The pretty fishing village of Downings lies on the edge of Sheep Haven Bay in the north of County Donegal. Donegal is rapidly becoming one of Ireland's best golfing destinations and the secluded Rosapenna is where the old meets the new.
Golf at Rosapenna dates back to 1891, when Old Tom Morris set out the original holes on the Old Tom Morris course; running round the hotel, up onto the hill between the hotel and Mulroy Bay, then back into the valley that lies between the dunes and the beach. Harry Vardon upgraded this layout in 1906, then James Braid is said to have made design suggestions on his visits before Harry Colt created five new holes between 1911 and 1916.
After Frank and Hilary Casey purchased the property in the early 1980s, they called in Eddie Hackett to revitalize the golfing set-up at the hotel and he designed eight extra holes in the dunes to replace those running round the hill. Pat Ruddy then takes up the story in his book Beyond His Lordship’s Wildest Dream: Rosapenna:
“Eddie was inevitably slowing down in the few years before his death in 1996 and his planned new holes were just edging into play when I was invited to visit and everything changed. The Sandy Hills links was conceived and it became clear to me that nine lovely old-fashioned links holes could be fitted into the low dunes between it and the road to make the Old Tom Links play on sand all the way. All but snatches of Eddie’s work was abandoned. Instead, there would be twenty-seven new holes!”
Sandy Hills quietly opened for play in June 2003 and slowly, but surely, the golfing world began to recognise that this course is special. Old Tom chose to route the Old course alongside the dunes, but Pat Ruddy had different ideas – he decided to carve straight through them and this is presumably how the name Sandy Hills came into being. Right from the off, you are in a lunar landscape, among gigantic dunes. Going over and through the dunes provides a platform to drink in the stunning views across the Old course to Sheep Haven Bay beyond.
Measuring 7,183 yards from the back tees and with the par set at 72, Sandy Hills will test the very best. Each and every hole has precise definition with the hummocking fairways framed by the dunes, so the immense challenge is always clearly visible from the tees. Whatever you do, don't stray too far offline, otherwise you'll be lucky to find your ball in the dunes. And make sure that your approach shots are accurate too, because the greens are invariably cut into the dunes or sited on elevated plateaux.
Rosapenna was worthy of a visit just to play the Old course, but Pat Ruddy has improved on that too, by remodelling the back nine. They’ve called the new-look course the ‘Old Tom Morris Links’ after its eminent original designer and it opened for play in September 2009. But it's the Sandy Hills course that everyone is talking about and there's only one way to find out how good it really is.
American architect Beau Welling – who renovated the Quinta do Lago (North) course to great critical acclaim in 2014 – has recently been involved in “softening” the Sandy Hills course a little bit. The first hole is now a sensible par five (instead of a murderous long par four opener) with a penal bunker removed from the front of the green. Similar bunker removals have also taken place on holes 4, 9 and 13, allowing ground game approach shots to reach the green.
New fairway bunkers have been installed at holes 1, 5 and 8 whilst, on the back nine, the right doglegged par five 13th has had a new green installed, along with three new bunkers down the left side of the fairway. Completing the renovation, the reshaped home green is now angled at 45 degrees to the line of play, with shaggy mounds installed at the back to shield the 18th green from the car park.
The severity of the green contours on holes 10, 12 and 16 still give some cause for concern so it appears that they’re next in line for some remedial work in the near future. It’s always good to see new golf courses evolve in their early years as owners react to constructive criticism and Sandy Hills is certainly no exception to that process.
When I confirmed my trip I knew St Patrick’s would be 3 or 4 rounds and we had this one and Old Tom scheduled for just one round but my mates decided to rest this afternoon and I had to decide if under strong wind and physical exhaustion it was worth the round and having a buggy helped to take the decision. I played it with our great caddie Berkeley from Canada who has studied in USA and did some seasons here at Rosapenna. A very good golfer and an even better caddie, without his advice this round and finally the 4 we played at SP’s would have been a lot tougher.
After 2 rounds at SP’s which is still young and needs time for grass to settle in some areas, I found here a course already standing for a long time and with turf conditions which showed maturity and demand as the greens were rolling very fast and wind had decided to blow hard. And this hilly piece of land with many greens having false fronts and drop offs lateral and long offers a very tough challenge but beauty is also there with many great holes. It is being the usual day to play SP’s in the morning and take a cart in the afternoon for a round here or Old Tom (next trip, we had no extra time unfortunately), for those who can do more than 1 round a day this is the plan as it is a physical killer to play 36 holes walking here.
