Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) - Donegal - Ireland

Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort,
Sheephaven Bay,
Downings,
Letterkenny,
Co Donegal,
Ireland


  • +353 (0) 74 915 5000


Old Tom Morris, whilst visiting Lord Leitrim on his estate in 1891, is credited with the original design of Rosapenna's Old course. 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.

Within a short space of time, Rosapenna was the place to be seen playing, as evidenced by a photo from 1896 of George Duncan, Sandy Herd, Tom Ball and Harry Vardon relaxing on the lawns outside the hotel. Vardon returned a decade later to upgrade the course and James Braid is said to have suggested improvements, though there’s no documentary evidence of this.

In Pat Ruddy’s book Ballyliffin: Golf’s Great Twin Miracles, the author states: “it was not long until Rosapenna was the subject of more far-reaching design changes as the great Harry Colt was called in about 1911 and was actively involved up to about 1916 and his works were so dramatic that they involved the installation of a narrow railway line to import loam and other materials up the Old Tom valley where he is credited with having created holes twelve, thirteen fourteen, fifteen and sixteen per the hole numbers in 2012.”

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 was 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.

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Reviews for Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris)

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Description: In September of 2009, Rosapenna's Old Tom Morris golf course reopened after a major facelift where design from the late 19th century spans more than a hundred years to meet the brave new modern golf world. Rating: 7.7 out of 10 Reviews: 17
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Mark White

After playing the Old Tom Morris course a second time, I decided that Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Trump Turnberry and Gleneagles. I cannot think of any great hotel destinations with multiple choices of good golf on the continent of Europe. In Spain or Portugal it’s more about the weather than the golf.

Trump Turnberry has the iconic hotel on the hill overlooking the courses and sea along with a splendid lighthouse, a top ten golf course in the world, a fine second course, a wonderful luxury spa, etc.

Gleneagles has two very fine courses and a throwaway course which has been used for significant tournaments. It is another iconic “grand” hotel that offers nearly anything for its guests whether they choose to be outdoors or pampered inside.

Rosapenna has a lovely small hotel with a lovely natural setting overlooking the beach and nearby houses scattered across a hill. The rooms are very nice. It has a leisure center and a separate golfing pavilion. Most importantly, it has three very nice golf courses, all worthy of being played multiple times. Of course, the St Patrick’s course is the highlight as it debuted as the 55th best course in the world per Golf Magazine.

As of writing this I have only played the Sandy Links course once and St Patrick’s twice so it is hard to choose between Sandy Links and Old Tom Morris as to which one should be considered the second best on property. My friend and I played all three the same day, (which we were told was a first), and I followed by playing St Patrick’s and Old Tom Morris the second day.

All five rounds have been played in strong winds with wind gusts strong enough to knock over our trollies. Our first round on Old Tom Morris had us play the final four holes in a deluge of rain of large raindrops and the temperature plummeting 15 degrees.

As to the course, M. James Ward has provided a very good overview of the course.

The black tees are 6867 yards while I played the blue tees at 6495 yards. Par is 71.

1. Par 4 - 411. The opener bends to the right with a narrower fairway. It has a a lovely green with a front central bunker.

2. Par 3 - 151. I really liked this hole which plays from an elevated tee and has a tall mound just to the right of the green. On my second round I landed just left of the mound short of the green and it kicked the ball to the right leaving me stuck behind the eight feet mound. There is a bunker front left and one at the rear.

3. Par 4 - 435/409. Two bunkers are on the right side of the fairway about 235/210 out. It is another narrow fairway. The green has a bunker on the front left and balls landing short or left center will run off the left. It is a decent hole.

4. Par 4 - 415/368. This hole is basically straight although it seems to snake its way to the green. There is a deep bunker left at the base of a rise and another bunker on the right side of the green. The green is long. It is a hard hole when hitting into the strong wind.

5. Par 4 - 406/391. This is another narrower fairway when the wind is howling in your face. There is an early bunker left at 230 yards that I had no chance of reaching due to the wind. Another bunker is placed 40 yards down the right. The green has two fronting bunkers on the right. I thought it had a nicely contoured green.

