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Featuring the first championship golf course in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Erbil Hills Golf Club will also feature 330 exclusive residences that surround the course, and which will offer a new style of green, luxury living in the region. The golf course, managed by IMG and designed by Dye Designs, is currently in the grow-in stage with 9 holes due to open by the end of 2022. 


In an exclusive interview, Cynthia Dye talks about the project and how all teams have been working together to make Erbil Hills one of the region's most exciting new golf destinations. 


1 – 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 the project. The high end has a 3.5 meter 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. Therefore water is seen by every golf hole but 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 Iraqi’s to see water and green. At Erbil Hills there is a lot of both. 


2 – How does the experience of designing Erbill Hills compare to other projects you have previously worked on? 


Erbil Hills reminds me of my experience working in Palm Springs, California, USA. 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, California, USA, Erbil Hills golf course is surrounded by residences. 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 are necessary to achieve this setting. 


3 – What have been some of the biggest challenges so far in creating a 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 was even design changes in the masterplan during construction.


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 in a compound on site they were able to continue working throughout the Pandemic. One of the shapers was there for 6 months without going out but to finish shape. I had to use FaceTime to review the finish shaping of golf 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. 


4 – 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 5 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 and fun games. The driving range can be set up as a par 3 course which can hold par 3 events and hole in one challenges which makes it fun for all. It will also be lit for night time golf. Golf social events that are fun and exciting are key to introducing golf to new players. 


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