Hope springs eternal

A GCSAA superintendent and a PGA of America member team up to bring back Southern California’s Warner Springs Ranch after a nearly two-year closure.


Filed to: California

Hope springs eternal
Roxanne Mueller, director of golf (left), and Mike Rosales, superintendent, have used communication to build a strong professional relationship and promote hospitality at Warner Springs Ranch Resort, northeast of San Diego. Photo by K.C. Alfred

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series highlighting the important relationship between GCSAA superintendents and PGA of America professionals. These stories are being published simultaneously in both GCM and PGA Magazine.

There are long-held beliefs in the therapeutic and renewing qualities of hot springs. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that Warner Springs Ranch Resort has been rejuvenated by Pacific Hospitality Group, which bought the resort in 2013, after it had closed 18 months earlier. The site of natural hot springs, the resort also includes a golf course that offers many therapeutic qualities of its own.

“It really hurt the community when the Ranch shut down,” says Roxanne Mueller, director of golf at Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club. “We’re building the community back through the course. It’s the same course that they remember, and we’re creating a welcoming environment. This course is made to walk. It is so beautiful and quiet. The solitude feels like the way golf is supposed to be played.”

Perched at an elevation of 3,000 feet, Warner Springs Ranch features sweeping views of surrounding mountain ranges, nearby Lake Henshaw and the white dome of the Palomar Observatory.

“The mountains in the backdrop frame most of the greens and make it really scenic,” says Mike Rosales, Warner Springs Ranch’s superintendent and a 10-year GCSAA member. “We’re adding a new practice area, more villas and condos. We’re also considering the addition of nine more holes across the street, which would bring us to 27. With all these amenities, I think people will love getting away for a few days.”

A new life for a historic site

The 2,500-acre, Western-style ranch resort is located in the Julian foothills, just over an hour northeast of San Diego, site of next month’s Golf Industry Show. It was settled by John Warner in 1844 as a cattle ranch and trading post near the intersection of the road connecting Los Angeles and San Diego to Yuma, Ariz. It was known then as Rancho San Jose de Valle, and was later renamed Warner Springs after Warner. A health and wellness retreat opened on the property in the 1920s and gained fame for its therapeutic natural hot springs and spectacular rural beauty.

The 6,775-yard, 18-hole, par-72 golf course was designed by golf course architect David A. Rainville and opened in 1965. The resort also features — or will feature in future phases — a 27,000-square-foot main lodge, 250 casita units, two restaurants, a winery and vineyards, four tennis courts, a beach club and sand volleyball courts, an equestrian center, hiking and biking trails (including a portion of the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada), a private airport, general store, post office, and medical buildings.

Pacific Hospitality Group also owns Salt Creek Golf Club in Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego, and owner Bill McWethy was pleased with the contract work Rosales had done on various golf course projects at Salt Creek. When McWethy bought Warner Springs Ranch Resort in 2013, he asked Rosales to be the superintendent.

“I had played Warner Springs Ranch four or five times back in 2000, so I knew it was a really nice area, and I liked working with Bill,” Rosales says. “We’ve changed a couple holes and shaped a few fairways. We added drainage, added bunkers, added a dogleg and pond (on No. 3), put in 12 new tees, lengthened the course 300 yards, and replaced the cart paths. It was a great process and a lot of fun.”

Part of what made the resuscitation of the golf course after its 18-month hiatus so much fun for Rosales was having input on the renovations.

“It has been rewarding in the sense of seeing how far we’ve come,” says Rosales, who worked closely with architect Cary Bickler and golf course builder Eddie Kokorean on the recent changes.

“They work so well together,” Rosales says of the duo. “They always made a point to consider everyone’s ideas. It was incredible to see them work. They would drive around, Cary would sketch it out on a pad of paper, and Eddie would jump on a ’dozer and bring it to life.”

Relationships matter

That kind of teamwork during renovations was exactly what Warner Springs Ranch needed between its superintendent and director of golf as it looked to the future. Rosales and Mueller had never met, held no preconceived notions about each other, and hit it off immediately.

“Their relationship is so important to our success,” says Byron Casper, the corporate director of golf for Pacific Hospitality Group and a PGA of America member. “They have a close relationship, as they use each other for advice and to bounce ideas off of. They are working together to create memories for customers.

“I’m a big believer in the Billy Casper (Byron’s late father) philosophy that relationships matter. Those relationships behind the scenes are paramount. Everyone doesn’t get that, which is unfortunate. I feel lucky to have Mike and Roxy at Warner Springs Ranch Resort.”

Casper says communication is the key to strong relationships, and communication is what Rosales and Mueller have used to build their professional relationship.

