Aaron Thomas, the director of Golf Grounds for the Ambiente Course at JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa, has always considered himself a steward of the land and a protector of the environment. Growing up on a farm in Western New York, he says he’s been doing some type of farming his whole life. When he left Ohio State with a degree in turf grasses, he headed to Arizona, which was a booming place for golf courses. Eight years ago, he began his career with Ambiente, previously known as Indian Bend.
With Camelback Inn being a renowned AAA 5-Diamond Hotel, it felt that Indian Bend did not live up to the quality of the rest of the resort. So, golf architect Jason Straka, on behalf of Hurdzan Fry Environmental Golf Design, was brought on board to create a totally redesigned and sustainability-focused golf course. With its new name, Ambiente—the Spanish word for “environment”—it opened in November of 2013.
“Previously, the course was about 200 acres of turf grass,” says Thomas. “When the course was redesigned, that number was cut down to 76 acres of turf grass.”
The new design saves between 45 to 55 million gallons of water annually, compared to pre-2013 levels. This amount of water can then be used by businesses and homes in the community.
The smaller area of turf grass also means a greatly diminished use of fertilizers and pesticides.
“I try to use a lot of organic-based fertilizers, so composted chicken manure and other natural materials,” he says. “If you have a good, healthy soil, you can use much fewer synthetic fertilizers. If you have healthy dirt, you won’t have to spray weed-control chemicals on it as often.”
The remaining surrounding acres are filled with a mix of low-water use native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers from Arizona and the Southwest. These areas not only add a heightened visual interest, but also serve as natural wildlife habitats, attracting rabbits and other animals, as well as some bald eagles. The course is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
“We’re also part of Operation Pollinator, so all those native areas have pockets of flowers and grasses that help bees and all pollinators in general,” Thomas says.
Operation Pollinator is a global Syngenta initiative that helps restore pollinators in agricultural, golf, and other landscapes by creating essential habitats.
He adds it gives Ambiente, the 7,221-yard, 18-hole, par 72 course, with its beautiful scenic mountain views, a unique design compared to a lot of other desert golf courses. Golfers seem to like it, he says, and the fact that it has a links feel also makes it popular. The front nine of the course goes out and the back nine comes around side by side, so it’s really original to the area. Marriott.com