All Aboard The Marrakesh Express

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With the support and encouragement of successive golfing kings, Morocco has developed into a genuine year-round destination with a growing number of top quality courses. Clustered around Fez, Rabat, Tangier, Agadir and Marrakesh, they offer an appealing and inexpensive alternative to Spain and Portugal.

With its rich history, buzzy nightlife and fascinating culture, Marrakesh is a powerful tourist magnet. Golfers can combine a visit to this bustling city with several rounds in the comparative tranquillity of the surrounding desert.

When Robert Trent Jones Senior laid out Palmeraie Golf Club in 1992, it was the first course to be built in Marrakesh for nearly 70 years. As the name suggests, it occupies an area of land that was previously full of palm trees. Many have survived and add to the considerable visual appeal of this attractive course.

About five miles north-west of the city, it was expanded to 27 holes in 2008 when the then resident professional, Stephane Talbot, added a third nine-hole loop. All three nines are gently undulating and eminently walkable.

The seven lakes provide a rather aquatic character and the numerous ducks, herons and various waterfowl add visual and audible interest. The hundreds of egrets that roost around the water’s edge will almost certainly give you a rousing reception as you come up the last.

Essentially a resort course, it’s quite open and forgiving and the bunkering is a lot less fearsome than you might expect on a Trent Jones lay-out.

ourika

The newest course in Marrakesh is Palm Golf Ourika. Although you wouldn’t think so when you play it, it only opened in November 2015. Remarkably well established and already looking the business, it is sure to shoot up the rankings.

With the Atlas mountains providing a dramatic backdrop, the delightfully undulating course rolls gently through the desert with specimen palm trees providing exotic definition. Attractive planting and sensuous shaping augment the already considerable appeal of this delightful challenge.

Waste areas provide a visual contrast to the vivid green of the fairways and although quite a few houses have been built around the course, these don’t intrude or oppress.

The greens are already in great nick and my only minor moan is that carts are compulsory which is a bit of a shame.

Closer to downtown Marrakesh is The Montgomery. Designed by you-know-who, it is pretty open and forgiving with a number of outstanding holes. However, it is rather too close to both the airport and the main road to provide the tranquillity many of us look for when out on the links. The surrounding property, too, is a tad intrusive.

However, it is undoubtedly a fine course with an impressive variety of holes and could well host a serious tournament or two in years to come.

assoufid

Purposefully designed for visiting golfers, Assoufid is endowed with inviting fairways that encourage rather than intimidate. It’s fun and allows players to enjoy themselves as they go in pursuit of pars. That’s not to say it’s a pushover because it most certainly isn’t and serious trouble does occasionally rear its ugly head, mostly in the form of a dry river bed, or ‘shaaba’ in the vernacular, which weaves through the back nine.

Trees, too, create problems, but the gently swaying palms are so appealing it’s hard not to like them and the olive trees are not really big enough to be threatening. The cacti, on the other hand, are more of a menace on a course that has a distinctly desert feel.

There are plenty of bunkers and intelligent use has been made of expansive waste areas that create difficulties without needlessly delaying play by obliging players to search for lost balls in unnecessarily deep rough. Another benefit of these waste areas is they don’t require watering and, by reducing the amount of grass that has to be cut, enable green staff to concentrate on tees, fairways and greens.

Assoufid has a considerable advantage over the burgeoning number of other courses in the area in being blessed with plenty of elevation. Height is a considerable asset in a golf course and intelligent use has been made of it here to provide pleasantly elevated tees.

Refreshingly, the architect responsible is not some famous name but a little-known former European Tour pro making his design debut. Formerly the head pro at Turnberry and Royal St George’s, Niall Cameron undoubtedly has a talent and clearly understands what is required of a holiday course.

Although he deserves praise, Cameron can’t claim credit for the views of the impressive Atlas mountains. Even though a haze sometimes reduces visibility, their brooding snow-capped presence adds to the appeal.

A striking clubhouse, enormous terrace and excellent practice facilities are already in place while a five-star hotel and some property are planned.

After the golf, you must visit the vibrant city of Marrakech. Encircled by pink sandstone walls, it contains the largest Berber market or souk in Morocco with hundreds of shops and stalls selling pretty well everything imaginable.

WHY WE LIKE IT

Comparatively inexpensive and with year-round sunshine, Morocco is hard to beat. And now that a whole host of new courses, many of which are truly exceptional, have popped up around it, Marrakesh is even more appealing. Enjoy the golf but don’t forget to pop into town, haggle a bit and take home a trinket.

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