Golf Course Architecture - Issue 74, October 2023

53 Photo: Dye Designs These days, it’s pretty rare for an architect to be asked to design the only course in a country. But for Cynthia Dye McGarey, that happened. Her project on the outskirts of Erbil in northern Iraq will, when it opens, be the only golf course in the country. It won’t be the first. There were once a couple of sand layouts and one grass course before, but when the Gulf War came the courses closed. So how did the Erbil Hills project come about? The answer lies in another of the architect’s pioneering projects, Dreamland Golf Club in Baku, which itself was just the second in Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, north of Iran. “The owner of Dreamland is the uncle of Hassan Gozal, who is in charge of this project for First Quantum Capital,” says Dye. Erbil is real estate-driven. Around 300 grand residences are planned, along with several other amenities including a hotel, shops and sports areas. “It will be a community experience,” says Dye. Erbil revolves around a central citadel, a Unesco World Heritage Site that forms the city centre, and is circled by three primary ring roads. Erbil Hills is about 10 kilometres north, lying between the outer two rings. “The site for the course was farmland, with a lot of grazing grasses,” says Dye, adding that it reminds her of the site she worked on with her uncle Pete and cousin Perry for The Wolf course at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort. “At Erbil, we’re very close to the mountains. In fact, there are quite a lot of houses up there because it gets cooler. The foothills have plenty of pine trees too. It’s a little bit of a different setting to one that Americans and Europeans would think of for Iraq – there’s a lot of versatility in the terrain. “A large valley runs through the whole property. There is a 3.5-metre storm drain under a new highway that connects the site to the upper valleys, with the course routed along a water detention system in the bottom of the valley. This means that water is seen by every golf hole, but it is not always in play. The lakes and the storm drain will help to prevent the city with flooding issues, which has happened in the past.” Dye says she was hesitant when approached for the project, but was assured that safety was a top priority. “When I first visited the site, I was quite impressed with the security,” she says. “It’s still in place today. With Erbil Hills set to open nine holes, Cynthia Dye McGarey speaks with Richard Humphreys about her experience of designing the only golf course in Iraq, the city of Erbil and why this project is important for the country.