Camelback Golf Club is 36-holes of awesome. It’s managed by Marriott Golf and affiliated with the J.W. Marriott Camelback Inn, the same property the Marriott family made its first resort back in 1967. Former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush as well as actors Jimmy Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have stayed here. The Padre Course is your traditional parkland-style track that opened for play in 1966 but was redesigned by Arthur Hills in 1999. The Indian Bend Course first opened in 1970 but closed in the summer of 2012 when Marriott elected to completely redesign the course in conjunction with the property’s 75th anniversary.
The resort hired architect Jason Straka of Fry/Straka Global Golf Course Design (the firm previously known as Hurdzan/Fry, which designed the 2017 U.S. Open site Erin Hills in Wisconsin) to take on the overhaul. This was the team’s first project in Arizona. Twelve of the 18 holes were built from scratch at a cost of ten-million dollars. It took more than two years to complete the 167-acre remodel, and what was once Indian Bend, reopened in November of 2013 as Ambiente, the Spanish word for environment. That’s exactly what it is. Raw. Natural. Environment.
The makeover included removing all the non-native trees obstructing views of Mummy and Camelback Mountains, the McDowells, and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and planting more than 1,400 native Acadia trees. The managed turf was reduced from 210 to 90 acres, a key point in Marriott’s positioning of its golf courses as environmentally and socially responsible.
For Straka, that meant there were severe constraints. Because the course sits on a flood plain and straddles the Indian Bend Wash, no dirt could be added or removed from the site. The wash was lowered from 2-8 feet in places, and the fill was used to raise the fairways higher. What was once a flat golf course now had contours and rolling hills, multiple elevation changes, and undulating green complexes. Arizona links-style at its finest – with a desert twist, of course. Instead of designing another course inspired by the Sonoran Desert, a style familiar around the Scottsdale area, Straka went for a high-desert feel like that of Pronghorn Golf Club in Bend, Oregon. Ambiente plays 7,225 yards from the Black Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 74.3, and a slope of 139. You’re going to love it. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
As a general rule, I try to feature just two holes – one on the front and one on the back. Easier said than done out here. The 185-yard Par 3 2nd is stunning. There are bunkers short right and long left guarding an angled green. I think what I like most about the hole is the landscape. The native grasses in the open area to the right of the hole are growing wild and free.
On the back nine, I have to give the nod to the Par 4 13th. The hole measures 393 yards and plays directly toward Camelback Mountain in the distance. When you get to the tee, the view almost takes your breath away. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a great hole. Put your ball in the fairway, and you should give yourself a birdie chance.
And speaking of holes, not all of the holes were cut cleanly. The grass was shaggy, unkempt, and overhanging on several of the cups. This course is too nice not to have holes with sharp edges.
Camelback Golf Club has a Scottsdale address, but if you ask me, it’s really in Paradise Valley. The first thing we all said when we got to the first tee was how much Ambiente reminded us of Southern Dunes. It bears a striking resemblance. You have the eucalyptus trees, the native desert grasses, wildflowers, and the bermuda grass greens. They’re grainy and a little slow, but they’re lush. But in the case of Ambiente, you also have stunning mountain backdrops and some really nice homes off the fairways that you don’t get in Maricopa. There are definitely fewer bunkers than Southern Dunes, and it plays more like a true links-style course.
The fact that there’s even a course like this one in the middle of any metropolitan area is amazing in and of itself. If there were water flowing in some of the collection areas throughout the course, you could have convinced me I was playing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. That’s how unusual this course is for Arizona.
There are a lot of great nuances about Ambiente. There’s bottled water in the coolers on all the golf carts. The pins are all made of wood, and Camelback Golf Club really embraces the camel namesake. There is a camel in its logo, there are camel-shaped tee markers, and even the beverage car (and I mean car) bears the name “Thirsty Camel.”
Oh, and one other cool thing – all of the signs directing you where to go throughout the course are made of this really neat rustic iron covered in rust.
The shot of the day goes to First Semester student Tim Combs. Dude one-hopped a 7-iron into the hole from 164 yards out on the Par 3 11th for an ace! The pin was tucked at the bottom of a giant slope just over the front of the green, so Timmy boy didn’t see it go in on the fly but told me the pitch mark was pretty close. Good for him. What a great shot!
While We’re Young
The pace of play was terrible. Not for us, but for the two groups of guys who somehow got stuck playing in the middle of our Golf Academy tournament. I don’t know how something like that happened. Either the pro shop didn’t tell them there was a tournament or they didn’t mind suffering through slow play in the heat. Either way, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s not like there’s a way to skip holes or get right back to the clubhouse either. It’s an out-and-back routing. Ambiente is essentially nine holes out and nine holes in.
My partner and I are through another round of this semester’s Match Play Team Tournament. We won our match 6&5 and were having so much fun, we decided to keep going. When we tallied the scores at the end, I shot a two-under par 70, and Devon shot a bogey-free, six-under 66. He made four birdies in-a-row right after our match concluded! Now it’s on to next week’s semifinal round at Raven Golf Club – Phoenix. The winner advances to the Championship Match. I’ll post a course review after we play.