Top 20 Golf Courses of Morocco 2016
We expand our coverage of courses in The Western Kingdom to a Top 20
When it comes to monitoring golf developments, some areas of the world are harder than others to keep track of what’s going on. The African continent in general is a difficult region to keep an eye on.
Just a couple of months ago, we established some excellent contacts in Nigeria, allowing us to create a more credible Top 5 chart for that country. Earlier in the year, we were in Kenya and during our visit to some of the top clubs there we revised our Top 10 standings for that country, based on what we saw and on what we learned from the well-informed opinion of knowledgeable local golfers.
We’ve also carried out similar exercises in recent years for courses in Egypt and Tunisia, expanding our coverage in both countries from a Top 5 to a Top 10. With the former, we found a number of in-country contacts who helped reshape our presentation of courses in the Land of the Pharaohs whilst, for the latter, we visited the country in 2012 to play most of the layouts that are now ranked.
We knew there was a lot going on in Morocco. After our last reported visit to the country three and a half years ago, our Moroccan news article at the time mentioned we were aware of several compelling new developments, particularly around Marrakech. It seemed like a good idea to find out for ourselves exactly the state of play on the ground and so we revisited the Red City earlier this month.
As we’d already played at the older golf facilities of Amelkis and Palmeraie and the new course at Al Maaden in 2012, we began our visit this time at Royal Marrakech, one of the oldest golf facilities in Morocco, before taking a look at half a dozen new tracks which have opened in the last few years. The Old Lady at Royal Marrakech may be getting on in years now but she still retains a certain mystique that none of the modern tracks can match, especially as the course sits in splendid isolation, with not a single house intruding on any of the fairways.
The Montgomerie Marrakech is the flagship development of The Prestigia Group, one of the country’s biggest real estate companies, and the course was set out by European Golf Design, with Monty as the headline designer. It’s a big, rumbustious track located next to the city’s international airport and an enormous clubhouse that was built to match the scale of the property complements it.
Assoufid is situated 10 kilometres further south west and it’s hard to believe this naturally rolling estate lies within the largely dead flat Marrakech plain. The pleasant elevation changes give this place a big advantage over all the others in the area as, despite some fantastic feats of earth moving to create contours elsewhere, nothing beats playing on a lie of the land location blessed with natural movement.
The Noria course is a 20-minute drive away, close to the small village of Chrifia, and it’s a smart modern design from Steve Forrest. As some of the holes are designed around a couple of formal, geometric pools, not every golfer will be enamoured with such an unnatural layout but, in the context of a design that was meant to reflect elements of local architecture, it works rather well.
PalmGolf Ourika was unveiled just a few months ago – indeed, we were only made aware of it days before travelling to Marrakech – and it’s already making a big impression locally. Built by the Palmeraie Development Group, which operates the 27-hole Palmeraie complex on the other side of town, this 18-hole layout integrates ponds and big sandy waste areas into an exciting design.
Thirteen kilometres to the west, the Cabell Robinson-designed Domaine Royal Palm course lies within yet another massive residential estate. The architect was very active in Morocco during the early 1990s, fashioning layouts at the Dunes in Agadir, Fez Royal and Amelkis in Marrakech. Now, twenty years down the line, this stellar production looks set to eclipse all of Robinson’s earlier projects within the country.
Next door, the course at Samanah Golf and Country Club debuted in 2009 and this 18-hole layout is the first, and so far only, Nicklaus Design course in Morocco. Other projects are planned for Tamouda Bay on the Atlantic coast and in the hills at Ifrane, to the north, but these are still under development. For now, Samanah remains the Golden Bear’s only tangible design effort within the Western Kingdom.
To round off our visit, we then headed northwest to the port city of El Jadida, where the 16th century Portuguese fortification of Mazagan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The El Jadida Royal course is another Cabel Robinson project from his busy Moroccan schedule two decades ago and it’s a lovely woodland layout that could, with a bigger maintenance budget, outshine many of the newer tracks that have been built in country in recent years.
A mere ten-minute drive along the coast, the links layout at Mazagan totally overshadows the older Royal layout at El Jadida and this big budget golf course is just one of a number amenities that attract guests to a fabulous 5-star Beach and Golf Resort. Designed by Gary Player and opened for play in 2010, this 18-hole track is set out across tumbling sand hills, with golfers afforded ocean views from many of the holes.
Essaouira’s located four hours and 270 kilometres to the south and it’s another 16th century Portuguese garrison town which is home to a contender for our new chart, Mogador. Gary Player’s design team also unveiled this track five years ago and it’s laid out on sandy soiled terrain beside the Atlantic, the first of two 18-hole layouts scheduled for operation here. When the second course is ready, this will be a top 36-hole destination to be reckoned with.
As suspected, our trip to Morocco merely confirmed that our national Top 10 chart was way out of date and so we’re more than happy to now reveal our newly revised and extended listings, taking into account what we found during our stay and what we learned from consulting with more than a dozen leading figures at the clubs we visited. The result is that we’re probably now publishing the most radical shake-up of a national golf course ranking chart ever.
You’ll see from the table below that only three of the old positions remain intact, and they’re all located at the top of the chart to be exact, so at least we managed to get the most important three places right last time around. Five of the six new entries in our new Top 10 are from Marrakech, with the remaining newcomer taking the shape of the exciting new Kyle Phillips Tazegzout Bay design, which now occupies the number 6 position in our new standings.
In the bottom half of the chart, another four new entries appear, two from Agadir and two from Marrakech, whilst the other six places are taken up by courses that have tumbled down from our old Top 10 chart. With the pace of change in Moroccan golf continuing as it is at the moment, who knows what the revision of these standings will look like next time around?
We realise that ranking courses in Morocco is still largely a work in progress and we’d love to be able to revisit the country again next year to review more of the Agadir courses and maybe take a closer look at layouts in the north of the country, starting at Royal Dar Es Salam in May, when the Red course at that venue once again hosts the European Tour’s Trophée Hassan II event.
To view the complete detailed list of the Top 20 Golf Courses of Morocco 2016 click the link.
22 December 2015 Respond to this article