Nicklaus completes new course in Morocco’s Middle Atlas mountains

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  • Michlifen

    The eighteenth green at Michlifen, with views across Morocco’s Middle Atlas mountains

  • Michlifen

    The par three ninth, with tees set into a rocky outcrop (on the right of the picture)

  • Michlifen

    The ninth (pictured) and eighteenth greens sit in front of the clubhouse

  • Michlifen

    The par four sixth hole at Michlifen

  • Michlifen

    The par three fourteenth is 199 yards from the back tees

  • Michlifen

    The club also has extensive practice facilities

Toby Ingleton
By Toby Ingleton

Nicklaus Design has completed a new golf course in Ifrane, Morocco, with final preparations now being made for a summer 2018 opening.

Jack Nicklaus originally visited Ifrane in May 2010, having been invited by Prince Moulay Rachid to explore some possible sites for a golf course. The developers – ONCF, the public organisation responsible for Morocco’s national railway network – invited Nicklaus back in October of the same year to review the final site that had been chosen by the Prince.

“The site in Ifrane for the Michlifen Golf & Country Club is one of the most scenic, beautiful vistas you will find for a golf experience,” said Nicklaus. “The property essentially sits atop Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains, in an area well known for its skiing and charming Alpine-style architecture. The site for Michlifen is loaded with rock outcroppings and gorgeous trees, which give the golf course much of its personality and character.”

It took about three years to get the site organised, obtain approvals and finalise plans, before construction officially started in 2014.

Nicklaus’s design concept was for a resort golf course to be enjoyed by all levels of player, while making certain to integrate the golf course within the existing terrain, preserving as many of the natural features – including rock outcrops, mature oak trees, native areas, and spectacular vistas – as possible.

Bunkers are not too large or deep, in order to make them fit best within the terrain. To create large enough areas to be able to play golf, some fairways are connected.

Because of the high elevation and the cooler climate, Nicklaus and his agronomist selected cool season grasses – a rarity for golf in Morocco. Greens and tees are creeping bent, fairways and roughs predominately Kentucky bluegrass, with fescue and native grasses used for the outer rough areas. With fairways and rough areas having the same grass mix, the club can easily change the configuration and width of the fairways as desired.

Fairways and rough areas have been sandcapped to ensure high quality playing surfaces and, given the cold and wet climate during the winter, this will allow the club to extend the playing season into autumn and begin earlier in the spring.

All materials used for the USGA-specification greens, tees, bunkers, fairways were sourced locally. Moroccan construction companies were used, complemented by team of shapers, finishers and other specialists selected by Nicklaus Design.

“It was a challenge at the start to convey to the local companies the expected quality of construction and maintenance, but after going through a period of learning and working together, it was achieved,” said Dirk Bouts, senior design associate for Nicklaus Design. “Construction was particularly challenging with the existing rock on the terrain, but with the proper equipment and staff, we were able to work with it and shape the golf course as desired by Jack.

“The irrigation system is ‘hard-line’, meaning that only the areas that require water to grow the grass are being irrigated. All care has been taken to limit the amount of required irrigation water. This is also one of the reasons why the concept of ‘island’ tees has been used, which also allowed us to integrate tees within the existing terrain as well as possible, with minimal disturbance to the surrounding areas.”

The par 72 course measures 7,325 yards from the back tees.

“The clubhouse overlooks the ninth and eighteenth greens with sun setting in the valley – it is a spectacular view that must be experienced by all,” said Bouts.

“I am one who does not single out holes, and I certainly don’t believe in a signature hole when I have been given the mandate to create 18 equally spectacular holes,” said Nicklaus. “But when assessing these breathtaking views at Michlifen, they are truly taken into full breadth at holes nine, seventeen and eighteen.

“The golf course plays at a high elevation – over 5,400 feet – so it will be comfortably cool during the peak summer months, when much of the golf will be played. I just think once you take this very special mountain setting at Ifrane, and combine it with what we believe we have accomplished at Michlifen from a design perspective, it makes for a very unique, exciting and fun golf course to play”.

Michlifen will be managed by IMG and part of IMG Prestige, a reciprocal programme that features a worldwide network of over 100 golf clubs, including 2018 Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National in Paris, France and The Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta, Canada.

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