Thursday, January 30, 2014

Padre course at Camelback Golf Club Scottsdale AZ-- A walk in the park

by Larry Berle

There are two golf courses at Camelback Golf Club and the older of the two is the Padre, designed in 1999 by Arthur HIlls. Unlike its companion course, El Ambiente, Padre is basically a parkland course with minimal desertscape, framed by towering trees and the lovely mansions of Paradise Valley. If you are new to Arizona golf or are looking for a course with a plenty of grass, this is a perfect place to play. It’s not far from the airport and it will feel familiar, more like the parkland courses of the east and Midwest than a true desert layout. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that familiar equals easy.  

Padre is about as flat as a course can get. The fairways were in great shape and very firm, so you get lots of roll  (which short hitters, like me, find helpful), but that roll may land you in a fairway trap—there are quite a few in play. The greens are very firm too. They will hold a well-struck, well-placed shot, with the emphasis on well placed. Shots on the edges of some greens will end up in collection areas, or water hazards. Did I mention that water comes into play on nine of Padre’s holes? 

It’s a factor on all four par fives, especially nine and eighteen, where the greens are surrounded on three sides by water which may suck up shots that wander close to the edges. Some say eighteen is the best water hole in Arizona. In addition to the memorable fives, Padre offers a great mix of par fours. Most are medium to long, requiring some power, but there is also a delightful quartet of short, devilish par fours  (2,12,14 and 16) that require sharp thinking and strategy. They may appear easy from the tee box, but accuracy is required and will be rewarded. 

The fairways are over seeded Rye grass, presenting us with the lush green fairways we have come to expect in Arizona in winter. The Bermuda greens, however, are basic brown. Starting two years ago, the Camelback Golf Club decided not to over seed its greens. If you like smooth putting surfaces, you’re in for a treat. I believe these greens are much healthier and putt better because they are not over seeded. I think you’ll agree. 

The Padre course is quite walkable, and excellent pushcarts are available at no charge. The management encourages walking, which is not only unusual in Arizona, but admirable too.

Camelback Golf Club is owned and operated by Marriott and is affiliated with the Marriott Camelback Resort nearby. Very attractive stay and play packages are available for the two championship courses, The Padre and the new El Ambiente. If you were here 15 or 20 years ago, you won’t recognize this facility. From the courses to the $16 million renovation of the 36,000-square-foot clubhouse, it has been hugely upgraded. You might just enjoy the apr├Ęs golf as much as you enjoyed your round.

If you go:
Fees range from $165.00  during the winter season to $65 in the summer, but  bargains can often be found on their online booking website.

Larry Berle is a travel writer who writes on many travel topics but specializes in golf travel.  He is author of A GOLFERS DREAM: HOW A REGULAR GUY CONQUERED THE GOLF DIGEST LIST OF AMERICAS TOP 100 GOLF COURSES. Learn more about his book at From there you can also access his travel blog.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ambiente Course at Camelback Golf Club

Ambiente Course at Camelback Golf Club

by Larry Berle
In this economy there are not many new golf courses being built in the U.S.  but Marriott  invested over $10 million in the new Hurdzan-Fry designed Ambiente course at Camelback Golf Club in Paradise Valley AZ.  This is the first new course in the greater Phoenix area in five years.

Ambiente, means environment in Spanish and they have incorporated the local environment into  this golf course design.  It takes the place of the old Indian Bend Course but don’t confuse it with a remodel.  Its a brand new golf course.  Plenty of dirt was moved.  150 acres of Bermuda rough was “naturalized” with native grasses along with summer and winter desert wildflower mixes meaning the new golf course will save 60 million gallons of water per year.  Rob Bartley, the director of golf referred to it as “healing the earth” These native grasses now frame the fairways, giving it a very unique look.  (It’s also thick in places so you have a place to loose golf balls)  

You will rarely stand anywhere where there is not a bunker in sight. 74 in all, that is an average of over 4 per hole.  Some are deep and quite  challenging but many are directional and don't really come into play, but they do attract your attention, helping to show you the best route.  Speaking of best routes, the   GPS on the carts is an outstanding tool  showing exact carry distances over bunkers and you can utilize the touch screen to see lay up distances as needed.

The fairways are firm and fast as are the greens.  Most greens in AZ are over seeded with Rye but this is new Champion Bermuda and it putts wonderfully— much better than over seeded Rye.  Did I mention the greens are firm?   How firm are they?   We were told by the starter  “try to land your approach shots on the front of the green, because they will run towards the back.”  It only took one hole to see how right he was.  Ambiente will certainly test your shot making, putting and green reading skills.  If you like greens with lots of movement and undulation in them, then you are going to love it here.

Tucked into the village of Paradise Valley, don't let the views of the surrounding McDowell Mountains  distract you. There is more elevation changes than you would expect on such a flat piece of piece of property. This course runs out and back along a wash, that is dry most of the year but  it floods during monsoon season, so in this design, they had a challenge to keep the wash functional as  needed for environmental protection.

There are 4 sets of tees ranging from7275 yards down to 5538.  Its easy to find a distance that will suite you although I think some women will be looking for something less than 5500 yards.  The only thing I can say about that is:  The firm fairways will make it play shorter.

Ambiente is owned and operated by Marriott and is affiliated with the Marriott Camelback Resort nearby. Camelback Golf Club has two championship courses, Ambiente and Padre.  They offer very attractive stay and play packages.

Bunkers and fast  greens with plenty of undulation  is what this place is all about.  Its a challenge but I liked it enough that I want to go back and play it again.

One last thing.  There are not many golf courses in the Phoenix area that allow walking,but they not only allow it, but encourage it here.  Personally, I love that.

If you go:

Fees are $195  during the winter season and lower in the off seasons