Between challenge and beauty these are the holes to be highlighted:
Blind long 2nd downhill demands a layup tee shot and then a very long second unless you go with the driver to get that very narrow part of the fairway.
Par 3 3rd towards the water with a rough hole short of it playing into a 3 club wind was not kind!
6th similar to 2nd but with a wider landing area for the tee shot allows the Driver to be used.
7th downhill to a very tough green played downwind and I feel it made it even tougher.
9th up the hill and with the need of a layup tee shot before an uphill wedge was one of the good ones.
11th with elevated tee shot to a false front green, what a great golf hole.
14th up the hill towards the water to an elevated infinity green … one of the best of the property.
16th elevated par 3 with a false front and two tier green completes a phenomenal set of “one shooters”.
It is likely that many golfers bypass this one or Old Tom to play more at St Patrick’s … don’t make that mistake and give it at least one round at this Beasty Beauty, you will find everything you expect of a golf course. Glad I made the effort for this round, it was worth every single calory of my body’s energy.
Rosapenna Sandy Hills is a good golf course. After playing it the first time, I was eager to play it again two days later. It is one of the most dramatic courses I have ever played due to the high dunes and valleys that it works it’s way around. While Carne’s Wild Atlantic might have the taller dunes, Rosapenna Sandy Hills is nearly its equal in land movement and I think offers a higher quality of strategy and shot-making. I place it in the discussion of which is the best course that Pat Ruddy has designed along with Ballyliffin Glashedy and The European.
I was told by a caddie that when they play Sandy Hills their advice is to to just try to get through the first six holes. In essence, place your tee shot in a safe place and do not get too greedy with the approach shot into the green. Also, he said if you can play the first six in three over par then you are off to a good start.
My second time around I played as a single, starting 80 minutes behind a foursome and a twosome. Unfortunately i caught them after the tenth hole. The foursome would not let the twosome through which says something about the foursome. This left me a lot of standing time but it also gave me time to truly study the final eight holes which took 2:40 to play. I even played the eleventh a second time taking three balls with me to walk back to the tee.
The first round I played in a strong wind. The second round I played with a fierce wind. The course played incredibly difficult the second time. It was only when putting or hitting from a greenside bunker that I did not have to consider the wind.
The course plays to 6767 yards from the Black tees, par 72, rated 73.2/127. The Blue tees are 6312 yards, rated 71.0/121. Eight tees are shared for these yardages. The twelfth is a very different hole with a differential of 86 yards. I felt the ratings for the slope to be off by at least ten points and more if the course often gets that strong of a breeze. One can very easily get in trouble on the Sandy Hills course and get a double bogey or worse. Sandy Hills is not a pushover or even a hard par/easy bogey course. It is a course where bogey is often a good score.
The course is kept in excellent condition.
The greens are generally slightly larger than one might find on other courses, yet never overly large for the approach shot. Many of the green complexes allow for the possibility of putting, chipping, or running a ball onto the green. I thought the green surfaces to also be appropriate for the approach shot with only a few questions as to the surrounds or slope. The greens were almost always exactly where one would want them to be which reflects the quality of the routing.
The bunkers are appropriately placed and vary in shape and depth. It is the rare course where I question the number, placement, or share/depth of the bunkers.
My only criticism of the course, which might be unfair due to the high wind conditions in which I played, is that it can be too difficult for the average player to a high index. As such, there is a high probability that even a decent player will find difficult holes again and again. It can be no fun when that happens. Due to the slowness of the final eight holes, I had opportunities on many holes to watch the six players in front of me. None of them played well and all struggled getting to,the green as well as on the greens. But to lessen the difficulty one would have to take away a few bunkers or reshape some of the fairways, reduce the size of some fairway dunes defining the playing corridors, or fill in some of the valleys just off the fairways. This would reduce the naturalness of the course which would not be wise.
1. Par 5 - 483/483. On my first round I thought this was a par four and one of the hardest I had ever played. But it is good as a par 5 despite being well under 500 yards. The fairway sits below tall dunes and it is narrow. A bunker sits off the tee on the left at 210 yards forcing the average player to go right when the shot seems to better played left center as the hole has a slight bend to the right. A second bunker is 315 yards off the tee on the left set into the base of a dune. The fairway really narrows at this point for 90 yards before widening again. The green has no bunkers with a tilt to the front. The left side has a large dune looming over the green. Due to the wind I felt on round one it played 30 yards longer and the second round 75 yards longer.