6. Par 4 - 401. This is easily my favorite hole on the front nine as the green sits surrounded by tall dunes on three sides. The fairway narrows after the bunker on the right. The ground off the fairway rises and falls and is very broken with hidden valleys. The green is relatively flat but beautifully placed.

7. Par 3 - 171/164. This is a strong hole playing from an elevated tee across the valley to a green placed on a plateau. Land short of the green and your bill will tumble down the false front. There is a large mound left of the green that blocks the back left of the green. The green is flattish but with subtle movement.

8. Par 5 - 532/496. The hole bends a bit to the left going downhill. There is a collection of bunkers placed inside the fairway about 55 yards from the green very much in play. Balls landing short of the green will either run on possibly over to the back left as most the green runs away from the player or kick right due to a early spine on the green. This seems to be a simple hole but the approach shot must be delicately placed.

9. Par 4 - 413/356. This hole is a dogleg left with a fairway that tilts to the right. There is a single fairway bunker left off the tee and then three scattered bunkers down the right. This hole is all about what happens on the green which has more twists than it appears.

10. Par 4 - 436. Easily the hardest hole on the course due to the wind. Both days I said it played more like a par 6 given the strength of the gale. Higher ground is to the right off the tee and both days I found the side of the hill not even 180 yards from the tee. I barely noticed the two bunkers on the left side of the fairway prior to turn to the left. There is a large and deep bunker left of the green which is flattish. I one-putted this green both days for a bogey.

11. Par 4 - 429. This straight hole played straight into the wind and our tee shots went no more than 175 yards. There are two scattered bunkers down the left side and tall grass down the entirety of the left side. You will lose a ball on the right. The green has three bunkers left and one on the front right corner. While the green is not difficult, getting to it is challenging when there is any wind.

12. Par 4 - 402/377. This is a very fine par 4 beginning with a central bunker at 250/225 off the tee. Flanking bunkers are about 35 yards from the green. A final bunker is on the front left corner. The green is angled to the left and filled with excellent contouring particularly at the front right. The right side off the green has a ridge of taller grass. From here on through 15 the greens are very interesting.

13. Par 4 - 345/308. I played this from the elevated tee which makes it a dogleg right but the tee markers has it playing straight. The green sits on higher ground with a hill to the left and behind it. The green has a front right bunker. The green is very tilted to the right towards the bunker. Any shot on the hill going down to the green will not stop and will likely be in the bunker. It is a brilliant green. Do not be above the hole.

14. Par 3 - 192/175. While the front nine has two very good par 3’s, I considered this to be the best on the course. With the wind howling I took driver both days, finding the green on day one and being twenty yards short on day two. This plays to a plateau green with a valley fronting the green as well as flanking bunkers. It is a wonderful golf hole.

15. Par 4 - 417/393. One climbs a rise to this tee shot feeling like it is a dogleg right but straighter than it appears. Two bunkers are left off the tee and one to the right. The right side also features higher ground with tall grass. What I liked the most on this hole was the central bunker 20 yards short of the green and the deep bunker on the left side. The green has three sections to it.

16. Par 5 - 501. If one can avoid the bunker on the right at 285 yards off the tee they should have an easy second shot on a generous fairway. As long as one avoids the flanking bunkers at the green, they should have a good chance for no more than par. The green is long and without a lot of character.

17. Par 3 - 201/183. This is listed as a punchbowl green but it seemed relatively flat to the tee for me. There are two bunkers on both sides beginning about 30 yards from the green with the most troublesome one being on the front right corner. The green runs away from you and my shots out of the deep bunkers had no chance of stopping.

18. Par 5 - 601/544. This straight hole offers another wide fairway. The first fairway bunker is left about 320/250 off the tee. Another fairway bunker is on the left another 100 yards up. Two small, but deep bunkers guard the left front of the green which has most of its contouring at the front of the green. The hole is backdropped by the lovely golf pavilion set on the hill above the green.

