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red city


ALL GREEN FOR THE Morocco


Surrounded by championship courses, Marrakech is spearheading Morocco's drive to become a serious golf destination. Nick Bayly reports


T


here are few corners of the globe that golf hasn’t managed to infiltrate with its intoxicating, and often infuriating, pleasures — and Morocco is by no means


one of them. But while the kingdom’s golfing heritage stretches back


almost a century, it was only in the 1980s and 1990s — during the reign of the late King Hassan II — that the game got on to a more serious commercial footing. More than 20 courses were built around cities such as Agadir, Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and Tangiers at this time. The current king, Mohammed VI, has continued where his


father leſt off, with a golf-tourism strategy that has created a tranche of openings inching the tally of courses in the country closer to 40. What’s more, a touch of luxury marks Morocco’s appeal as


a golfing destination today. With many of the layouts built around five-star resorts and high-end property developments, these new venues are unashamedly aimed at atracting more affluent golfers. That trend looks certain to continue with yet more luxury resorts in the pipeline. While the resorts along the Mediterranean coast have


always been a hot spot for holidaymakers, it's Marrakech that is blazing the trail for tourism in Morocco, with its walled ‘Red City’ proving a magnet for those looking to experience the heady mix of the bustling souks along with the more refined pleasures associated with five-star resorts and boutique riads. Golf is an integral part of this equation, and by early 2017 there will be at least 14 courses open for play within Marrakesh’s city limits. While visitors from France make up a large percentage of


the golfing population — French is Morocco’s second language — a growing number of British travellers are cotoning on to Marrakech’s appeal as a winter destination. The period from November through to February is particularly appealing, with daytime temperatures generally up above 20C at a time when Spain and Portugal aren’t quite so warm. The summer months are searingly hot and the green fees take this into account, for those willing to brave the heat. While the Royal Golf Marrakech, Palmeraie and Amelkis


are established names, over the past few years they’ve been joined by a raſt of new clubs such as Samanah, Marrakech Golf City and Al Maaden. With well-known architects such as Jack


Nicklaus, Gary Player and Kyle Phillips adding to their appeal. In 2014 Assoufid, a stunning desert-style course designed by Niall Cameron, opened. That was soon followed by Colin Montgomerie’s Montgomerie Marrakech. Last year the first tee hit off at PalmGolf Marrakech-Ourika, a sister club to Palmeraie, taking the city’s golf offering to well over 220 holes. With the land around Marrakech being as flat as a pita


bread, all of the golf courses offer stunning views of the snow- capped Atlas mountains, and clever landscaping means they’re all doted with palm trees and water features. With Menara airport and the city centre a mere 10-20 minute taxi ride away, golfers here benefit from easy transfers. There are sightseeing trips, too, with a number of hotels providing free shutles to the main atractions. And while many non-golfing tourists choose to stay in one


of the 800-plus privately owned riads for which Marrakech is renowned, most hardened golfers will prefer to be much closer to the action and are spoilt for choice with a wide range of accommodation in the golf resorts. Marrakech itself is a vibrant, cultural hub, offering a rare


blend of history, culture, architecture, cuisine, shopping and a buzzing nightlife. Like many Moroccan cities, it comprises an old fortified city surrounded by a number of more trendy districts, where Morocco’s elite rub shoulders with hipster travellers around rooſtop infinity pools at boutique hotels, to drink in the Marrakech vibe. At ground level, market traders vie for visitors’ atention


in the maze of backstreets that spin off the Jemaa el-Fna, a vast square bustling with fruit-sellers, snake charmers and musicians by day, while by night, food stalls open to transform it into a huge open-air restaurant, with waiters bidding enthusiastically for passing trade. Away from the chaotic confines of the city, those with a taste


for the outdoors beyond the fairways can indulge in a multitude of activities, with skiing, hiking, hot-air ballooning and 4x4 driving all available in the Atlas Mountains, just a 90-minute drive away. In the same time zone as London, with plenty of affordable


flights, Marrakech could soon be rivalling southern Spain for long-weekend golf breaks, although I’d advise staying a litle longer to experience the choice of stunning golf courses and its intoxicating cultural atractions.


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