Rosapenna Sandy Hills Golf Course

What we say

Rosapenna is constantly evolving, but one thing never changes: its position as one of the best golf courses in Ireland.

Little stands still at Rosapenna. It is a close call as to whether it is the links or the weather that are more capricious here.

Such evolution in its courses is perhaps inevitable when one club owns such an enormous swatch of precious linksland as does this family-owned destination in a cranny of the north-west of Ireland.

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Fail to visit Rosapenna for more than 12 months and you will be behind the times. If there is more than three years between your visits to this mystical outpost in Co. Donegal, a comprehensive briefing will be required on arrival.

The Rosapenna trilogy began in 1893 and is a tale that shows no sign of running out of new storylines. Old Tom Morris started the legend at the end of the 1800s when he set down 18 holes that Harry Vardon and James Braid modified at the start of the following century.

That original course takes Old Tom’s name today and despite the introduction of new holes (known as the Strand) in 2009, it can be enjoyed as a tribute to his prescient work over 120 years ago. It feels almost superfluous to state, for surely no golfer would make this mistake, but no-one should make the lengthy journey to Rosapenna without playing the Old Tom.

Some, indeed, may week enjoy the historic, charming links – No.48 in our Irish Top 100 – more than what has been regarded as the No.1 course here since 2003, the Sandy Hills.

Quickly a fixture in our GB&I Top 100 and now well inside the 100, Sandy Hills was laid out by distinguished writer-turned-architect Pat Ruddy and bears the hallmarks of his trademark unforgiving design.

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In its early years, it was a brute. Golf World first visited in 2004 and the narrow fairways lined by thick rough that are routed over and between dunes that are so prodigious they are almost theatrical made for the most acute examination.

In weather that can be similarly unforgiving, it was a links that was spectacular to look at for all, but will have been harrowing to play for many.

Aware of this scenario, the resort widened mowing lines from 2010 and the 1st was made a par 5 (although as the first hole of the day, it is still feels exceptionally tight to the hesitant golfer) before in 2013 Beau Welling was engaged to make it even more playable.

Welling – Tiger Woods’ architect and the man who essentially re-designed Waterville – continues to work on the Sandy Hills and it will be interesting to see how, with fair weather and a budget, he develops what is an outstanding piece of linksland.

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He has already built new greens at 13 and 18 while a totally new 12th green was poised to be opened just after we visited. There are plans to modify the 4th and 16th too. Fairways have already been changed and continue to be tweaked, and all this means the Strokesavers are frequently as behind the times as the infrequent visitor.

Some will view this as a frustrating inconvenience, others will embrace the spirit of the 1890s and tackle the links as it was done in Old Tom’s day.

Certainly, there remains an old world feel to this remote holiday destination on the edge of Sheephaven Bay despite its relatively new hotel and statuesque clubhouse.

The winding journey here is one of those wonderfully scenic experiences that those of us who relish travelling to outlying links savour. Arrive, instead, in darkness and you marvel at the achingly beautiful, solitary feel of your destination as you draw back your bedroom curtains.

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The sweeping bay is picture-postcard stuff, with a rawness decorous with its hinterland location. The far-flung seclusion of the tranquil setting contrasts sharply with the big band noise of the Sandy Hills links, routed through monumental dunes akin to those at Portstewart and Portrush across the border in Northern Ireland.

Trump International in Aberdeen would be another worthwhile comparison, and it too often asks for elevated tee shots to intimidatingly small targets. Many will understandably point to the challenge of the long holes that snake along the valley floor between the sand hills. But others, such as the short 3rd, that play across the dunes can be equally as exacting. Fall short there and you face a pitch of 50 yards up onto the green from the bottom of the ravine onto the green.

Rosapenna may have softened the Sandy Hills, but it remains one of GB&I’s most demanding and adrenaline-filled experiences.

The addition of the Tom Doak-designed St Patrick’s makes this corner of Doengal an even more appealing option.

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  • Course Summary

  • Costs -
  • TG Rating 4 out of 5
  • Players Rating Not yet rated
  • Address
    Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, Downings, Co Donegal, Rosapenna
  • Tel 00 353 7491 55000
  • Website

Course Information

Course 72 par
Course Style -
Green Fees -
Course Length 7,255 yards (6,634 metres)
Holes -
Difficulty -
Course Membership -

Course Features

  • Course has: Bar
  • Course has: Buggy Hire
  • Course has: Driving Range
  • Course does not have: Practice Green
  • Course has: Pro Shop
  • Course has: Restaurant
  • Course has: Trolley Hire
  • Course does not have: Dress Code
  • Course does not have: Club Hire
  • Course does not have: Handicap

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