I have to preface this review by mentioning that our visit to Noria didn’t start off very well. “Who are you, and why are you here?” is not how I am used to being greeted when I visit a golf club to play and review it, but today there was obviously some confusion. The sad part was that once it was all cleared up, no excuses were offered and service was all but polite. Hopefully, this was just a bad day for the club manager.
Noria is an ambitious attempt at fusing traditional Moroccan architecture with modern golf course design. Whether it succeeds depends largely on your views on golf traditions. Is it ok to have completely rectangular greens? Can water hazards be marble-clad rectangular ponds with elaborate fountains? Or is this sacrilege?
The opening holes are quite ordinary, but one quickly notices another characteristic of many of the holes: elevated greens with nice runoff areas, but with surfaces that are almost completely flat. In other words sometimes hard to hit, but once you are on the green, putting is “easy”.
Traditional irrigation, complete with a noria water wheel on one of the holes, provides many of the course features. You see it first on the second hole, again behind the 3rd green, but it really comes into play starting on the signature 8th hole.
My first impression of this hole was that it resembled miniature golf but on a grand scale. As you stand on the tee before you is a large, rectangular pond, followed by a grass surface, over which looms a tower with a small opening at the bottom. Just like the 18th hole of a miniature golf course, where you’re supposed to hit the ball through the little opening to finish your round.
This is of course not how the hole is played. The rectangular grass surface after the rectangular pond is the two-tiered green, with a valley between the tiers that make your putt a touchy one if the flag is at the back of the green.
How you feel about this hole pretty much determines how you feel about the entire course. Can a proper golf course feature rectangular ponds and rectangular greens? Personally, I found it interesting and sometimes architecturally enticing, but detracting from the golf experience. But to each his own.
The geometric style continues on the 9th hole, a downhill par four taking you back towards the clubhouse. To the right of the fairway is an irrigation canal, and the fairway slopes to the right, making it crucial that you place your tee shot with care. Around the completely rectangular green, the canal ends in another rectangular pond, that separates the 9th from the 18th hole. The backdrop to this scenery is the two-story modern clubhouse with a huge, canvas canopy intended to remind you of a Berber tent. Again, architecturally stunning, but is it golf?
Since we visited in the winter, some of the grasses were dormant. The fairways were green, but a strange, light green color we did not see on any other course in Marrakech, and they were very hard. The semi-rough, on the other hand, was yellow and had the consistency of Brillo. The ball was often resting on top of the grass, a centimeter or two over the hard surface. Playable, but calling for unusual shot techniques.
The course is quite new, and when it matures a bit the fairways may improve. As more trees grow on the property, the geometric features may become less prominent. Until then, I would only recommend this course if you are curious about architecture.