Golf in Morocco: The King and Billy Casper
The Hassan II Trophy, held last month in Morocco, was named for the man who ruled that country from 1961 until his death, in 1999 -- as I wrote in my previous post. Shortly after Hassan died, a journalist described his legacy as "economic backwardness, rising demographic pressures, widespread corruption, vast and open disparities of income, urban overpopulation, rural decay, illiteracy, inadequate public services, underutilization of resources and environmental destruction."
But he loved golf! To help him learn the game and keep him company while he played, he imported a number of American pros, among them Claude Harmon (who was his teacher), Butch Harmon (who served as the head pro at Dar es Salaam Golf Club, in Rabat), and Billy Casper (who came to like the King and the country so much that he described himself to me as "half-Moroccan.") That's Casper on the left in the photo below, and King Hassan in the middle:
During my first trip to Morocco, in 2000, I got to visit the royal stables, in Bouznika, with two other journalists -- something tourists ordinarily aren't allowed to do. Bouznika is linked to Rabat by one of the best highways in Morocco, a four-lane expressway that could almost pass for an American Interstate, but our driver was unable to find it, so we traveled instead on back roads, stopping every few miles to ask unlikely people for directions.
The landscape along our route appeared to have been constructed from rubble with a thin layer of litter spread unevenly on top. We saw children tending small flocks of ill-looking sheep on the shoulders of the road; greasy shops that appeared to specialize in the sale of bald tires; old men defecating in the middle of otherwise infertile-looking farm plots; and abandoned buildings that were distinguishable from their occupied neighbors mainly by their lack of satellite-television antennas.
At one point, our driver asked for directions from a grimy man and two small grimy boys, who were cooking sardine-size fish in the ashes of a smoky fire within a few feet of the roadway. The boys would languidly throw a couple of fish into the fire, then languidly pull them out and pop them, whole, into their mouths. They didn't seem to know where we were going, either -- but eventually we found the stables and were able to admire king's extensive collection of Arabian horses, which live in stalls furnished almost like hotel rooms and are closely attended by workers whose main job is to clean up after them as they amble over carpet-like turf. We also got a distant look at one of the King's private golf courses. It was part of the same complex, and at that moment (as at virtually all moments) it was being played by no one. That's me in the photo below; the golf course is in the background:
Casper was the architect. He said the King had asked him to design a course for the site, and that he made drawings and sent them to the palace but ever heard anything back. "Then someone told me the course had been built -- and from my drawings," Casper said. It turned out that the King's construction crew had simply superimposed Casper's layout on the existing fields, and had done none of the indicated contouring. As a result, the fairways all run as the fields used to run, and the greens are all flat (and huge). Casper told me he had never played it -- something he could have done only at the invitation of the King. Another journalist explained: "Morocco is a real kingdom, not a constitutional monarchy, and the King thinks like a king." In other words, inviting the architect to give his own course a try is something that wouldn't occur to him. We did get to sit on the roof of the King's personal clubhouse, though -- and that's where I am in the photo above.
To be continued.*