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.