It started with a handshake, a smile and the words, “Hi I’m Billy Casper”. This was how my wife and I recently met golf legend Billy Casper, a man who won 51 times on the PGA Tour, including two US Opens and a Masters Championship; nine times on the Senior Tour including the US Senior Open; played on eight Ryder Cups, and was twice named PGA Player of the Year. We had been invited to join Billy and members of his family, five US pros, and a number of US amateurs and their wives as they headed to Morocco to participate in the 33rd Hassan II Trophy golf tournament and the extraordinary activities connected with it.
Begun in 1971 as the result of the friendship between Casper and King Hassan II of Morocco , the tournament is played yearly on the 7400-yard Dar Es-Salam Red Course in Rabat , the capital of Morocco . This year 30 pros from 13 countries around the world competed for $600,000 in prize money with first place worth $200,000 and a jewel-encrusted sword rumored to be worth as much as the monetary prize. The Hassan II Trophy tournament is more than just a pro tourney offering the chance to watch skilled professionals hit shots we amateurs only dream about. For the 90 amateurs who participated in the three day Pro-Am, it was an “up close and personal” happening, a chance to interact with pros from across the globe on a one-to-one basis. Unlike most Pro-Am events, where amateurs are greeted by a pro on the first tee and say goodbye on the 18 th green, the Hassan II Trophy amateurs not only played with different pros on each of the three days of the Pro-Am, but were able to spend up to ten days and evenings socializing, dining, traveling and getting to know them.
This year’s US pro contingent that crossed the Atlantic to compete included two-time PGA Tour winner Keith Clearwater; Erik Compton, who placed first in the Canadian Tour’s 2004 Order of Merit; Ty Tryon, who made his professional debut in 2002 at the age of 18; Bobby Casper, known not only for his golfing skills but also for his nationally syndicated golf talk show, Real Golf Radio; and Patrick Damron of the Nationwide Tour. Compton, who holds the distinction of being the world’s only professional athlete that competes with a transplanted heart, won this year’s tournament. He conquered Dar Es-Salam’s tough par 73 Red Course by navigating its tree lined fairways with accurate drives and long straight iron shots to well bunkered greens. By shooting 15 under,
He tied the tournament record set by three-time winner Santiago Luna of Spain, and bested runner up Jose Philippe Lima of Portugal by four strokes In winning the 2005 Hassan II Trophy, Erik’s name will forever more be linked with an illustrious group of past winners that includes Orville Moody, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Payne Stewart, Nick Price, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Roger Chapman, and David Toms.
In addition to watching terrific golf, playing in the Pro-Am, and being able to listen to Billy Casper reminisce about his years on the PGA Tour, the trip to Morocco also featured unforgettable activities. Topping the list was the opportunity for pros and amateurs and their spouses to meet His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid and US Ambassador Thomas Riley at cocktail receptions at their respective homes. Other highlights included guided tours through the maze of souks of Marrakech and Rabat where Moroccans have shopped for centuries; dinner at world famous Chez Ali while costumed dancers and drummers entertained; attending a gala black tie sit-down dinner for 500 inside the walls of the old city of Rabat; and a private tour of the King’s Stables to view world champion show and race horses. The ten days of activities in conjunction with this year’s tournament and Pro-Am offered great golf, quality time with professional golfers, fascinating sightseeing, and time to visit and learn about Morocco.
It was truly an incredible experience. As we boarded our Royal Air Maroc flight home, we heard a number of this year’s amateurs paraphrase California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and tell their many new Moroccan friends, “We’ll Be Back”. For information on how you can participate in the 2006 Hassan II Trophy with all its golf and sightseeing opportunities, contact Joan Short of World Wide Golf and Travel in Newport Beach at 949-644-8490. Please note that many more of Chuck's articles can be found in his Article Archive.