Mr. Hicham Berdai, Director of Royal Golf Dar Es Salam. Credits Mustapha Benabdelkrim
We spoke with the Director of Royal Golf Dar Es Salam, current venue of the Lalla Aicha Tour School Pre Qualifiers, Mr. Hicham Berdai. Mr. Berdai started his professional relationship with the world of golf when he first joined the team in Benslimane, near Casablanca, where a 27-hole golf course was under construction. He has a long and wide experience of managing golf courses, working on other four different golf courses and projects in Morocco, before finally coming to Rabat in 2005 to join Royal Golf Dar Es Salam as the new Director. Since Mr. Berdai joined the club, he has hosted a total of five Trophée Hassan II.
Q: Tell us about this beautiful course, Royal Golf Dar Es Salam
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a 45-hole golf course built in 1971 and designed by prestigious golf course designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. Ideally placed in the heart of a cork oak forest, “La Maamora”, the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam is a wonder of its kind: technicality, quality and a landscape of incomparable beauty.
The whole course occupies a total of 350 hectares, including the clubhouse and the 45 holes, which are divided into three courses; the Red Course and Blue Courses, both with 18 holes, and the Green Course, a 9-hole course designed for beginners but also allows practice for the short game. The Red Course, known as the Championship Course, is a long course and features over 90 bunkers. The main characteristic of our greens is that they are raised and protected by many bunkers, which make them appear like real fortresses.
In the past years, we have hosted the French and Italian National Teams, boys and girls, every winter and they prepare for their season here, combining the Red and Blue Courses in the morning and the Green Course in the afternoon. They have also enjoyed our practice facilities, which include the driving range, the pitching area and putting green. All these facilities make this golf course a perfect place for practice of every aspect of your game.
The 172 metre par-three hole number 9, located on the Red Course, is one of our popular holes, which has received many awards from all over the world (see picture). It has a large water hazard all around the green, and players must hit a shot over this big lake, which is covered with water lilies.
Royal Golf Dar Es Salam was initially ranked within the top 10 golf courses in the world and within the top 30-50 during the 1980´s. Nowadays our course is considered as “the” golf course in Morocco. People come to Morocco and know this country as a golf destination, thanks to Royal Dar Es Salam.
We have both members and tourists at the golf course and our goal is to find a balance between both of them. As we are a tourist destination, our golf course was projected to offer people, not just the local residents here in Rabat, but all tourists, the opportunity to play golf and help the city of Rabat to develop a golf champion.
Q: What type of golf tourism do you have here? Which countries do they come from?
We have tourists coming from France mainly, but also from Switzerland. Essentially French speaking golf tourists come here, but also Spain, Japan and the US. This is a “gourmet” golf course, for people who really appreciate to play on a high quality golf course.
Q: How many members are there currently? We have around 1,500 members now from which 300 play in our competitions regularly and the rest come less frequently and like to socialise here.
Q: What about the juniors ? How many young golfers come here to practice and learn golf?
We have a junior school which runs on Wednesday afternoon and Saturdays, sometimes Sunday morning. We have an agreement with the schools around the area and we offer the kids the possibility to learn some golf with us. We have a project to develop a real academy, as we have now around 90-100 juniors, between eight and twenty years-old and we have already 3-4 players with a 0-5 handicap.
Q: I believe that many celebrities have come here to play at your course...
I would need two or three days to give you all names, but some of them are for example the actor Sean Connery, many members from some Royal Families from various countries and, especially Morocco, who come usually here to play. And other top sportsmen such as golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Severiano Ballesteros, Sam Torrance, Payne Stewart, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh… together with Abdelatif Benazzi, the French-Moroccan rugby union footballer, David Ginola, the football player and tennis world champion Kafelnikov…
Q: Give me some reasons to come here to play golf and things that make this course special?
I think that this is the only golf course where you can see a beautiful postcard on every hole, and all of them are very challenging.
Regarding the environment, this is the only 45-hole course that is essentially built in the middle of nature, without any buildings and an exuberant vegetation with plenty of different types of trees: oaks, acacias, silky oaks (Gravellias), gum trees, palm trees, jacarandas, Tulipe de Gabon, etc… together with the colourful flowers. Biodiversity is all around when you walk around this course.
But, not only the flora, but also the fauna is very important here as we can find some royal eagles, some migratory birds, black kites, ducks, wild and Egyptian gooses, rabbits, hedgehogs, etc… frogs and even some reptiles such as chameleons.
We have always in mind the preservation of our fauna and flora so this place is not just a good golf course, but also a fantastic natural environment. Nowadays, our management is really aware about preservation of the nature and our forest.
Q: A place that you cannot miss when you visit Rabat...
Rabat is a very large city, with many green areas, no pollution, plenty of gardens and historic monuments. I especially love the Medina and the “Counsels Street” where you can enjoy a Moroccan tea with almonds at the “Café Maure” and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. It is an historic and exceptional city, with pleasant weather and you can play golf all year round.
Q: How have you prepared the golf course for the event?
We have worked very hard to have the two courses ready, with the best possible conditions, following the standards marked by ATH and Ladies European Tour. The weather has not helped much lately as we have had some heavy rain before the tournament started.
Thanks to all the hard work and to our head Green Keeper, Khammar Rahhioui and his team, we have been able to get both courses ready on time and to fulfil the expectations and the complexity of running two events on two different courses at the same time.
Q: What does it mean to you to host this event?
We are very proud and honoured to host this important women´s competition. The Lalla Aïcha Tour School is in tribute to the HRH Princess Lalla Aicha and allows the players to the access to the Ladies European Tour. It is certain that the organisation of this prestigious event will have a highly positive impact on golf and tourism development on the city of Rabat in particular and throughout the kingdom.