The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation has turned out the lights at its former 100-room lodge at the Singing Hills Golf Resort at Sycuan – but only to the general public.
The lodge on tribal land on Dehesa Road in rural El Cajon is being repurposed, upgraded and renovated and will become dormitories and classroom facilities for San Diego Major League Soccer’s “Right To Dream” residential youth academy.
The academy is for students between the ages of 11- 18, spanning grades 6 through 12.
The newest MLS team – which will unveil its official name, crest and brand identity during a special Oct. 20 event at the team’s Snapdragon Stadium home – is creating the academy at Sycuan for young athletes to live in boarding school fashion, where they will be immersed in academics, soccer and character development, similar to what is done in other parts of the world.
Mohamed Mansour, owner and chairman of San Diego MLS said this type of model has transformed lives and yielded great results in Africa and Europe.
“And for San Diego, with such a deep pool of soccer talent, we are excited to see the impact it will bring,” he said.
San Diego MLS says it is the first professional sports organization to establish a dedicated professional training facility on a tribal reservation and club CEO Tom Penn said the club “will set a new precedent for youth soccer development in Major League Soccer by becoming the first club to operate a residential academy and school… the San Diego MLS training facility and Right to Dream youth residential academy is the first-of-its-kind in the U.S.”
Other existing buildings on site will be repurposed as part of the 125,000-square foot campus and will include employee housing/offices and guest accommodations.
Facilities will be made available to students, professional players, and staff working on campus, a project that will span a 28-acre site that currently encompasses a portion of the closed Pine Glen Golf Course and the hotel.
The 28-acre site currently features the Singing Hills Golf Resort, much of which will be converted into the Right to Dream School, and the residential accommodations for youth athletes, coaches, academy staff, including teachers, and guests of the club.
“While the structures will remain intact, we will alter the configuration of the interior to accommodate the school and residential needs,” Penn said.
Penn said that estimated cost for the entire project, including construction and retrofitting current structures within the 28-acre site on the Sycuan reservation in El Cajon, is about $150 million. He said the club forecasts annual operating expenses of $10 to $12 million.
Penn called it a “massive and exciting undertaking for our organization and greater San Diego.”
In addition to accommodations, the club will also construct a 50,000-square-foot state-of-the-art sports performance center and five full-sized soccer fields – including three natural turf fields and two synthetic turf fields – that will be used by its first-team and academy athletes.
The project will also include open-air training areas surrounded by the natural beauty of the Sycuan tribal land and infrastructure improvements to ensure seamless access and operations.
New Plan, Old Property
Sycuan Chairman Cody Martinez said the golf course’s hotel, first built in 1961 with 20 rooms, was running seasonal occupancy below 80% and wasn’t able to generate positive cash flow.
He said while there will be no onsite lodging for the foreseeable future for non-academy guests, accommodations can be made at Sycuan’s casino hotel with regular shuttle service between the two properties.
The lodge is about four miles away from the casino, both on Dehesa Road in El Cajon.
“Current planning discussions have identified the desire to rebuild new lodging at Singing Hills but this would be part of a master redevelopment of the entire property and will take some time,” Martinez said. “The infrastructure across the whole property is aged with some components dating back to the 1950’s and older – the white house building dates back to late 1800s.”
Sycuan renamed its Sycuan Golf Resort in 2018 to Singing Hills Golf Resort at Sycuan, coinciding with the tribe’s hotel resort expansion, and distinguishing its two resort properties.
The golf course originally opened in 1956. In 2001, the Sycuan Tribal Development Corporation purchased the property and made renovations, including revamping its guest rooms, banquet rooms and Oak Glen and Willow Glen golf courses.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the project is expected to be in November, when renderings of the facilities will be unveiled and details of the Right To Dream model will be shared.
San Diego MLS will start play in 2025.
San Diego MLS
CEO: Tom Penn
HEADQUARTERS: Snapdragon Stadium
BUSINESS: Sports club
REVENUE: Annual operating expenses of $10 to $12 million.
SOCIAL IMPACT: San Diego MLS donated $100,000 to San Diego Foundation earlier this summer for underrepresented youth.
NOTABLE: The team continues looking for official partners; contact Partnerships@SanDiegoFC.com for more information