Review of Golf in Morocco
by Mark Marais, Managing Director, Chaka Travel
As a long-haul ‘exotic’ golfing specialist I have had my eye on Morocco as an ‘exotic’ short haul destination for the last few years and I went out to test the waters!
Whilst the purpose of the visit was to find out if it would be a suitable golfing destination for our clients I was keen to explore the timeless medieval medina's (old cities). I was not disappointed, particularly in Fez and Marrakech, where the souks and squares took us into a fascinating foreign world. It was like going back in time with the stench of the tanners' yards pervading the air; and the call of the muezzins wafting from the ancient minarets. I had heard about the Riads - old mansions converted into boutique hotels - we visited a number of these throughout the country and found that they would be ideal for those who do not want a traditional hotel.
Our trip started from Heathrow and we enjoyed our flight with Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca and then connected on to Agadir.
The city of Agadir, south of Marrakech, is totally new and modern, and is fast developing into Morocco’s major resort town chiefly because of its magnificent sandy beaches. The city was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1961, this wiped out most of its historic heritage as an important sea port and centre for caravans traversing the Sahara. The rebuilt city has been modelled to be a tourist destination and fishing port, favoured by package tours particularly as a starting point for excursions into the desert to the south. The city boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, and this obviously makes it an ideal location for golfers looking to escape the cold and damp of the UK. The two courses we went to both had 27 holes and were in excellent condition and had good facilities.
Golf Du Soleil was a very pleasant layout with a tropical feel due to the palm trees lining most fairways.
The Dunes Golf Club like many others in Morocco was designed by Cabell Robinson, the ed course has a lot of water and is the most challenging of the 3 nines. The city boasts a wide range of accommodation and the five star Sofitel was our favourite, it had a superb atmosphere not often found in large resort hotels.
From Agadir we travelled by road over the mountains and onto the plains to Marrakech. The city walls were raised from the red mud of the plains, with the snow-covered peaks of the High Atlas Mountains forming a backdrop for the city, although they are often hidden by the heat haze as was the case when we were there. The medina was a delightful blend of old style trading of timeless traditional goods as well as modern products. Marrakech has 3 golf courses, all different and all well worth playing.
Royal Marrakech with narrow tree lined fairways requires accurate irons and very little opportunity for airing your driver. The trees provide welcome shade as well as create a mystical and exotic atmosphere, whilst a very stern test for high handicappers it is certainly one that is not to be missed for those who enjoy playing in outstandingly scenic surroundings. Palmeraie Golf Palace and Resort the most well known place to stay and play in Morocco. The course is a super layout with a particularly American feel due to the extensive bunkering and large lakes. It offers a stern test and the water frequently comes into play but at he same time higher handicappers are also catered for with reasonably wide fairways.
Amelkis was to me the best of the three courses, a tough layout offering a challenge to all. With fairly wide undulating fairways, plenty of water as well as sand and large tricky greens it tests all elements of your game. The clubhouse is world class and the balcony overlooking the course is an ideal place to relax.
If you really want to be in the heart of the city we would recommend staying in a Riad, we thought Jardines de la Medina was a superb place to stay, it is an old, princely residence has been carefully transformed into a charming 36 room hotel. We also visited La Mamounia - made famous by Winston Churchill who was a regular visitor who enjoyed painting scenes of the ancient city and the Atlas mountains.
We flew from Marrakech to Casablanca and were met by a charming driver/guide who drove us to Rabat, home of the countries top golf course - Royal Dar es Salam. Rabat is the national capital and one of Morocco's four imperial cities (Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech). The city was successively settled by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. Rabat's landmarks include the ancient Medina, the walled district Kasbah Ouadaias, the Hassan tower and the Mohammed V Mausoleum, dedicated to the architect of Moroccan independence. All in all we consider that the city is only worth a short stay mainly to play the world class Royal Dar Es Salam Golf Club. This is Morocco's foremost club, nestling in a oak and eucalyptus forest overlooking the capital. Ranked amongst the World's Top 100 courses, the Red Course is a formidable Par 73 well over 7,000 yards. This championship venue is complemented by the eighteen hole Blue Course and the Par 32 nine hole Green Course.
The delightful Villa Mandarine is only a few minutes from the course and is the perfect place to stay in Rabat, a charming boutique hotel with lovely gardens, wonderful hosts and excellent cuisine.
From Rabat we were driven to the ancient city of Meknes and visited the 9-hole course, which is located inside the palace walls - a stunning setting. Next we went to the Roman ruins at Volubis and had a very interesting tour of this huge UNESCO world heritage site. We then headed down to Fez, our final destination in this fascinating country.
Fez is the cultural and spiritual centre of Morocco, and the main attraction in this ancient city is the medieval Medina, the old part of the city, which has been continuously inhabited since the 10th century and still bustles with a bewildering throng of colourfully costumed tribal people, from olive-dealers and veiled women on their way to the baths, to industrious merchants and traditional bell-ringing water-sellers. A guided tour is the easiest way to tackle the buzzing hive that is traditional Fez, but the brave can take on the teeming alleyways, too narrow for motor vehicles, risking getting lost and having to haggle with a local to be guided back out. Laden donkeys negotiate the steep cobbled lanes, and the buzz of buying and selling is often interrupted by the urgent cries of mule drivers or deliverymen pushing heavy and ungainly carts that warns shoppers to flatten themselves against the walls or be flattened themselves. A visit to the souks will undoubtedly lead to a stopover at Fez's famous tanneries where one of the oldest arts in Morocco, and the world, is practiced to produce the leather that has been sought after for centuries.
Whilst Royal Fes is the only golf course it is well worth playing more than once. About 20 minutes from the city in a picturesque rolling landscape this is a top quality layout. The course was is tip top condition and is not particularly long and is cleverly designed to reward those who are accurate with their mid-irons. There are a number of very good hotels overlooking the medina, providing a wonderful backdrop both by day and by night.
From Fez we flew home via Casablanca having thoroughly enjoyed our busy fact-finding mission. All in all we can highly recommend Morocco to those who are looking to visit a charming country, steeped in history and tradition and with great golf courses and amazing sites.
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