“When we first opened the Ambiente, it was all hydroseeded with 30 different native wildflower, grasses and desert plant species,” says Thomas, noting that this produced, among other species, 3-foot stands of Blue Grama, 8-foot acacias and seas of baby snapdragons in out-of-play areas. “It was real pretty but over the years the course has found its own little microclimates, meaning 5 to 15 percent flower coverage is what we’ve got now. It’s not a showy thing. For us, it’s sustainable and more realistic.
Straka envisioned massive water-use savings at the Ambiente. Indeed, Thomas confirms the new design saves between 45 million and 55 million gallons of water annually, compared to pre-2013 levels. That is the platform from which Thomas has worked these past seven years.
Hydretain is a moisture management product from Ecologel that coats plant roots and soil particles. It deploys hygroscopic humectants (ingredients commonly used to retain moisture in things like toothpaste, gum and cosmetic products) to attract moisture already present in the soil profile — moisture in the form of water vapor or humidity that would otherwise be lost to evaporation.
“With those bare root ocotillos, for example, we really did just water as normal. Any extra moisture is held right there in the rhyzosphere. For the price of it, it’s well worth it. Two scoops of Hydretain, one of mulch.”
An upstate New York native, Thomas couldn’t get to the Southwest fast enough. At Ohio State, he majored in turfgrass science and interned at Troon North. Assistant stints at Desert Mountain (Cochise) and Wildfire Golf Club led to his first head superintendent’s job, in charge of the Tournament Course at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. He did a year at the Shadow Ridge Resort in Palm Desert, California, before returning to Dove Mountain as director of golf grounds. He wasn’t in Orlando a year before missing all this, returning to the desert, and taking the helm at Camelback.
The renovation at Ambiente didn’t merely provide Thomas a new course to maintain. It ushered in a suite of programs and expectations (some formal, others self-imposed) around which his day-to-day work would be shaped — around which it’s still shaped. The Audubon effort took hold post-renovation (Marriott-managed courses abide by the Audubon ethic companywide today). But Straka’s renovation also included installation of a Toro Lynx Control System, the computer-based irrigation program that has proved central to Thomas’ water conservation efforts.
In the desert, water (or the absence of it) drives everything. It certainly drove most every aspect of the renovation: Where the Indian Bend Wash flowed through the property, it too was renovated and retooled. It is continually tweaked and replanted by Thomas and his staff, to this day.
“We’re trying to get out ahead of this,” Thomas says. “If we’re successful, the symptoms will just go away in a year or two. When you have 200 trees and they’re $30,000 apiece, that’s a lot of assets that need protecting. You’ve got to buy the injector, but I worked it out: The treatment is $65 per tree.
“We went out with some products along the same lines, some fertility phosphites, did some deep injection deal (to a depth of 6 to 8 inches) that we hooked up to our 300-gallon tank. And that took just as long as doing the Tree IV and I didn’t feel as good about it. Using a pesticide and not getting it out there in the environment — I think it makes sense. You know, this is one of the wealthiest parts of the state. The homeowners here, they see us out there doing this, they like it. They like that we’re not trying blast the insecticide up in to the air or get into some kind of soil drenching. Some of those people have pines on their property. They’ve gotta think we’re being proactive about their property.
“I’ve talked to a couple [superintendents] close to me and they haven’t taken the time or shown the desire to do all this. That’s fine. But I have a degree in horticulture. I used to be a tree guy at heart; I just switched over to turf. The Arborjet team came out and trained us. We saw the injection process was pretty darned easy and if contractors come in, they’d do it for five times the cost.”
Cleaning up turf debris can be a time-consuming task made even more challenging when so many are working with smaller crews. Golf course superintendents and sports turf managers looking to reduce the amount of work time spent on debris management can hitch on to the new Turfco Torrent 2 PTO Debris Blower.
By substituting on-board engine power with tractor-mounted PTO hydraulic power, the Torrent 2 PTO Blower weighs in at under 340 pounds — about 150 pounds lighter than its self-powered sibling —making it a lightweight, agile turf performer that’s also quiet, stingy on fuel consumption and easy to maintain.
“The new PTO-version of our well-received, self-powered Torrent 2 Blower features all of the power, ease of use and time-saving virtues of the original model, with great maneuverability and of course less noise and no engine maintenance requirements,” Turfco Manufacturing EVP Scott Kinkead said.
Connect the PTO version to a standard turf tractor — minimum 20 horsepower engine to run the blower hydraulics — and hit the turf. The supplied handheld controller enables operators to quickly change nozzle direction without having to slow down and wait for the nozzle to swivel around. For even greater productivity, Turfco’s optional patented MagnaPoint technology eliminates guesswork, making sure operators are as productive as possible. You can preset the optimal degree angle for the debris you’re blowing, from grass clippings to leaves or aeration cores, saving up to two hours per day.
Turfco encourages customers to demo the Torrent 2 PTO Debris Blower – as well as their other products – through an authorized dealer or via an interactive online demonstration.