Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
March 23, 2018
NBCUniversal’s Golf Channel recently produced a special on Morocco, Golf Gaining Popularity in Morocco, and has conducted a number of interviews this week during the Hassan II pro golf tournament, the Trophée Hassan II, hosted in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat. The American public is learning more about Morocco’s half-century love affair with golf thanks to recent headline articles in the Wall Street Journal and this week’s special programming on NBC’s golf channel.
Golf in Morocco had been fairly limited since its beginnings in Tangier in the 1920s until it caught the attention and great interest of King Hassan II, becoming his favorite sport, and since the 1970s has taken off in Morocco. The country now boasts more than 30 world class golf courses, some with top ten rankings and pro tour quality, and several of the King’s palaces throughout the country house private courses within their walls. Today, golf in Morocco accounts for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue from tourism and related services.
Golf has also been a great medium for diplomacy and the annals of history are filled with important decisions made or crises averted. When I presented my credentials to King Hassan in 1999, I remember giving him a personal message from President Clinton: “Thank you for the beautiful golf club. I plan to use it with you in a round of golf soon in Morocco.” That elicited a huge smile by the King on national TV, and would prove historic, as President Clinton’s visit to Morocco would be the first by an American president since Eisenhower in 1959.
The expansion of golf in Morocco has also led to a growth of opportunities beyond tourism. In 2015, the Washington DC based Moroccan American Center, in cooperation with its partner Gray Global Advisors, worked to establish greater film and television investment opportunities in Morocco through the creation of investment partnerships with international film studios. Shortly thereafter, Morocco proposed a Film Tax Incentive Program aimed at increasing foreign direct investment in Morocco’s film industry by providing a competitive 20% tax rebate on foreign films shot in the Kingdom. The announcement of the programs has led to some great partnerships, including the Warner Brothers film Aquaman, NBCUniversal’s TV series Better Late than Never, and the Golf Channel’s coverage of the Trophée Hassan Igolf tournament.
Upon discovering the beauty of the country – and especially the golf courses in the middle of the desert, others along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, and more amongst the cork trees of its interior – studios and networks such as the Golf Channel realized that Morocco was more than just a moviemaking location and seized those opportunities as well, highlighting the country in many other dimensions.
Morocco will gain much more as a result of its announced film tax policy than its initial investment in tax revenue. These forward-thinking tax benefits will create good-paying jobs and value-added tourism. In addition, they promote clean and environmentally sustainable golf courses that use passive water retreatment technology, and preserve landscapes for filming that would have otherwise been lost to development. Morocco has made a sound, strategic growth-policy decision, and companies like NBCUniversal are finding win/win solutions with it as a partner. Golf, film, and Morocco are a perfect combination for sustainable development and growth, and Morocco has found a unique combination to maximize its business environment alongside its natural beauty.