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25 miles from Letterkenny on the N56, then R245 and R248
Frank Casey Jnr
Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, James Braid, Pat Ruddy, Tom Doak
Old Tom Morris, whilst visiting Lord Leitrim on his estate in 1891, is credited with the original design of Rosapenna's Old course. Harry Vardon and James Braid made further changes in later years, so the course bears the architectural hallmarks of men who between them won no fewer than fifteen Open Championships.
The original 18-hole Old Tom Morris course started on some raised land between the clubhouse and the hotel. Nine holes then ran along the low lying area beside Tramore beach before the remaining fairways ran away from the coastline, across the road, up and around a nearby hill, tumbling down again to the start.
In June 2005, nine new holes opened for play, laid out by Pat Ruddy from the European Club. These were carved through the low-lying dunes adjacent to the Sandy Hills course and became known as the “Strand Nine”. Reaching for perfection, the club closed the Strand nine at the end of 2006 for extensive greensite restoration and bunker additions. Shaper Eric Iverson from Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design Company undertook this work and, in September of 2009, the nine holes reopened and the order of holes were re-sequenced.
The opening hole and the last eight holes of the original Old Tom Morris course were removed to form a new “Coastguard Nine” and the newly restored “Strand Nine” was introduced to create the front nine, with the original Old Tom “Valley Nine” (holes 2 to 10) re-sequenced as the back nine, which finishes in front of the Rosapenna Pavilion.
In essence, Rosapenna now has a restored Old course where the modern Strand holes complement the original Old Tom Morris Valley holes in a layout that’s a blend of old-fashioned and contemporary, where design from the late 19th century spans more than a hundred years to meet the brave new modern golf world.
Played this morning in a 2/3 club wind and under the threat of rain that never truly arrived and we had the course to ourselves. Gentle first hole, followed by slightly prosaic 2&3 but really got going at the terrific 6th, long par 4 with dell green and terrific sand craters to the right that we then played over on the lovely 7 th par 3. The 8 th is a cracking downhill par 5, and the 9th rounds out the front half nicely.... And on to the main course, 10 to 15 are great seaside holes, and flattish holes at the feet of Sandy Hills take us home. The par 5 16&18 are a little plain, but it's nice to finish with some birdie chances. Sitting in the clubhouse enjoying a Guinness and watching the wind blowing the seas of marram grass it's a great place to be !
A truly tremendous course that is beautiful, tough and fair. Terrific par threes. The layout has been hugely altered from the original Tom Morris layout which is a pity but the changes have been made with great skill. Personally I prefer this course to the hideously hard Sandy Hills both visually and from a playability point of view.
One of the best golf venues in Ireland.
This is a difficult review to write: I really enjoyed the variety of the previous edition of the Rosapenna Old Links with the Coastguard holes providing great views and quite modest quality golf and the Valley holes the opposite. It was also a very different experience to Sandy Hills.
However, no one remotely objective can say that the course has not improved a lot with the Strand Nine (currently holes 1-9) and the new tees and driving lines on the Valley Nine (now holes 10-18).
Many reviewers have over the years said that they prefer the Old Links over Sandy Hills and I think I also belong in that category, although the differences between the courses are smaller now.
The recommendation therefore becomes: if you can only play one round at Rosapenna and your handicap is in double figures, play the Old Links.
A final aside: On my two visits to Rosapenna, we have been almost alone on either course, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, this probably means that the two dormant courses at neighbouring St Patrick’s will remain just that for quite some time. Hope to be very wrong sooner rather than later as this is great golfing terrain.
This is the one to play.......play Sandy Hills later.
To start off our trip, we played the Old Tom Morris course and I enjoyed it a lot. The front nine has some cracking holes like 6,7 and 9 but the other holes have a very compact routing which I didn't really like. It gives the course a less serious feel. The back nine is completely different however. The holes close to the sea are very spectacular and wouldn't misfit on any top linkscourse. It has a great mix of holes, including a great reachable risk-reward par 4 13th. the following one shotter is also a worldclass hole with a valley between tee and green. Old Tom Morris is a friendly course that can show its' teeth when you're not paying attention. Play both courses to see how they contrast! but if you're in a hurry, I hold nearby Portsalon higher in esteem.
What a piece of land ! Rosapenna offers a world class 36 holes of golf. Whilst Sandy Hills is the more dramatic in terms of dunescape and routing, OTM is more classical links. In terms of OTM, my view is that the back 9 is prettier and with a slightly better contrast of holes. The standout holes are:- 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 16, 17, 18 (great finishing hole)
The quartet of par fours from holes 3 to 6 are very strong, ending with a semi blind approach to a green sitting at the foot of an enormous sand hill but my favourite hole was the par three 7th which calls for a heroic shot from the side of one dune to another (albeit to a temporary green when I played). The Valley holes were far better than I remembered from before (though I was probably mulling over my mauling on the course next door when I played it) and my playing partner expressed his surprise at the quality of the half dozen holes between 12 and 17. The home hole is a bit of an anti climax, a straightforward par five played directly towards the clubhouse, but with the statue of Old Tom looking down from the grass bank in front of the locker rooms, it’s a truly fitting way to conclude a round on such an old, historic links that has just had new life breathed into it. Jim McCann