Area guide: Marrakesh, Morocco
Marrakesh is Morocco’s fourth-largest city and one of its most historic; it has for centuries been renowned for its heaving souk, its elegant palaces and its intricate berber carpets.
One of the city’s more recent attractions is its collection of golf courses. There are in fact almost 150 holes dotted around the outskirts of the city.
There is so much golf, in fact, that it is extremely hard to know where you should play. Even on a week-long trip here you would have to choose carefully in order to play the best courses – and there is a good deal of variation in quality.
There is also a pleasing amount of variety to the style of courses – with the common theme the backdrop of the usually snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
The courses are helpfully grouped together in two pockets, the weather is superb all-year-round, the accessibility is excellent and the value for money exceptional.
Golf in Morocco: Assoufid
It has, as you will discover later on, a good deal of competition, but Assoufid is in this golfer’s opinion the best course in Marrakesh.
It what is an impressive debut as a course designer, it was laid out skilfully across a gently undulating site by European Tour player-turned-architect Niall Cameron.
Assoufid opened in 2014, and as is standard in Marrakesh you play towards snow-covered Atlas Mountains on the front nine before the shaaba – a natural dry river that meanders the length of the course – becomes a feature on many holes.
Only on the par-5 8th, where Scotsman Cameron had to cut into it a hill to get the dog-leg to work was much earth moved. The rest of the ‘construction’ was, as Assoufid’s director of golf Guy Maxwell, another Scotsman, says “was like laying a carpet”.
One of the most impressive aspects of Assoufid is that while it is exacting enough to host a pro tournament, it is also forgiving for the higher handicapper as a result of the lack of rough and water; you’ll always find unique ball here.
Assoufid has generally flat greens, other than a valley in the 15th green, but some of the deeper bunkers in the city.
I especially loved the par-5 14th, with trees in the middle a la Woburn Marquess’ 7th. Oh, and there will be no course in Marrakesh in better condition.
Golf in Morocco: Palm Ourika
Palm Ourika is one of the city’s new courses, having been open for two years, and is the closest course to the Atlas Mountains, so you get a great view of them from the 10th tee.
Amelkis was designed by Cabell Robinson and has hosted the Ladies European Tour. There are three loops of nine and while there is nothing spectacular about any of them it is perfectly pleasant, with dramatic waterside holes to finish the nines.
You can expect lush fairways, large sandy waste areas and the odd tall palm tree, but also has some fun in the form of semi-blind tee shots with ‘barber pole’ guidance.
We really liked the 5th, with its cool rollercoaster-like fairway that could be on a Scottish links. It is a hole that fits into the terrain beautifully.
Other highlights include the dog-leg right 7th, that plays all round a turquoise lake, and the 17th, which plays to a table-top green surrounded by a moat of sand.
Golf in Morocco: Royal Palm
It was predictable that a course attached to a high-end resort such as Royal Palm would be beautifully manicured (and indeed it was along with Assoufid the best)… but it is a lot more than that.
It is also laced with architectural nuance, injected into this impressive resort by American designer Cabell Robinson.
There are interesting features throughout, such as the double green that links the 8th – the largest and funkiest on the course – with the 12th, which in contrast is a flat surface.
So, while even mis-hit approaches to this par 4 and 3 respectively might find short grass, but you could very easily face the prospect of a 40ft putt over a knuckle.
In addition to double greens, it has sporty par 4s, benched greens, and split fairways, as well as dramatic holes based around water features that are more common to resorts.
The 14th is also terrific, a short par 4 that turns right to left and allows you to have a crack at the green or lay up and still face a wedged approach to a slightly elevated, angled green.
There are no houses to spoil the enjoyment either.
Golf in Morocco: Noria
Noria was another huge surprise of the trip. I’d never read anything positive about it before arriving but it was such good fun and the square water features and square greens sum up its distinctive nature.
The Jacklin was designed by the former Ryder Cup captain. It is surrounded by residences and the pick of the holes is probably the 10th, with water to left of the wide fairway, and a sandy waste area on the right.
It is summed up by the 9th and 18th that parallel to each other heading back to the clubhouse. A 4ft-wide moat – again very linear and straight – runs between the holes then flows into a rectangle of water between the square greens.
Along with Assoufid and Royal Palm, it is one of my must plays for a trip to Marrakesh.
Our travel editor’s guide to golf in Morocco continues on the next page, including the capital’s showstopper…