Morocco & a Kingdom of Golf

“…AI Maaden, a high-end developer of golf resorts, who have commissioned Kyle Phillips, arguably one of the hottest designer of the modern era to take on the task of making their course a Moroccan star.”

THE FIRST PORT OF CAll FOR OUR BYE-DAY MOROCCAN golf trip is the Palmeraie Golf Palace & Resort, an oasis of luxury and refinement nestled in the heart of a lush, cool palm grove ten minutes from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. This exquisite property is richly decorated in intricate Moorish designs that feature large archways, opulent furnishings and a decor in rich earth tones. After checking in we are asked to make ourselves comfortable on a collection of carpets and cushions by a water fountain in the tiled foyer area.

Before long, resident tea-maker Mr Aziz Igouzoulen appears through an archway wearing a flowing white robe and a maroon fez hat, carrying a silver tray with an elegant metal teapot packed with fresh mint leaves, tea and sugar. After the tea has brewed for a few minutes, Aziz makes a spectacle of pouring the fragrant golden liquid from a great height into the small decorative glasses. With a grin wider than Tiger Woods after winning a major, he hands us the tea, overflowing with the delicious aroma of fresh Moroccan mint and says, “Welcome to Marrakech and I hope you play some good golf.”

Although the mint tea is certainly refreshing, we are keen for a different kind of tee time at the hotel’s Robert Trent Jones Snr Palmeraie Golf Club. This 18- hole layout is a good introduction to Moroccan golf and is laid out on a spacious valley featuring generous fairways bordered by hundreds of palm trees and seven lakes that frequently come into play. Numerous sand hazards add the pearly whiteness of the Atlantic beaches to this lush scene, with the ochre walls and green tiles of the magnificent Moorish styled clubhouse forming a striking centrepiece to the whole design. Caddies are available for hire to add some local colour and knowledge to your round.

In the late afternoon we visit the centre of stunning and exotic Marrakech, founded more than 1,000 years ago with its distinctive ochre ramparts, Andalusia-inspired arches, souq marketplaces and distinctive skyline of mosques set against the majestic snow-capped High Atlas Mountains.

We get thoroughly lost in the souqs of the medina, where labyrinthine passageways and lanes seethe with a human tide of endlessly streaming humanity. Covered bazaars are crammed with fruit and spice stalls andworkshops of every kind with artisans at work fashioning slippers, weaving rugs, dyeing textiles and hammering metals.

In the heart of the dty is the world famous Djemaa el-Fna, a town square named by UNESCO as part of Humanity’s Universal Heritage. This rultural and artistic crossroads is used not only as a meeting place for local people, but also for storytellers, acrobats, musidans, healers, fortune tellers, magic potion sellers and snake charmers. We grab a prime seat and a chilled drink at Le Grand Balcon overlooking the square and watch the drama unfold – frantic non-stop activity that overloads the senses.

As the orange sun travels across the sky and the minarets and palms gradually fall into silhouettes, chefs begin to cart in the makings of some 100 food stalls and before long the aroma of barbecued meats, kebabs, meatballs and harira (a thick soup of meats, garbanzos, tomatoes and lentils) fills the air. When the sun finally sets, all the music in the medina ceases for one of the most evocative of travel sounds, the
muezzin’s call to prayer. Soon, another muezzin in another mosque starts up, then another and another until the entire dty is filled with these fervent sounds.

In addition to street eats, Marrakech offers some wonderful fine-dining opportunities at palace restaurants most of which are converted riads (a traditional house or palace with an interior garden). Part of the charm of these places is that they are difficult to locate, and the Narwama is no exception hidden away down a narrow alleyway covered in Berber rugs a short stroll from the medina. Situated in a glorious 19th century
riad with 21st century Zen decor, the Narwama offers an award-winning combination of Moroccan and Thai cuisine and the best Moroccan mint mojito in town. After your meal relax in the rustic bar that has hookah pipes at each table.

“The food we serve is Fez cuisine, the finest in Morocco and one of our house spedalties is lamb tajine with pears,” says the owner Ali Bousfiha, The tajine is one of Morocco’s most famous dishes and the name refers to the conical-lidded pot in which it is prepared, as well as the intricately spiced stew of meat and vegetables, sometimes with dried fruits and nuts, cooked very slowly over a charcoal fire.

Moroccan golf courses are renowned for their visual appeal and the 27 holes at the Amelkis Golf Club, a short car ride from our hotel through olive groves and orange trees, may be one of the most eye-catching and exdting to play. Located at the foot of the ever present Atlas Mountains, the “Amelkis’ owes its name to the queen of a Berber tribe in the Atlas.

