Golden Era Golf Course, a historic golf course owned by the Church of Scientology near San Jacinto, is closing to the public effective July 15, church officials said.
The golf course, which traces its roots to the early 1930s when it was established as the Gilman Hot Springs Golf Course, will remain a golf course, although its focus will shift from use as a public course to being a venue for charitable golfing tournaments and other community events, church spokeswoman Muriel Dufresne said.
The impending closure has upset some golfers.
"I would hate to see it close to the public," said Bill Wilson, 74, of San Jacinto, who said he's been going to Golden Era for the last few months.
"It's a nice, easy course for us beginners," he said.
Frank Switzer, 56, of Hemet, said he's been going to the golf course after work since the early 1990s and will miss going there.
"There are better courses, but this is an easier course," he said.
"You'd have to double everything they say," said Jack Kluth, 60, of Hemet, who said he's been going to the course for over a decade, who jokingly said he might give up golf if the course closes.
Golden Era's closure from the competitive golf circuit closes an era in local golfing history.
According to the book "San Jacinto Valley: Past and Present," a nine-hole golf course was added to Gilman Hot Springs resort in 1931 and after World War II, this was expanded to an 18-hole course. In the 1950s, Massacre Canyon Inn was developed, providing an elegant venue for parties and dinners for local residents overlooking the golf course, the book said. The Church of Scientology bought the property in 1978.
The golf course forms part of the 500-plus acres campus owned by the church along Gilman Springs Road.
The property includes Golden Era Productions, which produces educational materials and tapes for Scientology churches, as well as a full-scale reproduction of a clipper ship that is occasionally used as a movie set.
Golf course general manager David Williams said he was informed about two weeks ago about the church leadership's plan to shift in the course's focus.
He said the golf course enjoys profitability and player use is up, but the church has decided to go a different direction with the golf course.
"The Church of Scientology doesn't see a need to be in the business of competing with other golf courses," Williams said. "It would have been nice if the golf course stayed open, it certainly has been profitable, but they decided to close it and that's that."
Williams, who became general manager about nine months ago and is not a church member, said about 100 people play at the 40-acre, nine-hole course every day. He said 15 employees, including himself, expect to be let go when the golf course closes, but a crew of five employees would remain to maintain the golf coruse.
He said there had been plans discussed until recently to expand the golf course, but those plans are now not going to happen.
"This wasn't an overnight decision," Dufresne said, adding that the church has all the necessary county permit to proceed. "We've just decided to change our focus."
She said one motivation for the change was a desire to provide a venue for community groups to hold events and fundraisers.
She said among the events planned for the golf course include a mixer for the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Chamber of Commerce and a fundraising golf tournament for the Ramona Humane Society, both occurring in August.
She said the golf course also expects to host events for local Police Activities Leagues and would welcome community groups that want to hold events at the golf course.