As Rob Smith discovers, Marrakech is home to an ever-growing collection of fine golf… and more.
Golf in Marrakech
Having been to Morocco several times, I was excited to return in order to try out something new and different… and old and different. For the first time, I stayed in one of the refurbished riads that are dotted throughout the medina; the oldest part of the nation’s fourth-largest city, Marrakech.
Not far beyond southern Spain, this historic, bustling, lively, exotic metropolis is now a firm favourite for visits of any duration. Its golfing portfolio has expanded rapidly, and there is a real variety in terms of style with most courses benefitting from the beautiful backdrop of the Atlas Mountains.
The rabbit-warren of narrow streets and alleyways is packed with ancient buildings, shops full to bursting, authentic and extremely inexpensive restaurants, and a substantial number of surprising oases; the riads. Many of these have been converted into small, boutigue hotels, and I spent several nights in the delightful Riad Lhena, part of the small Origin Hotels chain, a short walk from the main square.
Dating back almost a century, Royal Marrakech was later remodelled and runs through mature woodland, and there is a newer nine that opened a few years ago. There is a much-photographed and unique short hole, known for obvious but perhaps politically incorrect reasons as Brigitte Bardot due to the two large mounds that protect the entrance to the green. I was very pleased to finish my round with a 7-iron and 2-putt par here.
Assoufid has not been open very long but is already recognised as a top-notch venue. The holes blend naturally with the site’s gently-undulating and secluded location, and there are several standout holes. The par-4 7th is an excellent dogleg to the left, the 10th calls for a heroic approach over a dry river bed, and I loved the short 17th which is played from an elevated tee over a gully to a wide but shallow green.
I was expecting less from the 9-holer at Atlas but was completely wrong. In great condition, it is a charming course with cactus plants, beautiful shrubbery and attractive ponds. Comprising one long hole, three par 4s and five diverse short holes, it is an ideal start or end of tour venue and a real joy. The club is also blessed with a superb, gourmet restaurant specialising in the tastiest regional dishes.
Al Maaden features deep bunkers and routing that works its way around some angular water hazards. Maintained in tip-top order, it is generally regarded as one of the best in the area and the closing hole is a real feature with trouble everywhere including a replica of the Oakmont ‘church pews’ bunkers.
Cabell Robinson designed the Blue and Red nines at Amelkis twenty years ago before adding the Green nine in 2009. Seven lakes and numerous bunkers provide plenty of challenge, but it is never too punishing and will appeal to golfers of all levels.
Colin Montgomerie has designed a new course close to the airport which bears his name, and it will continue to improve as the adjacent building works are finished and the grasses bed in. It is a proper test of golf, with the par-5 3rd and short 4th bordered by water on the left which again comes into play on the closing holes.
There are two very new developments worth watching out for. Noria is a desert-style course designed by Hills and Forrest which includes some remarkable water hazards. And I am looking forward to a proper look at the Troon-managed Ourika course which opened late in 2015 and looks set to offer more top-drawer golf, coming as it does from the same team that run Palm Golf, formerly known as Palmeraie.
Palm itself has three contrasting loops of nine with the original two designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior in the early 1990s. The resident population of egrets is so huge that you feel like you are golfing in a benign version of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, and there is a further nine on ground beyond an old flood barrier. Each loop is distinct, and each is very enjoyable.
Arguably the toughest test in Marrakech is the slightly more undulating Jack Nicklaus creation at Samanah. It features the trademark Nicklaus mounding, plenty of large but attractive water hazards, and is kept in excellent condition with superb but demanding greens. Off the back tees it is long, so be realistic with your choice and you will have fun.
Virtually next door is another Cabell Robinson design, the splendid Royal Palm. It opened less than three years ago and offers perfect holiday golf and more. There is terrific variety and it is enjoyably testing without being too penal, albeit dotted with a handful of very challenging holes. I rate the par 3s at six and seventeen very highly, and there is also a luxurious and extremely stylish hotel where I was lucky enough to stay on a previous visit. With its exceptional restaurant, this makes for a top-notch, top-end golfing retreat.
Back in the medina, it’s even possible to brush up on your game by reading golf’s most informative magazine!
With year-round sunshine and easy access from the UK, Marrakech offers a great deal for the travelling golfer; an alternative to continental Europe yet not much further away. For the discerning golfer looking for something out of the ordinary, Marrakech really is hard to beat.