Fairmont Royal Palm Golf & Country Club lies to the south of Marrakech, next door to Samanah Golf Club, a short 25-minute drive from the city centre. Residents of the luxury Beachcomer hotel and villa owners within the Royal Palm Domaine have priority on the 1st tee but casual visitors are also accommodated here without any problem.
Designed by Cabell Robinson, with input from former French professional and then Director of Golf Michel Besanceney, the course extends to 6,608 metres from the back markers, playing to a par of 72. Holes are routed around five sparkling lakes on a property that extends to around 185 acres, with Bermuda fairways and tees and A4 bent grass greens in play.
Opened in 2013, it’s hard to now imagine that more than three quarters of a million square metres of earth was moved during construction because the fairways blend so well into the landscape. In addition, a variety of shrubs, flowers and trees that bloom at different times of the year have been planted around the course, giving it the ever-changing appearance of a botanical garden.
Feature holes include short par fours at the right doglegged 3rd and the left doglegged 14th, whilst the par four 8th and par three 12th share a large, crescent-shaped double green. Michel Besanceney's favourite hole is the long par four 15th – rated stroke index 1 – which veers left and downhill to a long green that’s guarded by bunkers on three of its four sides.
The clubhouse had yet to be built when I was last here six years ago and quite a lot has happened since then, including the departure of larger-than-life director of golf Michel Besanceney, who left a couple of years ago for Royal Dar Es Dalam in Rabat.
His able successor, Michel Teichet, showed me round last week when I visited, giving me a look at the extensive bunker renovation that he is overseeing on the course. All the sand hazards are being rebuilt, with quite a few reduced in size and others totally filled in.
Tees, fairways and greens remain intact so only the fairway and greenside traps are being altered to improve playability and reduce maintenance on what was previously a very heavily sand-protected layout within an expansive 160-acre property.
I still think more could have been made of the oued that runs through the course (with this natural water course only affecting a couple of holes) but who am I to criticize the design talents of a renowned golf course architect like Cabell Robinson?
I’ll be interested to find out what golfers make of the bunker softening work once it’s finished. This is a resort after all, where amateur golfers should expect to play a relaxed game of golf on a resort-style course which will hopefully flatter, rather than unduly penalise.
A really good test of golf with lots of water and accuracy needed off the tee. Stroke Index 1 is the par 3 13th which plays 210 yards from the medal tee, anything left will be in the water and right is bunkers. I would suggest centre of the green all day, take your 3 and move on!
There’s a very classy look to the course at Royal Palm, with the bunkers immediately catching the eye. I was astonished to find out so much soil had been shifted during construction because the fairways look as though they’re simply draped over the land so I suppose that’s a real compliment to the architect.
The short par four 3rd is a beauty, swinging past a pond on the right to a lovely green that’s flanked by a variety of trees. The par three 7th plays to a peninsula green on the side of another pond and such is the perceived difficulty of this hole, it attracts a stroke index of 2 on the scorecard!
On the back nine, the par four 10th offers a spectacular, though rather intimidating, tee short from an island tee towards the Atlas Mountains and at the signature par four 13th, there’s as much waste area as fairway between the tee and green so golfers needn’t count on a par score or better if they can’t keep their tee shot on the grass.
I was a little disappointed that greater use wasn’t made of the waadi that runs through the course, with only the fairways of the 6th and 8th (and the teebox of the 11th) coming close to this obstacle – it just seemed a shame not to have incorporated more of this natural feature into the design.
The clubhouse is still a work in progress here but, once it’s completed, the ever-increasing reputation of Royal Palm should go up yet another notch in a very competitive local golf market.