“We’re in contact every day,” Mueller says of Rosales. “So much of it is trust. He knows his stuff. I’m always asking him questions. He makes my job easier.”

“We work well together and are in constant contact,” Rosales says. “We’re on the same page. It helps that we both play and enjoy playing, so that creates camaraderie, because we both understand what golfers like and want.”

Mueller played golf at California State University, San Marcos and graduated cum laude in 2011 with a degree in kinesiology and an emphasis in exercise science. She has been playing golf since the age of 4, and passed the PGA’s Playing Ability Test on her first try.

“Roxy is very cooperative and understanding,” Rosales says. “She is very upfront and helpful to address any issues. She is super-nice and professional. She makes everyone here feel welcome and really understands hospitality. That is the business we’re in — making it a good experience.”

Warner Springs Ranch
Situated in the high desert of Southern California, Warner Springs Ranch has greens that are 80 percent creeping bentgrass and 20 percent Poa annua. Photo courtesy of Warner Springs Ranch Resort

Providing a good experience and making people feel welcome is a talent that Warner Springs Ranch needed in its director of golf role.

“When I came on board and started putting together (the rest of) this team, some people had doubts about bringing in a young woman to be the director of golf at Warner Springs Ranch,” Casper says. “Roxy is the best hire I’ve made in 11½ years in the business. She brings the best combination of customer service and golf knowledge. She is serious, client-based, and smart as a whip.”

Mueller worked at a Starbucks after college, where she would chat up customers who were wearing golf attire about where they were playing. It was there that she got to know Greg Milligan, a regular customer who would come in on his way to work as the director of golf at San Luis Rey Downs Country Club in Bonsall, Calif. (which has since closed). Milligan recognized Mueller’s knowledge of the game and knack for customer service, and he offered her a job at San Luis Rey Downs. Mueller became the assistant golf professional there in 2013, with side jobs in merchandise sales at The Golf Club of California at Fallbrook and as the assistant women’s golf coach at her alma mater.

“I’ll always be grateful to Greg for giving me my start,” Mueller says. “I didn’t realize until later that he paid my way through PGA school out of his own pocket. And when Warner Springs Ranch called him about this job, he recommended me.”

Looking to the future

Warner Springs Ranch had its grand reopening on Nov. 5, which featured a ribbon-cutting with local officials and a charity tournament benefiting local Warner Springs’ charities. Mueller and Rosales are thrilled to see their hard work come to fruition, as well as to see it impact the future of the community.

Mueller is creating the framework at Warner Springs Ranch for a variety of collaborative teaching opportunities. She hired a capable assistant, started golf lessons, and held a series of clinics for women golfers. They are getting involved with junior clinics and are also in discussions with a school on the property about involving golf in the physical education curriculum.

“It has been really fun to switch from projects to maintenance now that we have golfers,” Rosales says.

Rosales earned a degree from MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif., and a turf management certificate from Southwestern College in Chula Vista. He has been the superintendent at Escondido (Calif.) Country Club and Eagle Crest Golf Club in Escondido, and an assistant superintendent at Escondido Country Club, Del Mar Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe. He cites San Diego GCSA president Rob Browns, the golf course superintendent at Warner Springs Ranch’s sister course, Salt Creek, as a huge resource. Rosales credits Dave Major, CGCS at The Crosby in Rancho Santa Fe, and Mike Hathaway, CGCS at The Bridges, as his biggest mentors.

“I take some of their management practices and create a formula of my own,” Rosales says. “We’re in the high desert, so it’s a sandy dirt, but it’s healthy dirt. When it rains, we get flash flooding, but it flushes right through and we never have standing water. We have a variety of grasses, but our greens are 80 percent bentgrass and only 20 percent Poa annua. We have well water, so we’re lucky in that we’re only paying for electricity, but we keep it dry so that it is fast and firm. Nobody likes it when the ball sticks in the ground. This time of year, we’re really just hand watering greens.”

The value of education

When the Golf Industry Show visits San Diego Feb. 6-11, Rosales plans to attend. “I really enjoy the seminars, meeting vendors, and finding small businesses like ones we’ve done business with,” Rosales says. “You can find really supportive partners with good prices, and get great recommendations from peers.”

Mueller has never been to the Golf Industry Show, but has enjoyed attending PGA section meetings, so she’s planning to register as well. “I really love the networking and other perspectives at seminars, so I go to as many education opportunities as possible,” she says.

That love of continuing education for the purpose of improving the experience for golfers is good business, and Warner Springs Ranch Golf Club is back in business. It isn’t the famed hot springs that are breathing life back into the golf course, though. It’s Mueller and Rosales handling that job this time around.

Bill Newton is a freelance writer based in St. Louis and the former public/media relations manager for GCSAA.

Filed to: California