A Course Fit for a King | Adventures In Golf Season 4


Hi. I’m Erik, and this is
Adventures in Golf. For this episode,
we came to Morocco. And all I can really
say is that rarely have my expectations been
exceeded when visiting a place. I can’t wait for you
to see this episode. [MUSIC PLAYING] On our latest adventure,
we’re traveling to Morocco, a North
African country that’s history with golf
dates back to 1914 with the Royal Tangiers Club. It was Tangiers, along
with two additional clubs, that would represent golf in
Morocco for the next 50 years. It wasn’t until the late
’60s that King Hassan II, a huge golfing enthusiast,
would commission American golf architect Robert Trent Jones to
design Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, inspiring a new era for
golf in the country. Opened in 1971 on
a 1,000-acre site, the 45-hole course was the
largest in the kingdom, and it’s the first
stop on our trip. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Joining us today is golf course
designer Benjamin Warren. What were you saying
about the security here and why it’s a
little bit more intense. This is the Royal
Golf Club right here. Royal family members
play a lot of golf here. Ben is extremely
familiar with this course because he was brought in as
part of the major renovation that began in 2016. So there’s three courses, and
you worked on how many of them? So I worked as a shaper
on the red course and I was a co-designer
on the green course. I hate to do this, but how does
it compare to American courses or resorts? So the royal family here
love golf in America. You know, they’ve
spent a lot of time over there vacationing,
playing, and they wanted that kind of golf
experience here in Morocco. So in the late
’60s, King Hassan II went in search of the
world’s best golf architect. At that time that was
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. He came over here, and
the rest is history. Robert Trent Jones wasn’t
the only American the king imported for his passion. In the mid 1960s, the King
brought Claude Harmon in to be his golf instructor. And when Claude moved his
family to Morocco in 1971, his son Butch Harmon became the
head pro of the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam soon after. And upon our arrival
to the course, we sit down with former
professional golfer Michel Besanceney, the site manager for
the renovation, to learn more. So already I can
tell, just from being inside this clubhouse for a
minute, that it’s very unusual. From what I know of
the story, Trent Jones came back with blueprints
from a clubhouse in Florida. We’re talking about early ’70s. So this is, I think,
it’s the sister ship of a clubhouse in Florida. This is typical 1970,
you know, with the years and some different president,
different committees, and all. They have been
some, I would say, some other architectural issues. But the original, here
it’s a pure blend 1970s. At this course, there is an
extraordinarily high level standard to perfection. The thing is that
His Royal Highness and his father, the late King
Hassan II was a keen golfer. And this is not just golf as,
I would say, a little hobby. It is really a passion for
golf, and they are really keen golfers. And when they are targeting
is a high-level course. And you’ll see by yourself
that the course here is a world class 45 holes
world class facility. I can’t wait. Yeah. Oh, you’ll see. You’ll see. There are tough
greens, tough greens. He will explain you
about the greens. It’s his fault. Yeah. And now it was time to see just
how tough the greens are, along with the man who
shaped them himself. How many times have
you played this course? You know what? I’ve only played this course
after renovation twice. Really? Yeah. So is this a weird thing to
be playing it, or is it cool? It’s still special for me. Yeah, absolutely. When I come back here, the
tournament’s happening, and I don’t get to play. So this is pretty neat. All right, we’re at
your home course. Take it away, Ben. I’m excited. Ooh, that is sandy soil. You can hear the tee go, crunch. That’s nice. Already, this course is way
more lush than I was expecting. There’s big rivers running
right through this town. I mean, we are. this side
of the Atlas Mountains, OK, it’s not lush at
this time of year, but there are times of year when
it’s just everything is green, and it’s beautiful. That’s pretty stuff, man. The trees really make it pretty. Set in a forest of cork,
oak, and eucalyptus trees, it doesn’t take long to
see why this site was chosen for a king’s course. We’ve played a lot
of golf, you know, but this is one for
the comeback book. 120 meters or yards? Meters. Meters. The club still works, though. What do you know? The greens are
severely undulating, I’m seeing on my first approach. The rough is not terribly penal. You’ve got a lot
