One of Morocco’s greatest charms is the beguiling call to prayer of the muezzin from the minaret; his alluring cry echoing through the air, summoning the faithful.
At the enchanting Royal Golf Dar Es Salam this week an assembly of the sporting kind is calling to the golf world, beckoning it to take note that, just as tennis and track and field host men’s and women’s competitions concurrently, so too can this sport.
The Trophee Hassan II and Lalla Meryem Cup are this year celebrating a ninth year of being official tournaments on the European and Ladies European Tours — same week, same city, same golf club (two courses).
The organisers ATH (Association Trophee Hassan II) were well ahead of this particular curve, with the first edition of the combined project taking place in 2010, well before the Olympic golf competition format was a twinkle in the eye of Rio 2016.
This year European golf is witnessing unprecedented levels of competitive interaction between the men’s and women’s games. The LET hosted the Oates Vic Open earlier in the year, a sprightly, youthful and revolutionary tournament which shares both the course and (equally) the prize fund.
In two weeks time LET stars will compete in the European Tour’s GolfSixes, and the two circuits will merge again for August’s European Team Championship, an event which could show the world what the Olympics might have been in a mixed format.
In the mean time, the PGA and LPGA are deep in a “strategic alliance agreement,” a long-winded way of explaining they’re still discussing the co-hosting of a Tournament of Champions.
Where Morocco led, the golf world is now following (or thinking about it).
“We’ve always had a strong relationship with the ATH,” explained Mark Lichtenhein, Chairman of the Board of LET Directors, ahead of the first round. “I think when people saw when golf came back into the Olympics, with men and women playing together, it struck many of us us around the world as odd they were separate most of the time.”
For His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rashid, who is the driving force behind golf in Morocco, and ATH there has always been an understanding that this is a tournament for golfers first and foremost. Two tournaments is a manifestation of that belief rather than a contrivance.
In truth degrees of separation remains. It is not just a road which splits the two courses and the two tours. The European Tour has a year-round schedule; the LET has only 13 weeks of activity currently on the calendar. For the women this week is a huge opportunity with regards to coverage; for the men the presence of the women’s event something of a half-heartedly considered curiosity; European Tour competitors know little of the LET, and the tour website makes the briefest of mentions of a tournament taking place a mere lob wedge away.
None of this is the fault of the hosts. Rather, one of the guests is a bit uncommitted about one element of the party.
It’s a party that has history beyond recent sanctioning by the two tours. It was first held in 1971, when American Orville Moody was the inaugural champion. Over the next 35 years Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Roger Maltbie, Ken Green, Payne Stewart and David Toms joined him on the winner’s roster.
Players were attracted by the strong Robert Trent Jones Sr layout (which twists through tall cork trees), the exoticism of Rabat and nearby Casablanca, and the hospitality and food of the Moroccan people.
From 1993 it was joined by the Lalla Meryem Cup, the first step in a golfing transformation the world is now joining in with.