El Haj T'hami el Mezouari el Glaoui – better known as “Lord of the Atlas” or “Pasha of Marrakesh” from 1912 to 1956 – decided to have a golf course constructed near the city of Marrakech and so he called in French professional Gustave Golias to set up a small 4-hole course for his personal use in 1927. This was expanded to a 9-hole layout the following year.
The Pasha obtained land cheaply during droughts and one such parcel of property was irrigated and fashioned into a private 18-hole course, much to the dismay of the French colonial rulers at the time. Their protests were quickly placated of course as soon as playing rights were granted to their top government officials!
French professional Arnaud Massy, the first non-British winner of the Open in 1907, is credited with remodeling the course at Royal Marrakech in 1933, along with Gustav Golias (who was by then the Pasha's personal pro) and Bouchaib Stitou. Today, the cypress, eucalyptus, palm, and olive tree-lined fairways are largely unchanged from those distant days.
A raft of new courses have appeared around Marrakech in recent years but many still rate the charming old layout here (extended to 27 holes by Thierry Sprecher in 2007) as the best of all. And why shouldn’t many golfers prefer to stride these fairways, following in the footsteps of Churchill, Lloyd George and Eisenhower, all of whom were eminent golfing guests of the Pasha?
The club is fortunate to have its own water supply, provided by the authorities, and this flows through the property at certain times of the week in special channels, allowing the trees flanking many of the fairways to remain in prime condition. In recent years, floodlights were added to the Menara nine-hole circuit and this rather extravagant facility now lets the club host evening golf competitions on special occasions.
In 2018, it was announced that architects Stuart Hallett and Jonathan Davison were overseeing a 2-year renovation of the three nines at Royal Marrakech, with work to include the redesign of all the bunkers and the installation of a new irrigation system.
Marc Tremel, the club’s former director of golf, has moved back to France since I was last here in 2015 and he’s been replaced by Stéphane Talbot, a man of great experience who has been around a few clubs in Casablanca and Marrakech in recent years.
Stéphane showed me round the Old course last week, pointing out the many small but important improvements made in the last few years. Primarily, a programme to renovate all the bunkers has been carried out, though there are still more fairway hazards to install.
New irrigation lines to tees and greens have vastly improved the grassed areas around the tee boxes, and many of these raised teeing areas have benefitted from the construction of beautiful little stone walls and the introduction of new kerbs to direct buggies.
Several green sites have been rebuilt (on #4, #7, #10 and #11) and there are plans to continue this work further. A new colonial-style clubhouse has also opened with a large open plan dining and bar area which has proved popular with members and visitors alike.
The layout occupies a very flat piece of land so the topography will never get your pulse racing here. It has its place though as a serene golfing oasis right on the edge of the city, with tree-lined fairways offering much-needed respite from the nearby hustle and bustle.
With all the recent infrastructure improvements both on and off the course, Royal Marrakech is now in great shape for members to celebrate the club’s centenary in another five years.
Old style designed in 1927 extended in 2007 so the trees have matured and shed leaves on the fairways and in the bunkers- tight- reload if your ball heads towards the trees. Ten holes are around 300 meters so leave the driver in the bag for these unless you are laser accurate with it. Enjoyable in some ways but poor dated narrow tee boxes cambered like speed bumps. Greens were good but the course needs lots of work to keep up with the options around. Fairways were good; no wow scenery at all but playable none the less. The 9th par 3 is interesting with cleavage and 17th par five is good. Having played better courses in Marrakech we won’t be rushing back. Would rank it 20th not 12th of all courses played in Morocco but if the reviewers control the rankings possibly lower? Feb ’17
I’m not sure what earlier reviewers were looking for when they played here. It’s really hard to compare an old-fashioned design like Royal Marrakech with any of the new courses that have sprung up around the Red City in recent years so if you come here looking for something similar then you’ll be sadly disappointed.If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a veritable golfing oasis in the desert, with dense, tree-lined fairways and not a hint of any residential development within or surrounding the property, then this is the place for you.
Marc Tremel, the affable Director of Golf at the club, told me the temporary clubhouse beside the practice area will be in use until a new, purpose-built building is constructed in the very near
future. The club is also around halfway through the complete rebuild of the old 4km stone wall surrounding the 250-acre site so there’s another example of the upgrading that’s going on to improve the infrastructure.
The pick of the holes on the main 18-hole Old course are the 1st on the Vert nine, a gentle 425-metre par five that plays to a tightly bunkered, slightly raised green (as found at many of the holes) and the 169-metre 9th on the Rouge nine. This is the famous “Brigitte Bardot” hole, where the flag can be seen through the "cleavage" of two protecting mounds on either side of the green – it’s an iconic hole that really has to be seen to be believed!
The 481-metre 5th on the Menara (Blue) nine is regarded as the best on that circuit and it sweeps left past an old water pumping station that Marc hopes to develop into a small museum, exhibiting old golfing artefacts from the club’s historical past.
I really think it’s worth taking a step back in time at Royal Marrakech. There’s a really relaxed vibe to the place and the hustle and bustle of the nearby city seems a million miles away within its arboreal confines. For me, this is a must visit venue, even if it’s just to see where some of the more modern designs around the city might have learned a thing or two.