Golf tourism in Marrakesh is booming. Yet, a single golf course consumes almost as much water per day as a family of four in Germany over ten years. How can the dilemma be resolved? Greenkeeper Abdelhaq Zougar is faced with a challenge.
Abdelhaq Zougar drives his first round during the early morning hours. Silence still reigns on the golf course. All that can be heard is a lawn mower every now and then. Zougar drives his golf buggy as if it were a sports car. The questions are already circling in his mind: Have the bunkers at hole three been raked? Is the green at hole nine freshly mowed? And this sprinkler over by the villas that was broken yesterday, is it working again? He would not recommend this job to his son, says Zougar during a break in his office. “Too stressful”, Zougar shakes a cigarette from his packet. The ash tray on the desk is almost overflowing.
Abdelhaq Zougar has been working on the Moroccan golf courses for almost a decade. Zougar fell into the greenkeeper´s profession by chance. At the start of the 1990s, he was working on the construction of a golf course. “This was a completely new world for me and it was appealing”, says Zougar about the social ecosystem of a golf course. He wanted to become part of it.
Ten years ago there were three golf courses in Marrakesh, while today there are 13.
Botany, irrigation systems, the correct approach to pesticides. Zougar taught himself most of what he needs to know for the job. When he started the job as greenkeeper, he was by his own admission one of the first Moroccans in this profession. A greenkeeper is much more than a gardener. He plans the management of the golf course for a whole year, coordinates the work and needs to react quickly in case of an emergency.
A golf course with bad turf is like a ballerina in trainers. The length and structure of the turf can play an important role if the golf ball lands after the flight and is to roll as far as possible. “Agrostis Stolonlinfera” is the name for the special type of grass that is planted on the green, in other words on the landing strip around the finish line. Different parts of a golf course require varying qualities and hence various types of grass.
They all have one thing in common: They need a lot of water. The 18-hole Al-Maaden golf course in South West Marrakesh guzzles an average of 1500 cubic metres of water per day! This amount of water is consumed by approx. 12,000 average Germans over the same period. Water is a scarce commodity in Morocco. Yet, golf tourism in Marrakesh is booming. Nicolas Barraud, the Manager of Al Maaden, is benefiting from it. He – like so many of his colleagues in Morocco – comes from France.
In order to solve the dilemma of water scarcity on the one side, and golf tourism as an economic driver on the other, the Moroccan government has defined clear goals as part of a national plan. Until 2030, an increasing amount of waste water is to be used for the irrigation of golf courses, green areas and arable land. This is especially remarkable given that only part of the waste water has been treated in Morocco to date. The country would like to treat 60 per cent of its waste water by 2020. In Germany, it already amounts to 96 per cent.
In Marrakesh, a new treatment plant was specifically built to supply up to 18 golf courses with waste water. It has cost 120 million US dollars. The project was jointly financed by the Moroccan government, the local water provider Redeema and the golf course owners. The plant has been in operation since 2012.
All golf courses in Marrakesh are only to be watered with waste water.
You notice the extent to which the project impacts upon the work of greenkeeper Abdelhaq Zougar when the sprinklers at the Al-Maaden golf course turn on. Then it no longer smells like freshly mowed grass or the fragrance of smartly dressed golfers from all over the world – but of liquid manure. And the stench is the least of the problems for Manager Barraud and greenkeeper Zougar.
Salt is becoming a problem especially in the small valleys between the rolling hills on the golf course. Here the turf is completely dying off in some places, explains the Manager Barraud. Although Al Maaden looks green and well maintained for the most part, large, brown areas in many areas on the golf course are difficult to overlook.
Barraud and Zougar use various methods to deal with the waste water. They drill small holes into the turf to counteract the high salt content. The greenkeeper calls this technique “aeration”. It can also be washed away with additional water.
If you want to earn money with golf courses, you will have to adapt.
“Of course it is frustrating”, the Manager Barraud finally concedes. “We know that better water would result in a better product. But that´s just part of our everyday lives. We have learnt to live with it.” Greenkeeper Abdelhaq Zougar knew a solution. It is called “Paspalum vagintum”. The tropical grass is particularly salt-resistant and can even be irrigated with salt water. However, when Al Maaden was constructed, nobody thought about planting Paspalum vagintum. When Zougar retires in one and a half years at the age of 60, he wants to transfer his knowledge to the next generation. The greenkeeper would like to write a book about this profession. In Arabic. There is currently hardly any literature on golf courses in this language. The demand will continue to grow. Thirteen golf courses are already using the waste water from the treatment plant. According to Barraud it is designed for 18.