Blake Stirling and Marco Martin on bringing golf to a new audience

Blake Stirling and Marco Martin on bringing golf to a new audience
By Adam Lawrence

Golf has had a long presence in Morocco, but in the last five years or so the north African country has become one of the most dynamic regions for golf and associated development anywhere in the region. Around the historic city of Marrakech a cluster of golf resorts aimed at European tourists has sprung up, while in the country’s economic and governmental hubs, Casablanca and Rabat, a number of developers are working on golf and real estate projects targeting the emerging middle class.

Spanish-based golf architects Marco Martin and Blake Stirling are playing a significant part in the development of Moroccan golf. The two have just opened a new course, part of the large Bouskoura Golf City residential complex in Casablanca. Bouskoura is being developed by Prestigia, one of the country’s largest real estate firms, and is one of a substantial number of such projects the company has on the books.

Bouskoura’s golf course, known as the Tony Jacklin Casablanca, after its signature designer, is 14km away from the city’s busy downtown, and close to a large area of natural forest. “The site masterplan covers 220 hectares of which 64 are dedicated to the golf course,” says Marco Martin. “In 2008, when the owners first contacted us, the masterplan had already been done, and the approvals process was well underway. We therefore spent several months discussing changes to the plan with our clients and the planning authorities, aiming to improve circulation around the property, especially the location of the golf academy, which we wanted to have nearer the clubhouse. This is extremely important, as the large academy is a critical part of the development, and will help to promote golf to kids, and also to adult residents who don’t yet play. In an environment like Morocco, where golf participation among locals is in its infancy, this is obviously vital. Tony has had a big influence on the planning of the academy – he is very committed to the development of golf among new players. It’s a complete area for training with a 120m wide by 280m long uphill driving range, plus a 1,000 sq m putting green, two chipping greens and a short game area.”

“The golf course is located between the residential complex and the natural area of the Bouskoura Forest, so we decided to excavate all the holes and to sculpt them so as not to block the views from the houses to the forest,” says Blake Stirling. “This also means that golfers are isolated in their own world, not surrounded by housing development. In total, we moved around 275,000 cu m of dirt, mostly to fill lowareas and create lakes. In a dry country like Morocco, water storage is obviously extremely important, so we designed the course to capture all rain that falls on it, and to be able to store more than 210,000 cu m in the lakes. It was a difficult site to work – the land was totally treeless, mostly soft and crumbling limestone, with less than 10cm of topsoil, and that mostly stones. Some of the areas – along the third, fourth and ninth holes – were entirely covered by hard native rocks, so we needed powerful machinery to construct them. Of the 64 hectares occupied by the course, 39.6 ha are grass, lakes and streams take up another six hectares and the rest are landscaped areas that create barriers between holes and also between the golf course and the residential development. At Tony Jacklin’s suggestion, we planted thousands of bougainvillaea flowers along the boundary with the residential area.

“Wide fairways with gentle movement enable all golfers to have fun playing the course. Sand bunkers help frame greens and define fairways, but don’t punish severely – this is important for a course that will be played by a lot of beginners. Trees add texture, colour and help define fairways, and help provide separation from houses and between holes. Trees also help filter views and help golfers focus and give reference for distances.”

“The greens are T1 creeping bent, but on the fairways we used Riviera hybrid bermudagrass,” says Martin. “The original irrigation water was slightly salty, but in time, much of the water used will be reclaimed from the residences. Plus, Casablanca is a transition weather zone, mild in the winter and not really hot even in summer, so it gave us the option to use either cool or warm season grass. By using bermuda on fairways and bent on greens we reduce the need for irrigation in the summer, and also avoid the need to overseed in winter.

“All the areas to be grassed were covered with 15 cm of topsoil stripped from the property, carefully screened to eliminate all the rock,” he adds. “Approaches and tees got a 15cm layer of sandy soil, while greens are USGA specification.”

Stirling, who trained with Pete and Perry Dye as well as Desmond Muirhead before partnering with Martin, says the partnership with Jacklin in Morocco will continue.

“Along with Tony, we are working on a 27 hole project in Marrakech, which we expect to open next year,” he says. “I believe Morocco has great potential for golf, both as a tourist destination and among the resident population. Hopefully we will get further opportunities to help the game develop here!” 

This article first appeared in Issue 37 of Golf Course Architecture

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