Rosapenna Old Tom Morris is fun to play. The course is very different from the front nine to the back nine due to the different architects involved as the course has transitioned over the years. The par 3’s are the highlight of the course yet there are many interesting par 4’s. If stopping at Rosapenna, one should play it.

May 19, 2022
7 / 10
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Richard Kennedy

Favourite Links course in Ireland. The Old Tom Morris at Rosapenna is a gem. If I played it every day, I'd be a happy camper each and every day. Lovely setting. Really enjoyable track. The course is set up to test you but not to break you. Always in great condition. People in the club house are very welcoming and Downings is a beautiful spot. Looking forward to playing St. Patricks in the future although I don't expect it to offer the same enjoyment as Old Tom Morris. If it's half as good it'll be fabulous. Hope OTM is never changed. Looking forward to playing it again soon.

June 10, 2021
9 / 10
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M. James Ward

One certainly needs a scorecard to figure out all the modifications carried out over the years. Suffice to say, there's plenty of quality golf at the resort and the Old Tom Morris layout -- still commands attention. Although the fingerprints of the original architect have clearly evolved over the course of time.

The first five holes -- part of the Strand Nine -- are simply matter-of-fact holes but when you arrive at the par-4 6th it's like someone flipped the switch and the room goes from darkness to bright light. The 6th is a brilliant hole --mandating keen awareness and carried out via flawless execution. The earlier review by T P Dean is 100% spot on -- not only about the qualities of the 6th but the dynamic par-3 7th that follows.

The final two holes of the inward half are also good -- the 8th a par-5 that yields birdies in a miserly manner and the par-4 9th is played through an eye-catching dune valley.

When you head to play the "Valley Nine" -- it's as if you are playing a different course primarily from a presentation standpoint.

As others have pointed out -- the inward side commences alongside Sheephaven Bay. The terrain is flatter but the juxtaposition of land and water is quite appealing from an aesthetic side of things. The 10th is a difficult long par-4 where the turning point going left must be respected. The equally challenging long par-4 11th also keeps the pressure on players. The par-4 12th that follows is bolstered by a center-placed bunker. Strategic options abound -- but it's crucial to realize one's limitations and play accordingly.

The short par-4 13th provides a bit of a respite and the par-3 14th takes you to the far corner of the property. The return march to the clubhouse is aided by a first-rate par-4 at the 15th. Being in the fairway is mandatory because the approach only becomes more testing. The par-5 16th is a weak three-shot hole but if it were reduced to play as a long par-4 the challenge would clearly intensify. The penultimate hole is a quality par-3 and the long par-5 18th culminates the round.

As has been said by a few others -- the rigorous nature of Sandy Hills may be too much to handle for quite a few golfers. The Old Tom Morris layout is more elastic but do not confuse elasticity as a recipe for sloppy or indifferent play. The stylish differential elements I alluded to between front and back nines is something that can be alleviated. The main anchor holding the experience back is the slow progression of holes at the start of the round.

Ed Battye's comment on the facility being "a work in progress" is ever prescient. The Old Tom Morris 18 could be even more engaging with the inclusion of bunkers at key locations thereby raising the need for more consistent shotmaking. By no means is the layout a "relief" course but bringing together the varying elements could truly add to the golf side of things.

Finally, If and when the plans for golf at the former St. Patrick's takes hold the totality of the golf at Rosapenna will clearly be in the upper echelon in Ireland and potentially provide a "Bandon in Ireland" experience.

We shall see.

M. James Ward

January 09, 2021
7 / 10
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Peter Wood

The Old Tom Morris Links is routed though lower lying linksland, and not surprisingly displays some of the characteristics of St Andrews Old Course.

The fairways have serious ‘rumple’, to match the quality of the Old Tom greens.

The front nine of the current course is routed in smaller dunes away from the sea, and this is the nine Pat Ruddy/ Renaissance Design have contributed to.

