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We return to Morocco to find out what’s new in the Western Kingdom

19 April, 2017

We return to Morocco to find out what’s new in the Western Kingdom

We were delighted to accept a recent invitation to attend last week’s Trophée Hassan II European Tour event alongside the Lalla Meryem Cup on the Ladies European Tour at Royal Dar Es Salam Golf Club in Rabat. As it so happens, it was the ideal opportunity to combine such an excursion with a couple of site visits to new golf projects that have been a long time in the making.

Architect Robin Hiseman from European Golf Design has set out a course within the massive new Prestigia residential complex at Plage des Nations, 26-kilometres northeast of Rabat, and shaper Russell Curtis is currently putting the finishing touches to a Jack Nicklaus Signature design just outside the little mountain resort of Ifrane, two and a half hours’ drive inland from the capital.

But first, we renewed our acquaintance with the two 1960s Robert Trent Jones Snr courses at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, where the club somehow finds the means to host simultaneous male and female professional competitions during a frenetic week of activity, both on and off its two 18-hole championship courses - it’s just as well there’s also a spare 9-hole course to help with practice facilities!

The important work of renovating both 18-hole layouts began immediately after last year’s tournaments ended with architect James Duncan, a Coore & Crenshaw associate, working alongside shaper Benjamin Warren on the Dar Es Salam Red course to upgrade fairway bunkers, create six new traps on the 12th hole and renovate more than twenty other bunkers elsewhere on the course.

On the Dar Es Salam Blue course, the upgrade work undertaken by Cabell Robinson and shaper Dean Badwell has produced truly spectacular results. The renovation involved installing a new greenside bunker at the 5th, refurbishing the lake at the 7th and adding eighteen new fairway bunkers throughout the course. The ragged edge styling of these new sand hazards really catches the eye, giving the layout a truly contemporary look.

On one of our day trips away from Rabat, the visit to Plage Des Nations was full of surprises. We knew the new Montgomerie Rabat course was set within a large housing development but we weren’t quite prepared for the enormous scale of this project. We also didn’t foresee the extent of the substantial elevation changes throughout the property – there’s no flat, Marrakech-style landscape here!

There’s a terrific sequence of holes from the 4th to the 7th – the waterfall being built behind the 5th green will be something of a show stopper – with fairways wrapped around a few small lakes before climbing up to higher ground then plunging back down again. The par five 18th is probably the toughest hole on the course and there’s a wicked left to right camber to contend with on this closing hole as the fairway rises steadily uphill to the home green.

It’ll be interesting to see where the course goes from here in the short term because there’s a land dispute affecting the intended playing corridors for holes 11 and 12 at the moment. Until that matter is resolved, the plan is to temporarily split the long 18th hole into two holes and bring another part-time hole into operation elsewhere. That will mean a bit of a trek between the 10th green and 13th tee but at least there will be a cart path installed to smooth the long transit between these holes at the start of the back nine.

To the east of Plage Des Nations, in the Middle Atlas region of Morocco, lies the resort town of Ifrane which the French established during the protectorate era in the late 1930s as a colonial “hill station”. Due to its high elevation above sea level, it enjoys a relatively cool climate during the summer but it’s often snow-bound in winter, hence the predominance of Alpine-style buildings throughout the small town, affording it the somewhat disconcerting appearance of a European ski resort.

The Nicklaus Signature Design golf course here is being built close to the small regional airport on behalf of ONCF, the national railway company, with lead architect Dirk Bouts heading the Golden Bear’s on site team. Just over half the holes have been grassed with cool season grasses (Bluegrass on fairways and rough, bent for tees and greens) with the remaining holes, mainly on the heavily wooded back nine, still under construction.

The terrain is exceptionally rocky in nature so all the fairways have been capped with imported material and the results so far are very impressive. Holes 9, 17 and 18 are routed along a ridge in front of the clubhouse (which is also still being built) with a severe drop off into the valley below so the extreme topography provides a truly stunning conclusion to both nines – hopefully Jack Nicklaus doesn’t suffer from acrophobia or he may have to skip these three holes when he opens the course next year!

There was still time to call in on another course before returning to London and so we attended an all-amateur tournament at Royal Anfa Mohammedia, to the north of Casablanca, where eighty golfers were competing in a shotgun start for the annual Friendship Cup. The origins of the Mohammedia course are shrouded in mystery – there’s not a single photo on any of the clubhouse walls to give any clues – but we suspect French professional Gustave Golias, who set up the original Royal Marrakech course in 1927, may also have had a hand in laying out the fairways here around that time.

We understand that work continues in the background to the north of the country at another Nicklaus Design project in Tamuda Bay. There’s also another 18-hole course about to start further along the Mediterranean coast at Saïdia, with the Plage Des Nations contractor Valtech involved in building this new layout. The Qatari-financed Al Houra course that we visited last year is still waiting to open its doors for play so new golf development it Morocco may have slowed down from its peak of a few years ago but it’s still far from finished.

If you’d like to contact us regarding our latest Moroccan adventure then by all means do so via the “Respond to this article” link at the top or bottom of this page. We’re always happy to receive feedback – be it positive or negative – when we publish these short articles so if there’s anything you’d like to comment on then feel free to contact us.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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