On the greens of the Kingdom

Golf in Morocco

Morocco has a long golf tradition due to the late King Hassan II’s passion for golf. During his reign a number of “Royal” golf courses were built. In later years a slew of modern courses, designed by architects like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Robert Trent Jones Jr. have appeared. With several low cost air carriers now serving Morocco, it is easier than ever to enjoy the “Kingdom of Golf”.

Text & photos: Bo Sjosten

 

Morocco in 30 seconds

Morocco is about the size of Spain, and has a population of 33 million. The main languages are Arabic and Berber, with French also spoken by most. English is well understood in the major cities.

Map of Northern Morocco.

Photo: Map of Northern Morocco.


Important cities from north to south:

Tangier – the gateway to Europe. The ferry ride to Spain takes only an hour.
Fez – the religious capital.
Rabat – capital city and center for administration and politics.
Casablanca – with its 3.5 million people the largest city, and also the commercial center of Morocco.
Marrakech – mythical desert city, nowadays with almost a million inhabitants
Essaouira – laid back coastal city, in the past an important harbor for caravans from the interior of Africa like Timbuktu. Nowadays popular as a winter hangout for frozen Europeans.
Agadir – important fishing and commercial harbor, as well as a major tourist destination, with a 5 km long beach and a climate similar to the nearby Canary Islands.

All major cities have good golf courses, around 30 all-in-all in Morocco.

Golf in Morocco

Morocco was long one of the foremost, if not the foremost, golf country in Northern Africa. This was largely because of the interest in golf by the then King Hassan II (father of the present day king). King Hassan II ruled Morocco from 1961 until his death 1999, and during that time he let build a number of golf courses. Today they are easily identified by their classic architecture, and by the prefix “Royal”.

During the late 1990s Morocco was challenged by several other Mediterranean countries in the area of golf. Tunisia evolved as a popular winter golf destination, as did Belek in Turkey. Egypt also developed rapidly into a golf destination.

Now Morocco is yet again betting heavily on golf. Many new courses have been built, and several more are in development. This time it is not “Royal” that is the key word, instead it is modern design by the likes of Gary Player, Robert Trent Jones, and Jack Nicklaus.

Many of the biggest golf developments are in the southern part of Morocco, the “Golden Triangle”.

The Golden Triangle

The area defined by the cities of Agadir, Marrakech, and Essaouira is commonly known as the Golden Triangle. It is here that you find the best winter climate, and it is here you find the majority of tourist development. It is also here that you find most of the golf courses of interest to the frozen golfers from the north, searching for some winter golf challenges. In addition to golf, Agadir offers sun and beach, Marrakech a cultural experience second to none, and Essaouira a bit of both, but in a more laid back environment.

Agadir

Agadir is the largest Moroccan tourist destination for those seeking sun and beach life. Numerous charter operators fly in tourists from Europe and beyond year round. Agadir has a pleasant climate and over 300 days of sunshine. And several excellent golf courses.

The golf courses in Agadir are concentrated in a small area, just south of the airport, about a 15 minute cab ride from the main beach hotel strip. The three courses you are most likely to play are Golf du Soleil, Golf les Dunes, and Golf l’Ocean. All three are right next to each other, and competition is intense – and that’s a good thing.

Golf du Soleil is the biggest of the three, with a total of 36 holes. It is a parkland course, on gently rolling land flanked by big eucalyptus trees. The red/yellow 18-hole combination is the easier of the two courses, with a layout that reminds us of many courses in Florida. Being the easier of the two doesn’t mean it is boring. There is plenty of water on the course, and it pays to play strategically, not just hit as far as possible.

The blue course is a little bit trickier, as it is both narrower and hillier. A good advice is to hire a caddie. They are very professional, and for a mere 15 euros they will be invaluable in improving your score. When you get to hole number 8, you round the Tikida Palace Hotel, a very nice, small hotel that is perfect for the vacationing golfer.

Golf les Dunes is right next door to Golf du Soleil. It has 27 holes in three different 9 hole courses that you can combine to make an 18 hole round.

Being right next door to Soleil, Dunes is very similar. If there is a difference, it is maybe a bit hillier than Soleil, but the challenges remain the same, water and eucalyptus trees. Dunes is a fine course, but everything is a bit smaller than at Soleil, and the standard is not quite as high.

Golf de l’Ocean is the newest, and in our opinion the best, course in Agadir. It also has 27 holes, divided into three 9 hole courses. Everything is first class at l’Ocean, from the clubhouse to the perfectly maintained greens. The course is also more varied than the other two, and being closer to the Atlantic has a bit of a links character on some of the holes. The wind is also a factor on this course.

In spite of the exclusivity, an 18 hole round at l’Ocean is only 60 euro, due to the intense competition between the three clubs in the area.

Find all the details about Golf l'Ocean here.

There are two more courses in Agadir. One is the older Agadir Royal Golf Club. It is one of the older courses, opened in 1955. The other course is the course at the king’s summer palace, Golf du Palais Royal d’Agadir. Unfortunately, you don’t get to play here unless you are invited by the king – we’re working on it J In the meantime, you can see the course on TV, when the European Tours visits each year.

