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Morocco certainly fits the bill of being a winter holiday golf destination with a difference
Let's be honest here - golf in the UK during winter can be a real pain, involving as it does sub-zero temperatures, temporary greens which are often little more than a bit of shaved fairway with a flag stuck in, and mats from which to play approach shots. Not only that, but the winter season, as far as golf is concerned, can last from the beginning of November to the end of March - a full five months.

No wonder then that we're always looking for alternative destinations where we can get away for a few days of winter sunshine and shirt-sleeve golf. And there are few pleasures in life to surpass flying out of the Britain to escape six degrees of frost and, within 24 hours, teeing it up at some exotic location having remembered to apply adequate amounts of sun cream. Makes you feel quite smug.

Winter golf holidays are so popular now that the chances are you will already have sampled some of the more traditional and well-established venues, such as Spain, Portugal and Florida, and are therefore in the market for something a little different. Another reason for seeking out new destinations is that, when a country or region first starts to market itself to winter golfers, it recognises it is moving into a crowded and popular market-place and therefore pitches its prices accordingly, recognising the need to attract people to a new area by first offering a cheaper alternative.

Which brings us to Morocco. It sits on the north-west corner of Africa, with the Mediterranean to the north and Atlantic to the east, and is guaranteed year round sunshine - rarely does the average daily temperature drop below 60F. Golf has been played here for a long time but only recently has the country made a concerted effort to market and promote itself specifically to golfers.

In a nutshell, the golf and climate are attractive and welcoming, the golf courses less so. The party I was with stayed in Agadir, a popular tourist resort on the Atlantic coast, and the town has two main courses, Dunes and Golf Du Soleil, which both boast 27 holes, and Royal GC of Agadir, which has nine. We only played at Golf Du Soleil - the Dunes was either too busy or too disinterested to host us. But in order to get a taste of the place, some of us arranged to visit, simply to have a look and get an idea of what to write about, but we may as well have not bothered.

Despite having telephoned in advance and organised a time to suit the club, when we arrived no-one seemed at all interested in showing us around, talking about the facilities or even, frankly, being polite, which is a pity, because the course looks as if it offers an interesting challenge.

This is not a whinge from pampered journalists who expect to be treated like royalty and offered the courtesy of the course wherever they go - if a course would rather accept paying customers than freeloading writers, only a fool would argue. But it is a whinge from a group of visitors to a foreign country who organised a visit to a golf course simply to research enough to write about it but who were then ignored. Simply, it was and is bad manners and is not the way to treat guests if you want them to return. And as a consequence, no more will be said about the course or club facilities.

And so to Golf Du Soleil, which was certainly more welcoming but then it received a substantial number of green fees for four days so that is not, perhaps, a surprise. There are three loops of nine holes - yellow, red and blue - that offer distinct challenges. Yellow is the tougher, blue the more strategic, needing greater accuracy, while red is the easier, and therefore probably most enjoyable. We managed to play all three combinations and the general consensus was that, after the first day, once you've got a few kinks out of your swing, the most popular combination was yellow/red.

This 18 measures 5,980 metres (about 6, 578 yards) and has a par of 72 - each loop of nine consists of two par threes, two par fives and five par fours for symmetry. Fairways are generously wide but if you do run out of room there's a real possibility of ending up beneath or among eucalyptus, tamarisk, mimosa or palm trees. There are some water hazards but they are not over-intrusive and much of the course's defence is down to fairway and greenside bunkering, elevated greens and large putting surfaces with some obvious and many subtle borrows - in 72 holes, for example, I can only recall facing two straight putts.

If you have a handicap of 13 or above, caddies are compulsory and they seem to range in ability from bag carriers to full caddies - although it was noticeable that in any given fourball, no more than two of the caddies would be novices and there were always a couple who could read the greens and offer advice on the line - and they were pretty accurate.

At the time of writing, there were about 15 Moroccan dirham to the pound, which means that 100 dirham would pay for your caddy (80 MD) and a tip, and cost you £6, which is pretty good value in anyone's language. On currency, you should be aware that you cannot buy Moroccan dirhams until you reach the country, and cannot bring any home with you. However, euros (in fact, just about any currency) seem to be widely accepted once you're there.

Golfers with a handicap below 13 could either carry their own clubs or hire a trolley, which I did once in the name of research but frankly, at those prices it's folly not to have a caddy and it certainly helps the local economy. Green fees are also reasonable and a guide price would be £35-40, inclusive of caddy. Golf Du Soleil is a relatively new (opened in 1999) course in good condition so its fees are fairly representative of other courses in Morocco.

The royal and ancient game is fairly new to the country, the British built its first course in the early 1900s, and owes much of its recent growth to the passion shown for the game by King Hassan II, who died in 1999 but was succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI, who is equally enthusiastic about the game. Unfortunately, the drawback of this notable patronage is that just about every other course, or so it seems, is called 'royal' something or other, which can get confusing.

Morocco is a Muslim country and although the language is Arabic (most valuable word, 'shukran', which means 'thank you'), French is almost universally understood and in most places people understand enough English for you to get by. Yes, as with many Arab-speaking countries, begging, or rather, street trading of souvenirs, is endemic but not to the point of being over-persistent or worrying. In local shops and souks (markets), haggling is commonplace - as a general guide, look to pay between 50-60% of the price originally quoted.

Agadir has a wide, sweeping, sandy beach and we stayed in one of the town's newest beach resort hotels, the Meridien Palace des Roses, which we inevitably nicknamed 'Rosie's Palace'. It is built in a large horseshoe around a superb swimming pool (pictured above) leading to its own private part of the beach. Wide open public areas and high ceilings characterise the Mooorish architecture, offering a great feeling of space and light.

