Morocco's Grand Designs
I never cease to be amazed at the wonder of the internal combustion engine. I love cars, not in a Clarksonian petrol head way, (I cannot, for example, see the point of a quarter-mill “supercar” which has no space for two sets of clubs in the boot), but on a summer’s day, with the top down and “Born to be Wild” encouraging the foot to floor the accelerator, there is nothing to beat the freedom of personal transport.
Sorry, all you greenies anticipating Armageddon, but I feel the same about flying. I can’t get over the miracle of alighting a silver tube at (say) rainy Gatwick and three hours later arriving not only in the sunshine, but also in not so much a different culture, but in Marrakech’s Jemaa El Fnaa, practically another millennium.
Mrs Clive loves the exotic atmosphere of this, the largest square in Africa, with its fire eaters, jugglers, story tellers, Tarot-card readers, snake charmers and assorted peddlers. She also loves the adjacent souks, miles of tight alleyways with thousands of vendors of leather and silks, and she loves perhaps most of all, the fabulous Jardin Marjorelle, one of the world’s most stunning gardens.
However, on this occasion I was not accompanied by she who must be obeyed but by 10 golf pros. And what a trip it was; seven courses and four hotels in seven days, the first adjective that springs to mind is “exhausting”, but “exhilarating” is equally applicable.
Firstly the hotels: the intention was to let us sample the range of provision, from basic four stars to six stars, (it was great fun (unpacking and packing four times), which was instructive only to the extent that I can confirm that they are all good.
All are low-rise with well-appointed rooms overlooking landscaped gardens, all have large-screen coverage of Premier League football, all present fabulous buffet catering of both Moroccan and European menus. Some just have a higher standard of décor and facilities and some have golf courses on site – you pays your money and you take your choice.
Usually I dwell a bit on my enjoyment of the good life provided, but this time I simply have to concentrate on the golf – the courses in Marrakech are so good. We started with three courses with what might be termed an American/European aesthetic by three giants of golf course design; Cabell Robinson, Robert Trent Jones and Kyle Phillips.
The first, Robinson’s Royal Palm Club, exemplifies these three architects’ approach to design in this naturally hostile environment. Marrakech lies on an arid, largely featureless plain, so a traditional aesthetic is achieved completely artificially.
The wonderfully flowing contours of Royal Palm have been created by the bulldozer and the hundreds of “mature” olive trees and palms have all been planted in the past year. The owners opened it especially for us and together with its six-star hotel this will present a must-see destination at the top end of the market.
The second stop, Trent Jones’ Palmerie, opened in 1993, is Marrakech’s oldest course. Mainly flat and more subtle in its demands, it is nevertheless a fine test of golf and pleasurable for players of all levels. Much tougher is Kyle Phillips’ new Al Maaden course. Albeit long and demanding, its design is constantly intriguing and invigorating; the long-hitting pros loved it and took on its challenges with enthusiasm.
We also all enjoyed the splendid clubhouse facilities, and when the attached hotel is completed this will undoubtedly be a very popular venue for golf trips. Should you have a spare £400k you can also purchase a superb luxury off-course riad.
As a sort-of punctuation mark in our epic exploration, we enjoyed a relaxing nine holes at Royal Golf Marrakech, something entirely different from the virtually brand-new state-of- the-art courses which comprised most of our itinerary.
Built by the Pasha of Marrakech in 1933 it has been host to the likes of Churchill and Lloyd George, and now presents the experience of playing between avenues of 100-foot-high trees which line every fairway.
Finally, and to my complete surprise, we discovered three Arizona-style desert courses, by Steve Forrest, Jack Nicklaus and Niall Cameron. Forrest with Arthur Hills has built many prestigious courses in the States, (including
Half Moon Bay, where I once took two American lawyers for $32, but that’s another story), and his Noria is a fine addition to his portfolio.
The extensive areas of cactus-covered wasteland and boulder-strewn ravines look just right in the harsh landscape softened by the oases of the emerald green fairways. Particular features of this lovely course are the rectangular 8th and 9th greens and the space-age clubhouse – a really different experience.
Just as surprising was the Samanah Club, now well established as a championship venue. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t associate Jack with desert design. This is a stunner, an absolute gem, a topend course with top-end practice and club facilities and by common consent, the best we had played and, we agreed, unlikely to be surpassed.
But that was before we reached Assoufid, a brand new course, the first by a Scottish pro, Niall Fergusson and an asolute revelation. Set in a more undulating landscape, a little further out from town and with the snowcapped
Atlas Mountains as a backdrop, every hole is a visual and golfing treat.
The natural contours meant that Niall had to move little earth, just use his imagination to create what will be a premier golf destination. Enjoying a great hamburger and Casablanca beer on the terrace after such an exceptional golfing experience, we all agreed that we would be back….and soon.
Before I sign off, here are three tips. If you play these courses, ALWAYS take one more club than you think. If you want to explore Marrakech, (and you should), NEVER hire a car – the traffic is mad. And lastly DO make sure that golf in Marrakech is on your bucket list. It is fabulous.