The Palmeraie district lies about five miles to the north west of Marrakech and legend has it that this extensive palm grove (which contains around 150,000 trees) can be traced back to the 11th century. Apparently, soldiers of the Almoravid sultan Youssef ben Tachfine, after eating dates they had brought back from the Sahara, spat out the stones around their encampment and these germinated over time to form the massive 45 square-mile palm grove that exits today.
In 1992, it was in this fertile area of fields, gardens and orchards that Robert Trent Jones Snr established the original 18-hole layout at Palmeraie Golf Club, the first golf course to make an appearance in Marrakech since the fairways of the Royal course were laid out in 1923. More recently, Stephane Talbot, a former professional at Palmeraie, added a further nine-hole circuit in 2008.
Holes 1-9 (the Jbilettes nine) and holes 10-18 (the Atlas nine) were formed as two returning loops and their fairways weave around several large ponds on a site that’s pretty flat throughout. As it’s a resort course, golfers will find the greens here are not as heavily bunkered as those found on many RTJ designs and their soft contours can help golfers post a decent score with a little care.
In 2020, new resort owners decided to rebrand the golf facility as Golf Club Rotana, closing holes 19-27 (the Tensift nine) to operate an 18-hole layout using only the original Robert Trent Jones Sr. holes.
The Palmeraie resort had 27 holes in play when I was last here in 2012 but they’ve now relinquished the newest nine holes, contracting the operation to the original 18-hole setup which was laid out by Robert Trent Jones Sr. thirty years ago. I played the more recently installed Tensift nine ten years ago so I was pleased to play the original Jbilettes nine this time around.
These holes (1 to 9) head west from the clubhouse, skirting the hotel accommodation to the left of the fairways before the routing loops back at the short par three 4th and runs in the opposite direction for five holes. The par four 9th then turns back to dogleg right around water, returning players close to where they started out earlier.
Holes are spacious and mildly undulating, with the only cause for concern occurring on the tee at the par four 3rd, where an ugly high net protects hotel accommodation intruding badly to the left of the tee box. The par three 8th looks pretty bland on the tee the hole is so much better when you reach the green to find out the shallow putting surface is shared with the par four 10th, making it one of the more interesting green complexes on the property.
Water comes into play more frequently on the back nine as golfers play around the “Secret Garden” residential complex at holes 13 and 14. A new raised tee on the short par four 15th gives a better view of what lies ahead when playing this right doglegging hole around another small lake. Like last time, I really liked the final par three at the 17th, with lovely water hazards protecting the front right and left of the green.
Caddie master Rachid has worked at Palmeraie for more than 20 years so he’s the person to watch out for if you need any help around the clubhouse – all clubs need somebody of experience like him to operate smoothly and he’s just the very man for the job!
Ranked 19th in Morocco designed by Robert Trent Jones three nines Jibilettes, Atlas and Tensift.
We played (in February 2017) the J/A as the new nine was a bit new looking. Overall a good course; if you hit the fairways you get run and if in the rough it slows quickly but is findable making it a pleasure to play. Not spectacular views where the course circled around the hotel where we stayed. Many holes are dog-legs and more of them a semi-circle around a lake making the amount you want to bite-off interesting and challenging. Greens were good and fast and yet will check up a good shot. As a links players we struggled to pitch from the ’cotton-wool’ rough. Beware of 17th par 3- be long. A bit of a mystery playing for the first time as my sat-nav. nor the buggy nav. did not work and made it more difficult clubbing than it was. Recommend play and enjoy ahead of the Royal.
As I found at Amelkis the day before, when I played one of the original nines along with a newer nine, I much preferred the older, established Atlas course here (holes 10 to 18) to the newer Tensift (holes 19 to 27).
Of course, it’s resort golf all the way – minus the buggies, but with a caddie (for a very reasonable fee) – where fairways wind around a number of fountained lakes that were teeming with all sorts of exotic birdlife.
I liked in particular the two par threes on the Atlas course, especially the second (at hole 17) which calls for an all carry tee shot across water.
The new nine is located a bit to the north west of the property, requiring a buggy transfer, but the club has one of those elongated versions that can comfortably take four golfers plus caddies in one go.
This loop is wider and less tree-lined than the old course so I felt a lot of the holes lacked definition but I’m sure that will change in time as the vegetation flourishes naturally. The greens have been sown with a different type of grass so they were, if anything, slightly better than the (excellent) putting surfaces that we played on our front nine.
I enjoyed the playing experience at Palmeraie more than I did at either Amelkis or Al Maaden – not that the other two are bad courses, they aren’t; they just didn’t match the layout and conditioning of this more established place.