Cynthia Dye talks about her latest design project for Dye Designs, Erbil Hills Golf Club, which will see the opening of the first championship golf course in the Kurdistan region of Iraq later this year. Managed by IMG Prestige, the club will also feature 330 luxury properties overlooking the course.
Do you follow a specific design style when working on a new project? How did the land you were presented with at Erbil Hills influence your thoughts?
The topography of the land was a major consideration in the layout of Erbil Hills. The site for this project has a large valley running through the whole length of it. The high end has a 3.5m storm drain under a new highway that connects the site to the upper valleys. The golf course is routed along a water detention system in the bottom of the valley. As a result, water can be seen on every hole, but it is not always in play.
The residential villas are located on the slopes overlooking the golf course. Most would think of Iraq as a flat desert, but this northern part in very fertile pasture and agricultural land. The large mountain range to the north is only 25 minutes’ drive away. It is very important to the Iraqis to see water and green, and at Erbil Hills there is a lot of both.
How does the experience of designing Erbil Hills compare to other projects you have previously worked on?
Erbil Hills reminds me of my experience working in Palm Springs in California. The climate and vegetation are very similar, with hot summers and the rest of the seasons perfect. There is lots of green grass, lakes, flowering trees and shrubs and palm trees. For these same reasons Palm Springs became the premier golfing destination in the US. Like most golf courses in Palm Springs, the golf course at Erbil Hills will be surrounded by properties. Erbil has a more natural setting than Palm Springs, with the golf course located in a valley and the villas on the slopes above. In Palm Springs a lot of earthworks were necessary to achieve this kind of setting.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in creating the golf course in Erbil and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is timing. They started construction before the plan set was done. The design of storm drainage system going through the golf course had not been finished. I was always trying to catch up. There were even design changes to the masterplan during the construction phase.
The expansive water system circulation is very important and critical to the quality of the water. But it all got done and the finished product is going to be amazing. Thankfully, we had the golf course rough shaped and had a site review in December 2019 before the pandemic hit. Also, a lot of the materials were on site before the borders and airport closed.
Because the workers live on site they were able to continue working throughout the pandemic. One of the shapers was there for six months straight without leaving the site in order to get the shaping done. Because I was unable to get out there during Covid I had to use FaceTime to review the finish shaping of the holes and greens. That was tough because the reflection off the sand makes everything on site look flat. The landscape materials are being ordered and I like to stake the streets myself, so I hope to get over there soon.
What can Erbil Hills and the Kurdistan region learn from other local golf markets in terms of introducing and developing the game of golf?
The best way to introduce golf to a new market is to get the families involved. There are five sets of tees, wide fairways, and open approaches to the greens to accommodate all ages and levels of play at Erbil Hills. There is a large practice putting green that can be set up as a putting course for fun games. The driving range can also be set up as a par 3 course, which makes it fun for all. It will also be floodlit for night-time play and practice. Social golf events that are fun and exciting are key to introducing golf to new players.
For more details, visit www.imgprestige.com/erbil-hills.