The music industry’s ‘most powerful person’ wants to build a 50-member private golf club, but not everyone’s thrilled

THERMAL, Califonia — A proposal from music industry executive Irving Azoff is poised to bring a private golf course to eastern Coachella Valley, though not everyone is supportive of the project.

Azoff and his team of developers have proposed building an 18-hole golf course, along with a 9-hole practice course, on an existing citrus and mango grove, located on roughly 300 acres of land northeast of the intersection of Van Buren Street and 70th Avenue. The site is owned by the Bakersfield-based company Anthony Vineyards.

Azoff is the chairman and CEO of Azoff MSG Entertainment but previously led Ticketmaster and Live Nation, and in 2012 he was named “the most powerful person in the music industry” by Billboard Magazine.

Access to the private golf course, known as the Jeule Ranch Golf Club, would be extremely limited, with only 50 memberships available for the course, and a total of eight people per membership allowed on-site at any given time. The golf club would allow a daily maximum of 25 people to use the course.

The project, which gained approval in a Riverside County Planning Director’s hearing Monday, has drawn criticism from some community members and activists, who argue the project has no place in Thermal, where the poverty rate is more than double the statewide average, according to American Community Survey data.

In a letter submitted to the county, the project’s director, David Smith, outlined several commitments that the course developers have made to the surrounding community, similar to the approach recently taken by developers of the nearby Thermal Beach Club.


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The golf club has made promises to hire Thermal residents at the club, establish a staff scholarship program, provide guidance to Coachella Valley high school golf teams and offer maintenance services to local elementary and high school playing fields.

Additionally, while roughly 30 acres of citrus trees will remain near the course post-construction, many of the remaining trees will be distributed to local community facilities, Smith wrote.

In a follow-up letter to the county, Smith also committed to contributing $100,000 to the Desert Recreation District for its planned park in Thermal, which recently received state funding, along with a handful of other parks in the valley.

“Already approved as part of the Desert Recreation District’s long-range park plan and recently the recipient of a state grant, we are pleased to contribute to the Desert Recreation District’s construction of this new park that will provide much needed recreational opportunities for the Thermal community,” Smith wrote in his letter.

Smith also spoke during the hearing Monday, noting the course does not include any housing developments adjoined to it. During the discussion, Smith introduced Gil Hanse, the golf course’s architect who has designed several prolific courses, including the 2016 Olympic Golf Course in Rio de Janeiro.

Hanse, who noted “very few” courses in the Coachella Valley solely offer golf, explained the course will attempt to blend in with the surrounding area, with plans for a citrus grove to line the perimeter of the course.

The course is not the first Coachella Valley development promoted by Azoff, who is widely considered one of the most influential people in the music industry. Azoff has also been a leading co-investor in the Coachella Valley’s new hockey arena, set to open next year, and he contributed $20,000 to Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez upon the project’s approval by the county earlier this year.

‘I’ve had enough with developers using our communities as their little sandbox’

However, the project has not gained unanimous support from residents of Thermal. Earlier this month, the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, a community organization that has opposed other luxury developments in the east valley, submitted a letter to the county with 10 local residents co-signed in opposition to the course.

During the hearing Monday, Thermal resident Brenda Ortiz said she was “filled with disappointment” upon learning recently about the planned course.

“I’ve had enough with developers using our communities as their little sandbox, because we are real people with real lives,” Ortiz said. “We’ve been fighting for clean water, livable housing and better infrastructure for years, yet a golf club is a priority?”


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Earlier this year, the course developers held a meeting with the Thermal-Oasis Community Council to gather input on the project. However, Ortiz — the only resident to testify during the hearing — argued the community outreach wasn’t adequate, stating she was never aware of the council meetings despite living in the area her whole life.

Omar Gastelum, a policy director with LCJA, reiterated the point about inadequate community outreach, noting many Thermal residents lack internet access and, thus, the ability to attend virtual meetings.

Regarding the community benefits outlined by the course’s developers, Gastelum said he was appreciative of the effort, but he requested the project developers to commit to a deadline for the community benefit funds to be distributed before the project begins construction.

At the conclusion of his comments, Gastelum reiterated the project “is simply not an appropriate for the community of Thermal and a desert setting in general.”

“The Coachella Valley already has well over 100 golf courses to choose from,” Gastelum said. “To place an additional one in the community that, for years, has been asking for basic infrastructure and accessible amenities, such as green spaces, recreational facilities, clinics and community centers, is simply inappropriate and an irresponsible use of resources.”

Despite the project’s approval from the planning director’s designee Monday, it’s unclear when the project could break ground in the coming months, as Smith and Hanse did not mention a timeline for the project in their presentation. However, a county planning document mentions the golf course could be ready for use by January 2023.

Tom Coulter covers politics. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.