Royal Golf Dar Es Salam Review
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, Rabat, Morocco
Teacher’s Comments: A tough Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course. Exotic. Fun.
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam was my first encounter with golf in Morocco, and it was at once both familiar and exotic. Dar Es Salam means “place of peace,” and I certainly agree that the setting offers a peaceful and rejuvenating round.
I was in Morocco as the guest of the Moroccan National Tourist Office for a “Fam” (familiarization) trip to visit the sights, take in the culture and of course, play some golf.
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam’s layout is classic RTJ, Sr: long, rectangular tee boxes, strategic fairway bunkers, and difficult greens complexes. Royal Golf Dar Essalam actually reminded me a bit of Boyne Highlands’ Heather and Oakland Hills’ South, but with cork-tree lined fairways. There were a couple of fairway layouts and greens complexes that I was convinced I previously had seen on those two courses.
Jones is famous for his mantra that a good golf hole should be a difficult par, but an easy bogey. I think that is true of Royal Golf Dar Es Salam. The course is long and strategically difficult. From the tips, it stretches to more than 7,200 yards. To maximize fun, I played it well forward. I was still, however, working hard for bogey.
In spite (or perhaps because of) the difficulty, Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a lot of fun. I enjoyed picking my way around the course, gauging whether I could carry a particular bunker, or if it was more wise to go short or wide. I actually managed to avoid most of the trouble on the course.
I thank the gods of technology for my Garmin G8 GPS in assisting me with working my way around the course. Yardages at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam (as with all Moroccan courses) are in meters, so for the American visitor, a gps or rangefinder with distances in familiar yards is a godsend. My caddy spoke little or no English; I speak no French. Communication on the course was therefore not easy. The caddy would point at a target off the tee and at spots on the green, and would do my level best to hit that spot. When I managed to follow instructions, I scored well. When not …
My caddy was, I think, as a whole rather disappointed with me.
The familiarity of RTJ, Sr. course, however, is offset by by the exotic and unfamiliar setting. Cut through a forest of cork trees, Royal Dar Es Salam is accented by palms and Mediterranean cypress. The twisted trunks of the cork lend a very different look from any course I have ever played. Reddish brown bunkers add to the character.
My favorite hole on the course was the par four thirteenth. Coming in a 355 meters (388 yards), it starts from a slightly elevated tee, flowing down to a corner, then doglegging back up to the green. At the corner are some beautiful bunkers framing the edges and cypress trees. This is a great hole for a player with a draw to take dead aim at the bunkers, and let the ball curve around to skip down the slope. The greens complex has bunkers left, right and center.
But of course I hooked the ball left into the cork tree forest. My caddy found it, and I played a 2 hybrid out of the trees (I am an expert in extraction from the trees).
Gauging golf course conditions in Morocco is a difficult task. I played three high-end courses in three very different environments and was pleased with all of them (although the grass on one — Mazagan — took some getting used to). All three were, however, different from what I expect to see on a high-end course in Michigan. Not bad. Just different.
The greens at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam were in great shape — smooth and fast. They were exactly what I expected. Fairways were well-tended and closely mowed. I imagine that brown spots and exposed dirt have been banned by royal decree. An American visitor, however, may find them different from the cushioned lushness found at many high end US resort courses. The only way I can describe it is to say that the grass cover was thinner. When my club bottomed out, I felt as though I was hitting dirt faster than I would on a plush northern Michigan carpet. The difference surely is a function of climate and grass types. Different, but still very good.
I will also note that some renovation work was underway at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam. Many of the bunkers were “ground under repair,” with the sand removed and significant remodeling of the sides underway. One hole had a backhoe parked on it. By the time any of you, dear readers, arrive to play golf in Morocco, the repairs will be long gone.
In the excellent Robert Trent Jones, Sr. biography, A Difficult Par, James Hansen wrote about Jones’ construction of the course:
In 1969, King Hassan II of Morocco asked Jones to design a golf course for him near his summer palace in Rabat, the nation’s capital. The king, to put it mildly, was a golf nut. He first became interested in the game in 1968, after his physician recommended that he give up tennis because of a cardiac condition. Plunging into the game, he brought Claude Harmon, who he was told was the world’s greatest golf instructor, to Morocco for weeks of lessons. When he decided to build his own royal golf courses, he asked who was the world’s greatest golf architect and was told it was Robert Trent Jones. So the monarch dispatched a messenger to bring Trent Jones to Rabat. Trent brought his son Bobby with him, and when they first met the king, they “found him inside the palace walls playing golf on a little course he had constructed there, pausing every once in a while to sign some papers.”
During that first visit, the King told Jones he wanted him to build the “most magnificent” golf courses the world had ever seen …
Between 1969 and 1974, Jones built two 18 hole layouts plus an additional nine at Royal Dar Es Salaam, seven and a half miles southeast of Rabat in the Temara Forest. The courses were built by the Moroccan Army. The Red Course, completed in 1970, was an extremely long course, 7, 523 yards from the back tees and played to an unusual par of 73. The Blue Course, finished in 1974, was not nearly as long, but hardly short at 7, 685 yards. Both courses lay on undulating terrain covered by more than a thousand acres of cork oak forest.”
The most amazing thing about this great course is the price: greens fees are 600 Dirham, or about $60. The caddy fee is 100 Dirham, or about $10. I felt guilty about the fee being so low, and gave the guy a 100% tip. Looking back, I still feel guilty. But it goes to show that your vacation money will go a long way in Morocco.
The Royal Golf Dar Es Salam Review was first published December 5, 2016, from notes taken during a round on November 19, 2016.
A photo tour of Royal Golf Dar Es Salam follows: