PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
Welcome to Morocco: Players excited for new event
January 29, 2020
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- January 29, 2020
- Two-time PGA TOUR Champions winner Scott Parel played Samanah in a mini-tour event in 2011. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
The first PGA TOUR-sanctioned stroke-play event to be contested on the continent of Africa, the Morocco Champions, tees off on Thursday.
For most fans of PGA TOUR Champions, their knowledge of the smallish country (it’s about the size of California) in the northwest corner of Africa extends to Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonizing about riding on the “Marrakesh Express,” a train jaunt from Casablanca to Marrakesh. The song actually is old enough to be on PGA TOUR Champions; it turned 50 in May 2019.
But there will be some familiar elements for the players. The Morocco Champions will be contested at the Samanah Golf Club, a Nicklaus design. The members of PGA TOUR Champions have played a lot of Nicklaus designs over the years, and there are two others on the schedule this year in addition to Samanah – Harbor Shores for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge for the Boeing Classic. This will be the 16th year for the Boeing event.
One player who might have a leg up on the rest of the 66-man field is two-time Champions Tour winner Scott Parel. He played Samanah in a mini-tour event in 2011. He didn’t make the cut, but at least he’s somewhat familiar with the course.
“I remember the clubhouse was unlike anything I’d seen in the States,” Parel said Tuesday. “I went back and looked at the scores and the winner was 19 under. It was a four-day event. It doesn’t seem like it’s that easy of a golf course.”
Morocco is dotted with more than 100 golf courses, several of which are top notch. Samanah is high on the list.
“The golf course is very good. There is no bad hole,” said Gery Watine, 66, the head pro at Samanah and a former member of the European TOUR. “The ending is just terrific. The last three holes are very challenging. If they are close it could be very interesting on the last day.
“The greens are maybe the best in Morocco. And the sand traps are very good. All of the par 3s are very good holes. All of the par 5s are reachable but difficult.”
Watine was born in Morocco but moved to France as a teen. He came back to Morocco to run Samanah about 18 months ago.
He believes the Morocco Champions will be a big hit in his native country.
“It’s just great for Morocco,” Watine said. “Everybody is very excited to see them here. I’m sure it’s going to be a very important to have an event like this here.”
The event has a five-year deal with PGA TOUR Champions, and several players and their wives tweeted about their welcome to Marrakesh on social media.
I have often been called a Lion Tamer but never a Camel Tamer🤷🏻♀️ https://t.co/UdL5LYCd0f— John Daly (@PGA_JohnDaly) January 28, 2020
Made it!!! Wonderful greeting at the airport w the best dates I’ve ever eaten. Police escort to hotel and a breakfast spread fit for royalty.... I think I’m going to like it here #moroccochampions #marrakech pic.twitter.com/jplaZMykI6— Brenda Calcavecchia (@brendacalc) January 27, 2020
The field will vie for a purse of $2 million. Here’s what Watine had to say about the finish at Samanah, where he believes the event will be decided.
“The 16th is a par 5, reachable in two, but you have a lot of water on the right and the green is very narrow. It’s a long second shot, normally a good drive and a rescue club, but if you miss the green you’re in the water. Or if you go long, it’s downhill behind the green and leaves a very difficult chip shot.
“The 17th is a long par 3, nearly 210 yards. It has water on the right and a trap in front, a small trap. It’s easy to miss the green on the left and that leaves a tough chip because the green is doing downhill from the left.
“The 18th is about 440 yards, par 4, water on the left. It has two traps that anchor the fairway and the drive is quite important. I would think players will have maybe a 3-iron or 4-iron into the green. The putting surface is quite large and uphill. You have to really carry your second shot onto the green, but it’s hard and high to reach. The putting surface is not so easy.”
Parel called them three great finishing holes, adding that the whole back nine is fraught with peril.
“It will make for an interesting finish,” Parel said. “There may be eagle potential on 16 but it’s tough to hold that green. If you’re a big hitter and have middle iron in maybe you have a chance. 17, with the length of that par 3 and the slope of the green will be tough. And 18 for sure, you have to hit a great tee shot and you still have a long shot into another pretty tough green.”