San Luis Rey Downs director of golf Greg Milligan.

Milligan is one of 36 staff members whose jobs will be affected by the closure. Also affected will be the 450 playing members, along with non-member golfers including school teams.

The San Luis Rey Downs golf course is currently owned by the Vessels family, which has reached an option agreement with the mitigation bank management company Conservation Land Group, Inc. (CLG). CLG has filed an application with the Army Corps of Engineers to create the Moosa Creek Mitigation Bank. If the Army Corps of Engineers approves the application for approximately 185 acres, including the golf course land, CLG would rehabilitate and re-establish riverline and depressional wetlands and restore wetland and non-wetland riparian habitat. Developers of property elsewhere could purchase mitigation credits which would fulfill those projects’ off-site mitigation requirements. The Army Corps of Engineers will evaluate impacts to the public interest during its decision whether to authorize the land as a mitigation bank.

The golf course will close Aug. 6 regardless of whether the Army Corps of Engineers has made a decision by then. It is not currently planned to re-open if the application for a mitigation bank is denied.

“I don’t know what happens then,” Milligan said.

The golf course will not be maintained after Aug. 6. “Our entire maintenance crew will be let go and we’re selling off all the equipment,” Milligan said.

“The water will be turned off, too,” Milligan said. “I don’t know who would do the irrigating, since they’re letting the entire staff go.”

The restaurant at San Luis Rey Downs closed Jan. 1, resulting in approximately a dozen staff members losing their jobs. The San Luis Rey Downs Resort hotel which closed in November 2012 had 26 rooms and approximately seven staff members.

San Luis Rey Downs will not refund unused certificates or pre-paid arrangements for play, and at this time no other course plans to honor such vouchers.

“Everything needs to be redeemed by Aug. 6,” Milligan said. “There will still be people on the property after Aug. 6, but the business itself will be closed.”

Refunds will be given for deposits to reserve the golf course banquet room, which will also close Aug. 6. “Most things are booked at least four to six months in advance. I had Christmas parties,” Milligan said.

Golf tournaments scheduled for after Aug. 6 will also be cancelled if they cannot be relocated.

San Luis Rey Downs has also been used for practice and matches by Cal State University San Marcos, Palomar College, Mission Vista High School, and Vista High School. “The two colleges, they rotate through a few golf courses, so I don’t think there’s any problem,” Milligan said. “Vista High School and Mission Vista are going to have some issues.”

Girls golf is a fall high school sport while high school boys golf is a spring sport. College golf has a limited number of fall matches before resuming for the spring season. The two colleges and Vista High School have used San Luis Rey Downs for both boys and girls programs; Mission Vista High School utilizes the course for only girls golf. “They’re going to have to scramble for a new place,” Milligan said.

San Luis Rey Downs had 380 men’s club members and 70 ladies’ club members at the time of the closure announcement. “A lot of them have been there for 20 or 30 years, so there’s sure been a lot of tears and emotions,” Milligan said.

“We probably have the best men’s club in the area,” Milligan said. “They’re all kind of in a daze, also.”

San Luis Rey Downs held tournaments every Wednesday and Saturday for its members. “They always knew everybody,” Milligan said. “The golf course was kind of like a family, too.”

The desire of San Luis Rey Downs golfers to remain with each other complicates their ability to relocate to another course. “They’re all trying to go one place in big chunks, but I don’t know how it’s going to work out for them,” Milligan said.

Although San Luis Rey Downs does not have youth members, youngsters have utilized the course for lessons. “We have a lot of junior programs out here,” Milligan said.

That includes a Saturday afternoon junior program. “Those all cease to exist as of Aug. 6, also,” Milligan said.

Three junior summer camps were scheduled for this year. The first two will be completed prior to Aug. 6 and will take place as scheduled. The third camp will be cancelled. “It’s a shame, but it is the state of the golf business,” Milligan said.

“Golf here really has not been a growing game, and yet they kept building golf courses,” Milligan said. “The pie didn’t grow, but the amount of golf courses did.”

Many large housing developments included golf courses. “That economics worked for the builder, but it didn’t work for whoever had to run the golf course,” Milligan said.

The San Luis Rey Downs golf course opened in 1963. “It’s a great golf course,” Milligan said. “It’s such a great layout.”

The course was designed by Billy Bell, who also designed the Torrey Pines and Camp Pendleton courses.

