The pinnacle of luxury
As you follow the highway southwest of Marrakech the landscape is predominantly flat, not unlike what you would see on the plains of the US Midwest. The likelihood of arriving at an interesting golf course seems small, very small.
But as you turn off the highway in the direction of the Atlas Mountains, the landscape magically changes and an oasis of hills and green grass materializes as out of nowhere. You have arrived at Assoufid Golf Club.
This feeling of magic transformation is actually not entirely unfamiliar. It is not uncommon in countries where golf courses are carved out of the desert. But here at Assoufid the change was so dramatic that even seasoned golf journalists were taken by surprise.
Assoufid is another of the many new golf developments in Marrakech, having opened in 2014. It is clearly one of the more luxurious, no costs seem to have been spared. The modern clubhouse is elegantly furnished and decorated with contemporary art, the fairways, greens, and tee boxes are all immaculately maintained.
So how is the course? Here there were some mixed feelings in our group.
The course starts with a straight par four that looks more difficult than it is. Right from the start you are also treated to breathtaking views of the Atlas Mountains, a view that the designer Niall Cameron has managed to incorporate on most of the holes. It then starts climbing into a central hill on the course.
On hole three you are faced with one of the very long par 3s on the course. At 196 meters from the club tees, this hole will demand a driver for most players. The same holds for hole 12, another long par 3 at 193 meters. In my opinion there’s no reason to challenge the average player with holes like these, especially with the penalty of ending up in the waste areas if your drive is a bit off line.
Speaking of the waste areas, this is another area of contention. The rough at Assoufid consists almost entirely of waste areas. This in itself is fairly typical of desert courses, but for some unknown reason the waste areas at Assoufid have not been cleared of rocks and pebbles. This means that you often get a lie where you risk severe damage to your clubs if you decide to hit the ball as it lies. To me this is unacceptable. I cannot understand why the waste areas are not cleared of rocks as they are on all other courses in the area.
Other than these two (fixable) complaints the course is a delight to play, especially the second nine. Fairways are generally wide and accommodating, although firm and quite sloped on some holes. You need to play the course a few times to get a grip on where to aim to avoid rolling into the rough.
For long hitters, one of the best holes is the drivable par 4 sixth hole. The tee box is placed high above the level of the green, tempting you to go for it, but a deep valley on the left catches the ball of the unwary. The seventh is another hole that makes you wonder if you can take a shortcut. A 90 degree dogleg left again tempts you to “cut the corner”, but here the penalty is even more severe than on the 6th; your ball will surely be lost in the ravine if you fail. Two very good holes.
On the 10th hole you get a tough challenge. A long par four with a dry river protecting the green. Most golfers would be wise to opt for a layup and settle for a bogey.
At the 14th you are faced with another challenge; two different routes to the green, with a patch of palm trees that catch the ball of the indecisive golfer. One of the better holes on the course.
The finishing holes are very good. The 16th features an elevated green, and after that you climb even higher to the 17th tee. This is the highest point of the course, offering up some spectacular views. The hole is a short but by no means easy par 3, with the green far below protected by a dry river in the front and bunkers behind. Most players consider it the signature hole. The course then finishes up with a nice, dogleg right par four with the green at the clubhouse.
With many difficulties on the course, Niall has chosen to make the green areas fairly straightforward, even easy on some of the holes. The greens are not very undulated, instead fairly flat or maybe slanted. The are very well maintained and true. Some may find them too easy and uninteresting, I found them to be just fine.
To sum up, it may sound like I have a lot of complaints and not much praise. This is not true; Assoufid is a wonderful course that I would love to come back and play. The trick is to understand the course better so that you can avoid the waste areas completely. I think that most average golfers can accomplish this after a few rounds, and then the course should be an absolute delight.