of trees obviously. But primarily, you’ve
got a lot of land. You won’t see that
many facilities with 45 of this level
without real estate. Here, there is no real estate. It’s just pure golf. No actual setup, just pure golf. That’s very rare. Tell me a little about
how you refresh these, or how do you say it? Absolutely. Trent Jones came out here. He built this 45-hole facility. For one reason or
another, the greens that he wanted to build on the
red course didn’t get built. So James Duncan was hired by
His Royal Highness, the prince of Morocco, about three
years ago to come in and to try and put this
course back to the state that Jones wanted it in. And James went to
Cornell University. He went into the
Trent Jones archives, where they’ve archive material
from 300 to 400 projects that he did all
around the world, and he found his original
sketches for these greens. So we took the sketches,
and we basically interpreted them to make this
challenging for the modern day professional. So these pens were
all in his sketch. This is our interpretation, but
this is what Mr. Jones wanted. All right. Well, let’s see about this putt. I’m so excited right now. Nice, nice. Ah, good putt. Pretty true, right? OK, so short par 4, crazy green. Tell me about this. It’s a short hole. The guys are hitting
lob wedges now. So we just brought the
amplitude up a little bit. So you came out here to
basically doctor this course for the professionals? No, this is a members
course as well. So there’s fun pin
positions on every green, but there’s also
some holy of holies, as Tom Simpson used to call it. Tom Simpson, the guy that
wrote the book 100 years ago? Yeah. Wow. This is like that fine
line between being really interesting and
fun and not being wonky. Do you know what I mean? Like, it feels playable and
each putt, you’d be like, oh, this is cool. What do I have here? Yeah. So you have an incredible
world knowledge of golf. What is it about this place that
is a fond experience for you? It’s the Moroccan people. It starts in finishes
with the Moroccan people. For me, here it’s
history and soul. You can feel the soul. I can’t stress enough
how much we travel– all the time, you know this– and a lot of times,
I find myself feeling it never quite
meets the expectations, especially when it’s
something important. But I can’t wait to come back. Before leaving Morocco
we get a chance to stop by a course
that’s a bit more modern. Opened in 2014, the
Assoufid Golf Club was designed to integrate
with the natural landscape as much as possible. To learn more, we’re meeting
with Golf Director Guy Maxwell and Architect Reda
Channane at the course. This is quite a spot. What is this pink sand
I’m seeing around? That’s the natural desert color. These zones that you see are
the natural desert terrain that it was actually built on. From a water consumption
point of view, it’s quite interesting
as well the fact that you have these
zones between the tees and the fairways that
don’t need to be watered. And obviously they’re rough. We just let it
absolutely natural, so that helps reduce the
water consumption, which was Niall Cameron, the
architect, he did a great job. Yeah. So you mentioned the
name Neil Cameron. I haven’t heard of
him, looked him up. He did one golf course,
and we’re standing on it. That’s absolutely correct, yeah. Yes. That’s so interesting. Yes, Neil was a European
tour player back in the ’80s actually. And he was actually
the director of golf in Sicily, Verdura,
a Rocco Forte resort, and he had a close
connection with one of the original shareholders. And that was
basically the contact, just come in and have a look. We’re planning to have a
hotel golf course resort. Can you come and have a look? And he ended up designing it. But I think his experience of
playing golf around the world and whatnot, and he’s
got a very good eye, I think he did a terrific job. These are beautiful tee boxes,
nice crossed mowing pattern, and I mean that’s a– Yes, this is our little
signature hole par-3. This is actually the 17th hole. As you can see, it’s
quite an elevation. I don’t know if it
reminds you a little bit of the 12th at Augusta. The only thing different
is we’ve got what they call [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] here
instead of a lake in front of the green. The players have a lot of fun. I mean, you can judge
easily the distance you will have because
there’s a lot of depressions, and it’s a little
bit windy comparing to other courses in Marrakech
because of the site. So it’s more interesting. But with a flight to
catch, I won’t get a chance to play Assoufid today,
giving me yet another reason to return to the wonderful
country of Morocco in the very near future.

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