One of the great “undiscovered” golf destinations in the world is Morocco. The country on the western edge of Africa is showing up on more and more golf travelers’ radar screens though, so hurry if you want to claim discovery of it in your social circles. With excellent golf, top-notch accommodations, wonderful restaurants, and some really fascinating side trips, it won’t stay a secret long.
Even though Americans have been slow to find it, golf is nothing new in this progressive, cosmopolitan country. The first course was built in 1914, and there are now about 35 to choose from with more on the drawing boards. The varied terrain, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert to the Atlantic beaches, gives you a variety of golf experiences, something you won’t find in most traditional golf destinations. You can play parkland, true links, desert, and seaside courses — all in excellent condition, many designed by world-famous architects, and all very welcoming to visitors. Most of the year (although summer can be a little toasty), the weather is golf-perfect, too, with moderate temps, low humidity, and just enough breeze to liven up your round.
Much of the game’s development in Morocco can be credited to the vision of the late King Hassan II. He sparked the game’s growth spurt when he commissioned Robert Trent Jones Sr. to build the Dar Es Salam Golf Course in Rabat, the nation’s capital. Today, the complex includes 45 holes of excellent golf and is home to a European PGA Tour stop where the pros compete for the prestigious Hassan II Golf Trophy.
Photo Courtesy of Royal Dar Es Salam
Dar Es Salam’s Red Course, where the championship is held, is an imaginative parkland course with fairways lined by cork trees (Morocco is one of the world’s largest suppliers of the sustainable crop) and highlighted by RTJ’s signature bunkering and imaginative greens. It’s a massive layout that measures 7,600 yards from the tips, although there are four other sets of tees of more reasonable length. Fairways are generous for regular humans but narrow into tight landing areas for long drivers of the ball in keeping with Jones’ design dictum of “difficult par but an easy bogey.”
While you’re in Rabat, set aside some time to visit the Kasbah of the Udayas, a 12th-century fortress with fascinating twisting alleys and brightly painted architectural details. Another must-see is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the king who led his country to independence from France in 1957. The changing of the equestrian guard is a spectacle not to be missed.
An easy drive from Rabat will take you past Casablanca to El Jadida and the Mazagan Beach Resort, home to Mazagan Golf Club (below), a seaside course designed by Gary Player where the rolling fairways reflect the Atlantic surf defining the course’s western boundary. Player’s design includes plenty of elevation changes and a variety of approaches. The 7,600-yard course provides wide fairways, lush turf, and photo ops featuring the ocean on nearly every hole. While the fairways are accommodating, you won’t get much roll on the soft turf and the wind off the ocean can play havoc with your aim, so relax, and don’t let a bogey or two ruin your experience.
Photo by Philippe Millereau, Courtesy of Mazagan Beach Resort
Fans of links golf will feel right at home at the Royal Palm Golf Club in Marrakesh in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains. The 7,300-yard design by Cabell Robinson has moderately generous fairways edged by sandy rough, hard-and-fast turf that favors a low-running shot, and greens that accommodate a bump and run or Texas (or is that a Moroccan?) wedge. Miss the fairway, and you’re likely to find yourself behind an olive tree (which are actively harvested) or in a water hazard — nine holes have water in play. Remember, a true links course can certainly have trees and water as long as the turf (and wind) favor a low, running ground game.
The Atlas Mountains lend an air of magic to the course as they seem to float in the distance above a cloud of ground mist. Jbel Toubkal, the highest peak in Northern Africa, serves as an excellent aiming point on several holes. The course is part of Domaine Royal Palm, a real estate development with prestigious villas and an ultra-luxurious hotel.
Marrakesh deserves extra off-course time and attention. You’ll want to spend time haggling for everything from bejeweled slippers to intricately carved furniture in the Medina, a World Heritage Site, while you’re watching the snake charmers, acrobats, and constant parade of locals in colorful native dress. Nearby is Bab Agnaou, a massive gate to the city that was built in the 12th century. Don’t miss the Bahia Palace and its stunning gardens, too. The palace originally housed Bou Ahmed, the Grand Vizier of Marrakesh, along with his four wives, 24 concubines, and countless children.
Also in Marrakesh is the best golf course in Morocco, at least according to the World Golf Awards. It’s Assoufid Golf Club, a 7,000-yard desert course that drew raves from a group of Westchester PGA pros who visited the country about a year ago. The undulating terrain of the course set against the majestic Atlas Mountains exemplifies desert golf with target fairways surrounded by natural desert terrain. The course opened in 2014 and every hole has a separate identity. There are a few moderate forced carries but plenty of strategic decisions to be made, like how to navigate around a cluster of palms in the center of the fairway on the 15th hole. A five-star hotel and residences are planned for the site.
Moroccan cuisine runs a close second to golf as a reason to visit the country. The spice palate is robust without being overwhelming and the freshness of ingredients — from beef, lamb, fish, and chicken to vegetables and fruits — is unsurpassed since nearly everything is locally produced. Classic tagines, harira (a flavorful tomato-based soup with endless variations), couscous, and cup after cup of mint tea can keep you lingering at the table for hours.
Golf (and travel) in Morocco is easy and enjoyable. You can fly direct from JFK to Casablanca in well under seven hours, which is about the same time as it takes to reach Dublin. While Arabic is one of two official languages, French is widely spoken, as is English. The local currency is the Moroccan dirham and currency exchanges and ATMs are easily accessible in the cities. To top everything off, all the golf courses in the kingdom are public and caddies are widely available — and highly recommended!
Where to Stay
A tranquil boutique hotel with a thousand touches of civility
Mazagan Beach Resort
A glamorous complex with multiple restaurants, recreational amenities, fabulous spa, and a glittering casino (below)
Domaine des Remparts
Junior suites and pavilions in a park with views of the Atlas Mountains
Royal Palm Hotel
Luxurious suites and villas nestled in an olive grove overlooking the golf course