Slightly more modern looking, this nine should be your starter at Rosapenna!

The back nine is routed along the seafront with a number of holes touching the beach.

It does not have the visual impact of The Old Course at St Andrews as there is no gorse, and the magnificent bunkering from the old course is absent. Nevertheless there are similarities and it is a good links course in a pretty setting.

Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.

December 16, 2019
6 / 10
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Ed Battye

The Old Tom Morris course, with origins going back to 1893, is a mixed bag with two disjointed nines where you must walk through the car park at the halfway stage (pet hate alert). It is very much is a case of where modern and tradition meet.

How much of the golf course Old Tom originally staked out is not really clear but it is probably minimal at best. The newer holes (1 to 9) which opened in 2009 are quite similar to the Sandyhills course although not as dramatic nor as penal – this can be viewed as a good thing, especially if you are playing both courses in the same day. However, there is still plenty of exhilarating golf to be had where we must drive through funnels, hit over chasms and use the dune slopes to work our ball onto the greens.

Meanwhile, the back-nine (predominantly attributed to Harry Colt although Harry Vardon and James Braid also had involvement) is a much more classic and subtler affair where the ground game dominates. The inward half is very much at ease with itself and is my preferred style of golf and in the case of holes 12, 13 and 14 my perfect type if links golf! In fact these three holes are right out of the very top drawer; a central bunker in the middle of the undulating 12th fairway dictates the strategy whilst at the risk-reward next the wickedly sloping green can easily turn a good birdie chance into a bogey or worse. And then at the very far end of the links we have a peach of a short hole played to a wonderful green set on a plateau across a valley.

I get the feeling that Rosapenna is still a bit of a work in progress – not that the courses feel unfinished by any stretch of the imagination – just that it will be fine tuned over the coming years to potentially create one of the best golfing destination venues in the British Isles.

Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.

November 29, 2019
7 / 10
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T P Dean

The Old Tom Morris links may be the lower ranked of the two courses, but its popularity provides sufficient evidence that it should not be ignored. I walked eighteen on Sandy Hills and hardly saw a soul whilst the Old Tom Morris course was packed. The Old Tom Morris course is both more forgiving and classic in style than its championship sister course. Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer Playing across two contrasting halves, rather than the nines being positioned side by side, the course is bisected down the middle by the gigantic dunes that Sandy Hills is played across.

The “Strand” front nine is played across smaller, more traditional duneland and starts off with a steady, if unspectacular first few holes but rapidly ramps up in quality at the 6th. This was my pick of the holes across the eighteen, played towards a green swallowed up by a large dune, it’s a hole that would grace most top level courses. The next hole, a par three played over a hollow of sandy wasteland is also first class. The last two holes of this front nine return back towards the clubhouse with the closing hole channelled through a duned valley.

As you then take the walk across to the back nine “Valley” holes, there’s a change of gear. In no way inferior to the front nine, it’s this time played across flatter land against the backdrop of Sheephaven Bay. The first four holes are set parallel to the shoreline that’s blessed with a beautiful sandy beach, whilst another wonderful Rosapenna (Old Tom Morris) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer par three, complete with a tremendous elevated green complex, takes you towards the end of the property. This nine then loops back around and plays in the shadow of those mountainous dunes which border it and closes out in front of a statue of Old Tom who watches over those putts and handshakes on the final green.

For the resorts so called “second course”, I was very much pleasantly surprised with the quality of the course, and in my mind holds its own with others in the region, even if it hadn’t been part of a larger golf complex. That being said, with the right investment, including the development of the St Patricks course by Tom Doak’s Renaissance team (which also has bags of potential), Rosapenna has all of the ingredients to become the go-to golf destination in Ireland.

November 05, 2018
7 / 10
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Dan Hare

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 !

April 18, 2018
8 / 10
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Richard Robinson

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.

January 16, 2018
8 / 10
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Gustav

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.

September 18, 2017
8 / 10
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Andrew Watson

This is the one to play.......play Sandy Hills later.

September 18, 2017
10 / 10
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