Marrakech

Marrakech has seen a virtual explosion of golf courses recently, and more are being constructed even as we speak.

Right now, you have at least eleven courses to choose from:

Samanah Country Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus Design, opened in 2009. This is a fantastic golf course, built in a desert style about 8 km south of Marrakech. We were especially impressed with the quality of the greens, but the whole development is top notch.

Find all the details about Samanah here.

PalmGolf Marrakech (formerly called Palmeraie Golf Club), in the northeastern part of Marrakech, is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, featuring an 18 and a 9 holes course. Opened in 1993, it is a resort style course, with wide fairways in a rolling landscape. Lots of large shallow sand traps and strategically placed water hazards are the main obstacles on this otherwise fairly open course.

Amelkis Golf Club reminds us of many golf courses in Florida. It is a Cabell Robinson design, first opened in 1995. It has three 9 holes courses, that can be combined to make an 18 hole round. The course is in good shape and nice to play, but in no way exceptional.

Al Maaden Golf Resort is one of the newest courses in Marrakech, opened in 2010. It is a Kyle Phillips design, parkland/desert style, with a fair number of trees around the course. One way to describe the course would be as a mix between a Moroccan oasis and a Scottish links course. Al Maaden is part of a luxury resort, surrounded by high-end villas.

Atlas Golf Marrakech. If you only want to play for a couple of hours, or, horror of horrors, are traveling with non-golfers, try Atlas Golf Marrakech. It has only 9 holes, but with an exciting layout and an excellent bar and restaurant. Your “friends” can have a nice afternoon on the terrace while you get nine holes in. Atlas Golf is a stone’s throw from central Marrakech.

Royal Marrakech Golf Club is the oldest club in Marrakech.  It opened in 1923 (redesigned in 1933), so it is very much an old style golf course, with many straight holes with not too many difficulties. But the surroundings are pleasant with fairways lined by mature eucalyptus trees. And you can feel the winds of history on this course that has been played by dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and President Eisenhower.

In addition to the golf courses already mentioned, several new projects are underway in Marrakech, at various stages of completion. Some may already be open by the time you read this.

Assoufid Golf Club is designed by Niall Cameron. This course is near completion and should open soon. It is a membership only club, so it is unclear if it will allow greenfee players to visit. The club is located about 15 minutes from the center of Marrakech.

Domaine de Royal Palm, designed by Cabell Robinson, who has designed many courses in Morocco. It is about 12 km from Marrakech, and is starting to open for play.

Marrakech Golf City, designed by Gary Johnson/European Golf Design, is a bit further out in time. It will be one of the closest golf courses to the center of Marrakech.

Noria Golf Club, with a fantastic new club house was due to open last September, but to our knowledge it is not yet open.

When all these projects complete, Marrakech will be an even more fantastic golf destination than it already is today.

GTJ Recommends

So where to go, and which courses to play? It is always risky to give recommendations, since so much is up to personal taste, but we’ll stick our neck out an offer the following:

Golf, sun, and beach – Agadir

If, in addition to golf, you want sun and beach life, choose Agadir. But keep in mind that even in Agadir it gets a bit chilly in the water in mid-winter. Afternoon sunbathing by the pool is fine year round. Agadir is a popular charter destination, so it is relatively easy to find a good value.

Of the three major courses in Agadir, Golf de l’Ocean is the best in our opinion. It is located right next to the other two, Golf du Soleil and Dunes Golf Club. All three are located a few miles (15 minutes by taxi) from the beach and tourist areas. If you want to live in luxury practically on the course, choose Tikida Golf Palace, a small hotel surround by Golf du Soleil, and a few minutes from the other two.

Golf, culture, and shopping – Marrakech

If you want to immerse yourself in Moroccan culture, choose Marrakech. All the major low cost airlines serve Marrakech, so a weekend trip is possible.

There are many good golf courses in Marrakech. Samanah Country Club may be the best, located a bit out of town, but within taxi range. Not the easiest of courses, nothing for beginners, but highly recommended.

Long stay – Essaouira

Essaouira is a laid back costal town with a climate that is pleasant all year long. It is easy to fall into a more relaxed life style for a longer break from ice and cold. You will find most of what you find in Marrakech and Agadir, but at a smaller scale and a slower pace. And if you want to sample the “big city”, Marrakech is only a couple of hours away by car.

There is only one golf course in Essaouira, but it is a good one – one of the best in Morocco. Golf de Mogador, just outside of town, has two 18 hole courses.

Wild Card – Mazagan

Mazagan is outside “the Triangle”, located along the Atlantic coast about an hour south of Casablanca, near the town of El Jadida. In addition to a huge resort hotel and a fantastic links style golf course, it features a casino, a major draw for local tourism. The coast also has many good surf spots, and you can rent horses and go riding on the beach.

The golf course, designed by Gary Player, may be the best in Morocco right now, built on the dunes right next to the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Everything is first rate, including a fine driving range with unlimited free range balls.

To get there, you can fly Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, and take the hotel shuttle to Mazagan.

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