Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s longtime partner, once commented that artists have a way of not really dying. They leave a piece of themselves behind in their many accomplishments, reminders to those who come after them to raise the bar and keep tradition alive. The same can be said of great leaders, designers and even golfers.
Morocco, steeped in tradition and history, has entered an age where the traditional and modern coincide beautifully and harmoniously. This is evident in everything from architecture to everyday life in various cities like Marrakesh, Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat. Under the leadership of King Hassan II the country adopted a broad market-based economy, where agriculture, tourism, and phosphate mining play a major economic role unlike most other Arab countries that are dependent on oil. A component of the tourism sector that has grown steadily over the years came about in a most unpredicted way through the King’s love of golf.
Traditions and legacies take time to be built. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than what King Hassan II created back in 1971 with the inception of the Hassan II Golf Trophy. His love for golf created surprising friendships, an aura of diplomacy and the start of golf tourism for the country. He was ahead of his time by realizing that golf was a way for him to showcase the best of his country to influential people including an international cast of PGA playing professionals. King Hassan II was an early adapter of a strategy that many country tourist boards are currently trying to develop and implement.
Golf has played a role in Morocco for over a century with the first course opening in Tangier in 1914. Today there are more than 30 courses with several more in development. King Hassan II had such a passion for golf that he created interest, intrigue, good will and put the best of Morocco on display through golf. He surrounded himself with many influential golf people like Billy Casper and Calude Harmon that in their own right were legends of the game and came to love Morocco and treat it as their second home.
Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, the second son of King Hassan II, was intrigued by golf at an early age and has continued with the golf legacy and good will his father started back in 1971. In 2011 the Hassan II Trophy became an official event on the European Tour and The Lalla Meryem Cup, the woman’s version played the same week, is an event on the Ladies European Tour circuit. This is the only place in the world where a professional men’s and woman’s tournament is held the same week. Two years ago the US Open held back to back events at Pinehurst; however, the example Morocco has set by having the events take place simultaneously should be greatly commended for what it says about golf and equal opportunity.
It wasn’t just the dignitaries and golfers that made their way to Morocco. The jet-set, artists and fashion designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol and the Getty family were all regular visitors. Interestingly Paul and Taltha Getty settled in Marrakech in 1966 and became close friends with Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge. At the time, YSL was regarded as one of the greatest names in fashion history; known for championing both couture and ready-to-wear at a time when both were struggling. Morocco’s influence on fashion has been expressed in everything from couture to mainstream appeal with the likes of J Crew crediting Morocco with its vibrant textiles, rich culture and exotic allure as an inspiration for current fashion trends and styles.
YSL and other artists were all hugely influential with the jet-set crowd and often pioneered trends among their peers including the interest in Marrakech. In 1980 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the Majorelle Garden, a residence and botanical garden that he often visited to find inspiration for his fashion. Under the watchful and talented eye of Stephen Di Renza, formally Alfred Dunhill’s artistic director, the boutique at the Majorelle Garden is a unique fashion paradise with a number of designers carefully curated. Di Renza has sourced the best of Morocco and created pieces of jewelry and fashion items that are unique and exclusive to the boutique as well as showcasing modern artists.
YSL so loved Morocco that upon his death in 2008 his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Marrakech at the Majorelle Garden. Each year this beloved garden treasure is visited by 800,000 international and Moroccan visitors.
The top recommendations for golf courses around Marrakech are: 1) Assoufid -due to its stunning use of the natural landscape, partial desert and partial palm trees, and the challenge it offers players. 2) Domain Palm Royal Golf Course -the quality of the greens and the sophisticated irrigation system keeps the course well hydrated. 3) Samanah Golf – this Nicklaus designed course presents a great challenge to players. Championships are often held here and the course is always well maintained. 4) Al Maaden – a Kyle Phillips design is in the heart of the hilly countryside facing the Atlas Mountains.
Four amazing and unique hotels in Marrakech that can all arrange golf packages are: 1) La Mamounia – Opened in 1923 this legendary luxury hotel has stood the test of time and among its many awards it was voted Best Urban Hotel in the World 2013 by Condé Nast Traveler. Set on a 20-acre park this hotel is a treasure that has hosted many of the jet-set over the years. www.mamounia.com 2) Selman Hotel – Beyond the incredible décor of this hotel the Arabian thoroughbred stables that are on property and allow visitors to see these amazing creatures in an unprecedented atmosphere. www.selman-marrakech.com 3) Four Seasons Marrakech – In the heart of the Red City the hotel is a resort-like oasis that brings together the best of Moroccan architecture, entertainment and style with all of the luxuries the Four Seasons is known for. www.fourseasons.com/marrakech 4) Royal Mansour – the ultimate in a luxury riad experience this gem is tucked within the walls of old Marrakech. Using skills passed down through generations, local artisans use traditional decoration to complete the indulgence. www.royalmansour.com