Under the spell of the Royal Palms

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A weekend’s golf in paradise at the Fairmont Morocco Golf Cup
Posted on
July 7, 2023
Richard Pennell in ,
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Nestled in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, just a short taxi ride from the bustling market square of Djemaa el-Fna, the Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech resort enjoys a location like no other. The flight from London takes no time at all, and before long you are exploring the spacious and delightful rooms, full of dark wood and lanterns; the authentic decor in harmony with the region’s effortless style.

Sprawling over 231 hectares, and shaped around a Cabell B. Robinson-designed 18 hole golf course, the hotel blends the modern and the ancient - fast broadband and smart TVs alongside gorgeous traditional canvas paintings and resplendent flower gardens, full of vivid Bougainvillea and Oleanders. Dotted around are the other facilities - the hotel a haven for non-golfers, too - three swimming pools, saunas, clay tennis courts. Or there are the spa treatments - massage, Hammam and deep tissue among those on the menu - and a state of the art fitness centre. Not to mention an organic farm and Morocco’s largest Kid’s Club, situated amidst idyllic olive groves.

Under the spell of the Royal Palms

But it is the staff - over 300 of them of them - that really stand out at the Fairmont. From the concierge to the dining staff to the gardeners, raking leaves while smiling out from under enormous straw hats. Somehow, in the gentle manner of these people, you feel not like a visitor but part of the family, and the regular delivery of local sweet delicacies adds to the charm of staying here.

There are six restaurants on site, ranging from the relaxed alfresco tables of Le Sabra to the neo-Mexican atmosphere of Domo, but throughout, the food is fabulous; a combination of local delicacies and haute cuisine classics, options for every palate. We eat in the cool morning light on the patio, as the sun peers over the mountains and a mist rises from the golf course; we eat from the barbecue under canvas shelters in the middle of the afternoon, but the same themes are apparent in each setting and sitting - attention to detail, a focus on fresh ingredients… the same simplicity with which these people live their lives.

Fairmont Royal Palms

We are here for the inaugural Fairmont Morocco Golf Cup, a tournament that brings together both local and travelling golfers, and the atmosphere is of healthy competition, but with an emphasis on fun. The format will be two rounds of Stableford, played as a pairs scramble, and this amateur field delight in the technology powering a live scoreboard, a taste of what true competitive golf must feel like. Our caddies help us plot the way round the rolling contours of the course, adding a great deal to our experience of this desert marvel. The original press release for this event promised “an unforgettable weekend of teamwork and camaraderie” and, as it always seems to do, Fairmont more than delivers on its promise.

But though the sun beams down on our efforts, casting intricate shadows from the Thuja trees and the pear cacti that border these fairways, it is the course itself that shines. Designed in 2013, Robinson’s routing weaves around this property, and offers the same blend of old and new that exists in the hotel. The Bermuda turf is vigorous but a sandy subsoil ensures firm playing surfaces, and alongside excellent conditioning, there are nods to classic elements of Golden Age golf architecture - the occasional false front, some clever diagonal bunkering, a few greens subtly pitched against the line of attack. Measuring 7,200 yards from the tips, this par 72 course is set up with tees for all levels of golfer, and the generous fairways make for a very playable experience for all.

The Wadi river meanders through the course, and the design takes full advantage of it as a feature, while the greens themselves are immaculate, vast, rolling carpets of dwarf ryegrass that provide a delightful challenge. It is, above all, great fun to play here, and the thrill of watching one’s ball soar above not only the delicately shifting flag silks but the distant snow-capped mountains is deeply motivating. And in this event, where the language jumps from French to Arabic, with bits of English and Spanish also to be heard on the gentle breeze, there remains this common language of golf… the shared delight in a glorious stroke; the audible groan after a violent lip-out.

This event has drawn together enthusiasts from all over the golfing world, yet all cultural differences are left aside as we travel through two rounds together, and once again that sense of family - of belonging - lingers. And all the while, Egyptian vultures float across this African sky and cicadas provide the percussion soundtrack to this spellbinding backdrop.

After a sumptuous Gala Dinner in the Palm Ballroom, after the prizes, and the odd speech, those lucky enough to be gathered here for the first of these events start to drift away, but there is so much more to this resort, and to Morocco, for the trip to be over just yet. The concierge puts us on the regular shuttle into Marrakech itself, and as we stroll through the evening streets and the sky turns purple behind the mountains, the souk markets and the vibrant buzz of the medina quarter are extraordinary to behold.

Life in the city seems chaotic by contrast with the serenity of the Fairmont, but it feels not only culturally fascinating but safe in these busy streets. And when these legs, after 36 holes and a deep tissue massage, start to feel a little tired, the rooftop bars like Kabana and Nomad are the perfect spot for a cold drink or, preferably, the refreshment of traditional Moroccan tea, green leaves served through fresh mint, slowly consumed as the night draws in over the Red City below.

And then it is time to leave, and it is a reluctant feeling, for in the midst of modern life, this excursion into another continent and culture has felt deeply refreshing, nourishing. Somehow it has been more than a brief holiday, more like a chance to reset and rewind. And though the concept of a golf hotel in the middle of the desert at first felt slightly awkward for me, I reflect on how natural these things are when done really well, with a conscience. The facility is setting the standard for respectful, sustainable stewardship, and it is clear from the outset that such concerns are fundamental to the ambience and culture of this magical place.

For the hotel and golf course somehow do fit in with the precious environment in which they sit; feel like they belong there. And as my luggage spins around the carousels of Heathrow Airport, I know I will be back, for I have the same sense of belonging. I’ve left a small part on my heart in beautiful Morocco, along with a few of my golf balls, and one day hope I get to see that continent again not only via the lens of a photographer, but with my very own eyes. Until then… “bsslama…choukran bezaf!

Fairmont Royal Palms

Click on the link for more information on the resort.

More details on the Fairmont Morocco Golf Cup here. The 2024 edition will be announced in due course.

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About Richard Pennell

Richard Pennell has been a greenkeeper and club manager, who started writing during lockdown as he could no longer bear not to. He can be found either dreaming of Green Jackets or looking for a small, white ball in the heather.

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