As yet the town of Agadir has not been swamped by the tourists it hopes to attract, and the hotels built to accommodate them, but you sense it won't be too long before it goes the way of the Costa Del Sol in Spain. However, many countries have learned from Spain's mistakes and although there is evidence of a lot of hotel building, the height to which they can reach looks to be strictly controlled. In short, if you are planning to go, do it now before development takes over.

As an alternative golfing destination Morocco has a great deal to offer, and in contrast to the Dunes GC, almost everyone we met was warm, friendly and welcoming. This is particularly true of Adrar Aventure, a local tourist operator that helped with our trip and which could not have been more helpful.

But if you want any sort of golfing holiday to Morocco made easy, ScottishGolf recommends Action Travel, which has offices in London.

Finally, Morocco is only three hours flying time from London and the national carrier, Royal Air Maroc, offers regular scheduled flights.


Golf fact file
RABAT
Royal Goff Club Dar Es-Salam (45 holes)
Robert Trent Jones design; often rated among his best, and therefore among the best in the world. Plays host the Hassan II Trophy each year.

Bouznika Bay (9 hole)
Part of a beach resort community, this is a 40-minute drive from Rabat, the nation's capital, it is floodlit to allow 24-hour play.

CASABLANCA
Royal Golf D'Anfa (9 holes)
A par 35 course, 2,710m in the centre of the racecourse. Flowers and trees are an integral part of the fairways.

Mohammedia
Royal Golf Club (18 holes)
Considered the best golf in Morocco (18 holes, 5,917m, par 72) before Royal Dar-Es-Salam opened, this will appeal to lovers of links golf but not if they become entangled in the cactus plants that infest the sand dunes

Ben Slimane
Royal Golf Club (9 holes)
An immense lake dominates the course and ensures that five of the holes feature water prominently in play. It is also characterised by many mature trees of different types.

Settat University
Royal Golf club (9 holes)
Established as part of the university's sports and studies programme, characterised by wide, flat fairways, large greens and a relative absence of bunkers. Par 37 (3,215m).

EL JADIDA
Sofitel Royal Golf Club (18 holes)
Natural flora and fauna characterise this layout and the architects, Cabell and Robinson, have gone out of their way to ensure that, no matter what your standard of play, the experience here will still be an enjoyable one - at least, it will if you're a lover of wildlife. It measures 6,539 metres, par 72, and is enough of a challenge for anyone.

MEKNES
Royal Golf Club (9 holes)
Situated in the gardens of the royal palace behind high battlement walls, this offers something very different - not least a journey back through time.

FEZ
Royal Golf Club (9 holes)
Surrounded by high ramparts, this course 3,168m, par 37 course, has a number of intrusive water hazards so good scores can be hard to come by.

MARRAKESH (also MARRAKECH)
Royal Golf Club (18 holes)
Beautifully situated at the foot of the Atlas Mountains with snow-covered peaks as a backdrop to your game of golf. Par 72 (6,200m) course with superb views. Famous for the condition of its greens and, since it opened in 1923, been a favourite of British visitors and residents.

Golf Palmeraie (18 holes)
The golf course (18 holes,), Another Robert Trent Jones layout, this time of 6,214m, par 72. Has seven lakes and will challenge all standards of golfer. Part of the Palmeraie Golf Palace and Resort, a five-star development and has not one straight hole in its challenging layout.

Club Amelkis (18 holes)
One of the newest golf courses in the country, it stretches to 6,657m, par 72, which is more than enough golf for anybody. Has the feel of an American country club and is a tough challenge.

AGADIR
Royal Golf Club (9 holes)
One of the best-known courses in the country, characterised by large, well-bunkered greens. Soon to be expanded to 18 holes.

Golf Des Dunes (27 holes)
Three lops of nine all offering their own challenge, of which the yellow nine is probably the most difficult.

Golf Du Soleil (27 holes)
See main feature above

OUARZAZATE
Royal Golf Club (9 holes)
Again at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains but also on the edge of the desert, making for a delightful contrast. Mounded, undulating fairways meander between palm trees and a huge lake - which makes for a particularly challenging final hole.

TANGIER
Royal Country Club (18 holes)
Opened in 1917, this is Morocco's oldest course and to many is reminiscent of a classic English parkland course. Features large, elevated greens, tree-lined fairways, especially on the back nine, and an excellent view of Tangier.

Cabot Negro Royal Golf Club (18 holes)
Originally designed by Martin Hawtree it was left uncompleted in the 1970s before being finished by Cabell Robinson, who has designed many of Morocco's courses. It offers wide fairways and large greens protected by shallow bunkers. Not the country's toughest layout but one of the most enjoyable.

Other contacts
Action Travel Ltd
92 Bishops Bridge Road
London W2 5AA
Tel: +44 (0) 207 313 9006
Fax: +44 (0) 207 727 7818
Email: info@action-travel.co.uk or: info@moroccogolf.co.uk
Website: www.moroccogolf.co.uk

Adrar-Adventure
No 111 cite Saada-Menara
Marrakech
Maroc
Tel: (+212) 44 43 56 63 or 44 43 93 86
E-mail: adrar-sec@iam.net.ma
Website: www.adrar-aventure.com

Royal Maroc Airways
Safar Flyer
Royal Air Maroc
Airoport CASA ANFA
Casablanca
Maroc
Tel: (+212) 22 48 97 31
E-mail: safarflyer@royalairmaroc.co.ma
Website: www.royalairmaroc.com.






©    12 - JANUARY 2004



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