“I’m certainly sad that it’s going, but I also understand the economics,” Milligan said.

Milligan has been with San Luis Rey Downs since 1982. “It’s been great,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed to be able to work for the Vessels for 30 years.”

The San Luis Rey Downs golf course was built by C. Arnholdt Smith, whose financial problems in the 1970s led to a federal prison term as well as the liquidation of his assets. During the mid-1960s the course hosted the Mickey Wright Invitational tournament which was part of the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. The Vessels family bought the country club from receivership in 1981 and re-opened the course the following year. “It was actually not maintained when they bought it,” Milligan said.

The golf course was closed in the late 1970s before being re-opened in 1982. “This is not the first time,” Milligan said of the golf course’s closure.

13 Responses to "San Luis Rey Downs golf course to close – Owners say Aug. 6 last day"

  1. Golf player   June 20, 2014 at 8:13 am

    What a shame, I learned to play on this course.

  2. Ray (the real one)   June 20, 2014 at 9:06 am

    Close the track, keep the course open.

  3. kma   June 20, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    @ Ray (the real one)…where have you been? The family hasn’t owned or operated the track for yrs!?!

  4. oldtimer   June 21, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Trying again. Once more money outweighs the interest of the community in maintaining its character and protecting itself from what will be negative consequences.

  5. Ray (the real one)   June 21, 2014 at 11:40 am

    KMA: No kidding…. My comment was….. If anything should close, close the track before the course. Read between the lines.

    If you close the track… Hundreds of stodents and illegal parents would no longer have a mail drop freeing up resources.

  6. AH   June 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    CLOSE THE TRACK!? It was my understanding they just spent 3 million to re-do it and are at full capacity once all the horses from Los Angeles just came down. That place is making money hand over fist. Why would you close that? Stodents all over the golf course too! As for it closing I have have to say it is sad but if I owned it and lost money for as many years I would finally give up also. Theres a lot of old money around here and I believe a closure happened back in the 80’s and it all worked out. Once the freeway and adjoining park system is done this area will be bustling with folks and profit. I wish I had an extra 3 million to invest I would spent it with out any second thought. Stay positive my friends Bonsall is going to be what Fallbrook was and lost soon enough!

  7. FBK MOM   June 21, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Very sad. Beautiful course, we loved dropping in to the restaurant for a casual meal (miss those burgers!). I can’t imagine what the course will look like, not maintained, or irrigated. Eventually an expansion of the riverbed? More housing for the homeless. Just another degradation of Fallbrook/Bonsall. What about those homes on the golf course? I am with Ray on this one.

  8. Old timer   June 22, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    If I recall rightly, due to rain and washouts, the course was unplayable in the "80"s took a lot do dough to fix it up, it would be a shame to lose it. I agree with #6 if I had the money to invest I would, and I don’t play golf.

  9. JD   June 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Not a big fan of the course, although it’s OK for a cheap round. The grounds and club house, etc…look like something stuck in time back when the Lion’s club was probably meeting there. Old bar filled with Liars Dice types. Not a great loss, closing this one. $3m wouldn’t fix it…more like $10m. And how do you propose a "Community" protects it’s character? A few ways 1).a few local private investors save the land for everyone, and run it at a loss ( HAHA ) 2) The Community claims the land back in adverse possession, spends taxes in fix up cost, then runs it at a loss..( nope ) The Community sponsors a "Save the Downs" fund raiser, making enough money to pay for the raffle, and two new golf carts..
    ( nope ) Face it: Old, run down, losing money properties get sold all the time to new money folks who transform it for profit. What country do you think we live in, anyhow"

  10. Wally   June 23, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Since when is a business owner obligated to lose money for the "interest of the community"? If you Bonsallites were really as impassioned about keeping this golf course as you say you are, you would have already formed a group of investors to buy the Vessels family out. It’s easy to ask others to lose money for the good of the community but when it’s your own money, its another story.

  11. The real human   June 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Hey Ray, is this all you do?

  12. oldtimer   June 27, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    This is the first time I’ve seen a comment from Old Timer. Should I change my handle to avoid confusion?

  13. Downey Jim   August 6, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Quite simply, this place is irreplaceable…it is a solid 10 nestled between the 5 and the 15…I could not be sadder about its closing. thank you to Greg Milligan and his incredible staff for making the GCI/ Spring Fling group feel so at home in this most beautiful of places…my favorite course on the planet…always will be I think.


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