Designed by Cabell B.Robinson this is an expansive course with undulating fairways, seductively mounded and heavily bunkered, to say nothing of the lakes, fountains and the unique waste bunkers created from crushed rock whose colour complements the landscape. The large greens are relatively easy to find, but
three putts are not unusual. Paul seems to really take to the Amelkis and shoots memorable all time best round of 12 under par a hardly need to add that’s a nett score – and off a dodgy handicap at that).

The Amelkis’ next-door neighbour is the Marrakech Royal Golf Club created in the 1923 by the Pacha of Marrakech and the second oldest course in Morocco. Throughout the club’s history distinguished players such as Winston Churchill, David Uoyd George, llze Eisenhower and his late Majesty King Hassan 11 have trodden its fairways and greens.

This is a course that suit all levels of ability and the main attraction here is the lush setting with fairways lined with standing cypress, eucalyptus, olive, orange,
apricot and palm trees. A new addition of nine holes in 2008 called the Menara now complements the original two nines (the Koutoubia and Agdal).

On the Menara nine look out for the 481-metre par 5 4th that plays over a pool of water, that’s an exact replica of the Menara of Marrakech, bordered by hundreds of olive trees and ending with a superbly defended dogleg. Standing on the tee of this unique hole, we’re in two minds whether to pull out the driver or change into our swimming trunks! Other memorable holes include the par-4 4th (Agdal) with the snowy Atlas summits in the background and the 173 metre par-39th (Koutoubia) that’s got more curves than Scarlett Johansson The green is hidden behind two grassy mounds separated by a bunker plus an additional hazard of two high palm trees blocking the angle of the tee shot.

This trio of established layouts will soon be joined by two new exdting 18-hole developments that will make Marrakech the Moroccan dty offering the most for visiting
golfers. Firstly there’s the Samanah Country Club, a Jack Nicklaus design with most holes already open forplay and AI Maaden, a high-end developer of golf resorts, who have commissioned Kyle Phillips, arguably one of the hottest designer of the modern era to take on the task of making their course a Moroccan star.

Says Phillips: ‘The golf course has been designed in grand rolling terrain, placed at the foot hills of the nearby Atlas Mountains. Strategically placed bunkers give players multiple lines of play from the tee and tightly cut spill off areas around the greens gather errant shots, providing a variety of exdting recovery opportunities.
Keeping with the traditions of golf, AI Maaden is designed as a walker friendly course, with a surrounding designed landscape and geometric water features that give a feeling of playing through a Moroccan garden.” AI Maaden is open for play towards the end of

The next day we load the dubs into the hire car and head to Agadir. As the last dwellings of Marrakech are left behind, expansive stony plains open up and offer a
window on Moroccan rural life. We observe more donkeys by the side of the highway than on Blackpool beach at summertime. Berber nomads sit on rocks keeping a watchful eye on their goats and sheep, women carry boodles of firewood back home and kids play football on dusty pitches at the foot of soaring mountains, where simple earthen houses ding defiantly to their predpitous slopes.

Sitting by a vast sweep of protected beach, with an average of 300 days of sushine per year, Agadir is perhaps best known as a short stay holiday destination for package tourist from Europe.

However, Agadir is fast developing into Marrakech’s golf rival, and the existing Royal Agadir Golf Course (9 holes), Golf Les Dooes (27 holes) and Gold Du Soleil (36
holes) will soon be joined by the Ocean Golf Club (27 holes) and Taghazout, a 36-hole golfing fadlity currently ooder construction about 10km north of Agadir right by the crashing surf of the Atlantic on the coastal road to the popular seaside town of Essaouira.

Our home in Agadir is the five-star Tikida Golf Palace, where the luxury suites open onto Golf Du Soleil IS splendid 36 holes that feature water fOootainS and several lakes with water coming into play on 10 holes. There are also plenty of bunkers to negotiate and if you take a caddie get used to one of their favourite comments: “You’re in the Sahara again.” The beauty here is that you can just stroll from your room to playa few holes on the Blue course, which is espedally pleasant later in the afternoon when it starts to cool down.

With warm weather, an exdting culture, only a short flight from the major European countries, and a strong golf development programme with many big name designers, Morocco is set to become an increasingly popular destination for the travelling golfer.

Andrew Marshall
Golf International Magazine
August/September 2009


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