Anyhow, that is the rough background on how this all got started. Claude and the king are mostly what this story is all about, but there will be something of Morocco in it too, I hope, and, of course, in the minor role of casual typist and thorough-going tourist there is, clearing the throat, me.
I find it fascinating that of the few monarchs left today—24 by my last count—one is not only captivated by golf but has sort of bent himself toward making his country one long par-5—to promote tourism—and has, at the same time, developed a very special relationship with an American pro. Claude Harmon had made four trips to Morocco before I joined him there last spring for his fifth. During this period of almost three years Claude and the king had exchanged more gifts than words. Claude had not known exactly what to expect in the way of reward until after his first visit. "I went out of goodwill," he said. Goodwill became a thousand a day plus expenses. Plus as many swords, daggers, plates, trays, leather goods and small jewelry as Claude could admire during his free-time shopping tours. Claude would pause to glance at something, a guide would notice it, he'd tell the king, and it would later arrive at Winged Foot.
A Mark III Continental arrived at Claude's home one day, and so did a cigar box full of cash—in case Claude wanted some undeclared income. "I declared it all," said Claude.
Things also turned up for Claude's wife, Alice, and for the country clubs he represented. For straightening out a duck hook, one might presume: some antique jewelry and a Moroccan belt for Alice. And then for ironing the curl out of a slice, one might also presume: a $25,000 silver tea service for Thunderbird and one on its way for Winged Foot.
But what could one give a generous monarch, Claude often wondered.
"I don't know," I told him once. "His very own junta?"
On each trip Claude would take along dozens of golf clubs and bags and shoes to pass around among the king's friends and aides. He would take the king a wedge or putter or odd club he might not have seen or heard about. He once had Ben Hogan make up a few dozen balls with "King Hassan II" engraved on them. He also had Hogan make an engraved set of clubs. Claude carried over balls, clubs, head covers, gloves, wedges, sand irons, weird putters, even a set of gold Winged Foot cuff links.
Morocco's oldest course is in Marrakesh and it consists of 18 holes woven through lovely woods, with occasional glimpses of the snow-peaked Atlas mountains. One doesn't find a swimming pool or tennis courts at Royal Golf de Marrakesh. In fact, one seldom finds any people there at all, much less caddies. You lug your own clubs and hope to find an Arab mowing greens along the way to tell you where the next tee is. He might say something in Arabic, like, "Car-rock, a-loc, a-loc," which I took to mean, "Tees are where you find them."
But it was handsome, quiet and pleasant, and always there were the mountains rising above the palms and poplars. The holes, as on all of the courses, aren't tremendously long, which does much for the golfer's ego. But I gather that no one spends much time looking for a stray shot in the uncultured rough, unless, of course, one has a fetish for disturbing cobras.
As one of the world's leading cobra haters, I had two experiences in Marrakesh that scarred the soul. First, entering the orange-walled city by car, having driven three hours from Casablanca through some amazing scenery changes—from dunes to brilliant green hills and over streams the color of café au lait—I came upon two grinning Arabs under a tree, waving at me. I stopped. They stood up. I smiled back. They pointed at two buckets they were holding. And smiled again. I smiled again. So they reached into the buckets and lifted out two wriggling, unhappy cobras.