There are only four other golf courses that any Moroccan knows about in his country. One is a nine-hole course in Tangier that is notable for only one thing. Playing it with Claude on an occasion a year ago, the king warmed up by hitting a few pitch shots onto a tennis court and then by driving a dozen or so balls off a cliff toward the Rock of Gibraltar. Another course is in the Tyrolean-type village of Ifrane, an hour or so by car from Fez. It isn't much—"A hotel par-3 that hasn't been mowed in a week" pretty well describes it—and the king plays it only rarely. Then there's Royal Guard in Rabat and Inezgane in Agadir, both nine-hole layouts.
So much for the courses that the public sees. There are others that only His Majesty and those who loiter with royalty can see and play. These are courses Hassan has had built inside the walls of his various palaces. There are nine holes, fully lighted, within the main palace in Rabat. There are 18 holes behind the walls of the summer palace on the Atlantic in Skhirat. There are nine holes inside the palace grounds in the ancient town of Meknès. And nine more inside the palace at Fez. All of which add up to 45 more than most of us have for working out our duck hooks in private.
But before anyone starts thinking that Hassan II is greedy with his golf, listen to all of the things Robert Trent Jones is doing for him—and Morocco.
Soon to be completed in Rabat, for instance, is the Royal Golf Club of Rabat, a 45-hole project complete with clubhouse and cottages. It should be ready next February. Not only has the king had Jones design a championship 18 holes—"Worthy of holding the World Cup," he ordered—but he also has had Jones build another 18 for package tours, and then finally a nine-hole course for beginners.
The complex is built on rolling terrain through cork and oak trees. One course has a multiplicity of bunkers, the other plateaued greens and an island hole. Dave Hill would love it.
As elaborate as the Rabat complex is, it only got Hassan warmed up. Rabat was for diplomats, and tourists jumping off toward other places. Places like Marrakesh. Yes, Marrakesh. That would be the city to do something really spectacular in. Jones was no more than half-finished with Rabat when His Majesty hired him again. Do me Marrakesh, he said.
So what's happening there these days is this: on 3,000 acres near the Marrakesh course I mentioned earlier, a modest little thing called the Club of the King's Friends is going out and up and around. Championship layout, of course. A bit of Dorado Beach. A bit of Sotogrande. A bit of Williamsburg. Trees. Sand. Water. And those Atlas Mountains peering down on it all. Another 45 holes in all, like Rabat, but the Club of the King's Friends, the main course, is being confined within walls and encircled by a moat. A mall leads through the center to a cul-de-sac where condominiums will be built, overlooking the course. An apartment complex for members is also planned, and a polo field. Plus Alpine skiing in the Atlas most of the year, with helicopters available to take the golfer skiing in 15 minutes. (Jones was recently commissioned to start another project, this one farther south and on the coast, in Agadir. It, too, will contain 45 holes.)
For all of the work he has done, Jones has seen King Hassan only five or six times, and only then on a golf course, walking along with him, chatting between shots. They have never had a meal together, and the architect has never seen him at night. This probably isn't unusual. I haven't dined that often with kings, either.
As the guidebooks say, Fez is the "heart of Morocco," the onetime capital, the spiritual and intellectual center of the country. Thus, it was more than appropriate that in Fez, which is about as ancient as a place can get and not be in China, I finally caught up with Claude and his pupil.
One of the king's cars, bearing a driver who believed himself to be the Arab equivalent of Cale Yarborough, had transported me the 125 miles from Rabat to Fez in, like, zap. There a two-engine plane was landing at a deserted airport. Out of the plane stepped Claude and his personal guide-friend-envoy for this particular trip, the Moroccan Consul General in New York, Abdesslam Jaidi.