Your essential guide to a golf break in Morocco...
Morocco's ability to divert the travelling golfer's eye away from the more traditional golf holiday destinations should come as no surprise. This part of North Africa has been a tourist hotspot for years, catering for thousands of European holidaymakers thanks to a ight time under four hours, exceptional value and a fabulous year-round climate that betters the Algarve and Costa del Sol.
Couple that with its exciting culture, excellent food and quality golf courses that are both plentiful and easily accessible and it's perhaps more of a shock that even more British golfers aren't heading for Marrakesh and the Atlantic coast. But with the golf in those areas continuing to blossom and a genuinely world-class resort now present in the north of the country, Morocco's popularity will only continue its upward trend.
Where to play in... The North
Regular readers of GW will know the impact the newly-opened Michlifen Resort and Golf Club has had on us. Officially opened last October, we named the Ilfrane layout among five worldwide courses worthy of your time and money in our 2019 Hit List.
Whether Jack Nicklaus' first North African design can already be called the country's best is up for debate, but the fact it has thrust itself straight into the conversation says a lot for the work the Golden Bear has done on a site as scenic and beautiful as any you'll find anywhere in the world. If you're expecting scorched desert terrain or North African souks on narrow squares off dusty, brown-walled streets, you'll be disappointed. You'll find that experience in Marrakesh, an hour's flight south-west and featured overleaf.
For Michlifen you'll fly into Fes Saiss International and after an hour's drive, you'll see the mountainous landscapes and lush green trees that are the norm here. You'll also notice temperatures more suited to golf – warm, but not uncomfortable. And that's ideal because you don't want anything to distract you from a course where each hole is as memorable as the last.
Perhaps that rare feat comes from Nicklaus' reluctance to create a 'signature' hole when he can create a course full of them. It would be easy to highlight the close of each nine as the pick based on views as incredible as you'll ever experience, but that would be naïve. Here it feels as though each hole is etching its way onto your brain with its quality, subtlety and variety. The 18-time Major champion has drawn on all of his experience to create a course that forces you to think and make tricky decisions. Mountainous backdrops and the altitude make depth of perception and club selection a true challenge that can see you y one green and fall well short on the next.
For all our praise of Jack's ability to combine 18 incredible pieces as one, it's his work on a finishing hole that will always be the starting point when sharing your Michlifen story. As good as any finale you'll ever play, the fairway is bordered by a cli to its left and tall, dense trees to its right. A semi-blind uphill approach shot has to find a green that runs o in every direction.
You can reflect on that, and 17 other seriously special holes, in the clubhouse overlooking the final green or the Alpine-style five-star hotel. Designed to reflect the period of French influence (Michlifen means 'snow flake') and control that began in the 19th century and oficially ended with Moroccan independence in 1956, it is the definition of luxury with five-star suites, three world-class restaurants and an exceptional spa. The only downside is that you won't want to leave.
Where to play in... Marrakesh
The Land of God, Country of the Sons of Kush, The Red City, The Daughter of the Desert. Marrakesh (or Marrakech to give its French spelling) is a city with nearly as many nicknames as visitors. Once a destination for a multitude of meanderers from merchants to military and pilgrims to preachers, it has had many different rulers and bears the architectural signage of many different cultures. But today, it's tourism that rules here thanks to its history, the winding Souk market and, more recently, its golf courses that are dotted across the city.
Royal Palm Marrakech is an ideal base, situated to the south-west and boasting a quality and quirky Cabell B Robinson layout as its star. The world-class complex that surrounds the course offers a luxury stay that won't be bettered in the area. It sits next door to Samanah, a modern, desert-style course by Nicklaus design with rippling fairways that are a joy to stride.
But it's a different desert-style layout that is our favourite. Still on the south-west outskirts of Marrakesh, Assoufid was named Africa's best new course in 2015 and its best course in 2017 and 2018. Scotsman Niall Cameron's first design combines strategic holes with pretty ones and takes full advantage of the undulating landscape. The lush Bermuda fairways contrast the desert surroundings perfectly, while a dry creek winding throughout and views of the snow- capped Atlas Mountains add a further element.
They remain in view – as they do at many Marrakesh courses – at Montgomerie Marrakech. A 2013 design by the European Ryder Cup legend in association with European Golf Design, this sits right in the heart of the city and is a true test from the tips. It's a must for your itinerary, coupled with the nearby nine-hole Atlas Golf.
Tony Jacklin's modern design at Noria, with its clever angles and square greens, is surprisingly fun and completes the picture in the south-west, from where we east to Al Maaden. Renowned American designer Kyle Phillips uses deep bunkers to excellent effect, there's a crazy, water-based finish and those beautiful mountains o er the backdrop once again.
Nearby Royal Golf offers a historical and classy experience, while a drive north of the city takes you to the widely-known Palmeraie. Designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones Snr, it's been challenging visitors since 1992 and is a superb play-and- stay option. Amelkis is its closest neighbour and more than worthy of a visit if your itinerary allows, although, in truth, more than one visit will be required to take in all Marrakesh has to o er.
Where to play in... Atlantic Coast
Combining a visit to the Atlantic Coast with a trip to Marrakesh is a viable option with the two only separated by a couple of hours' drive. However, the sheer volume of quality golf in both areas means we'd recommend at least two separate trips to truly enjoy both and a further jaunt to Michlifen to get the best from all.
Planning a trip to this coastline raises two options. You can pick a resort, play its courses and enjoy it for every luxury it has to offer. Or, you can follow our lead and spend a week hopping among them. The latter entails more effort (and miles), yes, but is exceptionally rewarding. Start at Mazagan Beach, near El Jadida.
Arguably the star of the coast, it was opened in 2010 with its links-style course designed by Gary Player and is the perfect example of a venue you might not want to leave. While the nine-time major champion's design is within a resort, it's far from a resort course. Playing at more than 7,000 yards and with sea breezes, this is a playable but serious test for all, especially towards the end of the front nine which plays alongside the coast.
Spend the night at Mazagan and you can play nearby El Jadida, designed by the prolific Cabell B Robinson, before making the journey further down the coast to Mogador. South African icon Player has again had a hand at this site near Essaouira, routing the North course through what was once a dense pine forest in 2009. Wide fairways, a particularly good back nine and spectacular, unhindered Atlantic Ocean views make for a superb resort golf experience.
Finally, in the Agadir area, there are enough options to play for a week. The best sits 15 minutes north of the city within the Taghazout resort. Comfortably among Morocco's top-five courses, the Tazegzout is another astute Kyle Phillips design that offers at least a glimpse of the coast from every hole. Sitting 80 metres above sea level, the cliff top layout cuts through indigenous Argan forest, plays over ravines and along the cli edge with a particularly spectacular climax.
Logistics: Plenty of flights from across the UK to Marrakesh especially, plus Agadir, Essaouira and Fes Saiss. Takes around three-and-a-half hour. Costs from £50.
Time: GMT+1 (changed time zones in 2018)