2. Par 4 - 452/400. This is a very difficult hole as the fairway squeezes in again between the dunes at 250/200 yards from the tee shot. The fairway starts to widen about 100 yards later. This hole forces the longer player to lay up which is unfortunate and unnecessary given the terrific green complex. The fairways rolls a few times with uneven mounds before it ends in a deep valley fronting the green beginning 35 yards from the green. Two grass bunkers are set below the green. The green is 28 yards in depth yet from the fairway looks very shallow. If you end up in the valley you have a semi-blind shot of about 15 feet high. The green has a sharp front edge so anything short of the green will not bounce onto the green. The green has micro-tiers resulting in four sections to the green. Although I got caught by the valley and came close to saving par, I thought it was terrific to have to think about what it would take to recover. I lingered here to hit multiple shots.
3. Par 3 - 178/155. A deep valley fronts this infinity green which has a view of the beach and sea off in the distance. The hole is bracketed by dunes and no bunkers. The green is somewhat small at only 22 yards in depth. Into the wind it played nearly 200 yards.
4. Par 4 - 341/341. This hole plays down then back up to a green off to the right that if one lands short, the ball will come back to them. Off to the right is a small area where the ball might not release into the tall grass and valley, whereas behind the green a ball could go down a slope about 30 feet. To the left of the green is a tall dune. The green is fronted by two bunkers. This hole is a visual delight from the tee and beautifully designed.
5. Par 4 - 370/370. Thankfully this is not a long hole because it would be too difficult. The wind was very high into my face but also pushing left. This hole plays uphill to the dogleg right. A single bunker is on the left at 220 yards from the green. Two bunkers are placed close together 10 yards from the green. The green sits on higher ground and is off to the right with a back higher section. This is a sneaky difficult hole.
6. Par 4 - 413/384. This straight hole plays uphill with no bunkers and is set below the dunes. A grass depression fronts the green which has a release area on the back right. The wind was probably the highest here which resulted in a double bogey. That felt like a bogey. It deserves the number one index.
7. Par 3 - 194/194. From an elevated tee this hole plays substantially downhill. I landed my ball short of the green both times due to the release onto the green. A large dune is left of the green and tall grass on the right and rear. It is visually more attractive than it is playing the hole.
8. Par 5 - 534/475. From a very elevated tee there is ample room to the fairway. The flanking fairway bunkers are at 310-320 yards from the black tee and 250-260 from the blue tee. The fairway rolls with many humps as it turns slightly right. There are dunes in both sides with a grassy fall-off to be avoided down the right side about 60 yards away from the green. The green is set off to the right with a fall-off left. The green is set against dunes to the right and rear. It is a tricky green with a central swale. This is an attractive hole.
9. Par 4 - 439/400. This hole plays slightly down but then up to the green. Two bunkers are left off the tee about 230/200 yards but it is easy to play away from them. A very deep chasm begins 80 yards from the green and is nearly 50 yards wide. This chasm sits in the middle of the fairway and ends 30 yards from the green. As the wind was finally behind me in round two I tried to hit a shot that would run onto the green due to the front pin location. I did not remember the chasm in the second round and although I thought I hit a great shot I never found my ball so it must have gone down perhaps as much as 50 feet. The green sits between smaller dunes angled to the right.
10. Par 4 - 360/360. This is one of the most dramatic holes on the property. You play sharply downhill into a valley from the higher ground. The fairway is wider than it appears but if one goes down the right they will have a blind shot to the green. The fairway really narrows between the dunes as it snakes up to the green. The green has a steep fall in front of it as it is nestled into the dunes. The only bunker on the course is front right of the green. The land movement here is amazing. This hole is very fun to play.
11. Par 3 - 182/182. From the tee you play across a valley of lower, very dense grassy ground. This green has a sharp front to it and only about seven yards between the sharp front and a sharp fall-off back into the valley. There is a deep bunker on the front right where balls landing on that section of the green will fall into it. A hidden bunker is towards the back left. This hole is unfair at the front both with the sharp front and the slope into the right bunker. I disliked it the most on the course. I think the green complex needs to be redone.
12. Par 4 - 401/315. This hole plays slightly up all the way to the green. It sits below dunes on both sides. The right side has taller dunes blocking one’s view of the green. There are no bunkers on this hole which has a somewhat smaller green. I liked the hole.
13. Par 5 - 503/503 there is an early bunker on the left at 260 yards from the tee. The fairway feels tight all the way to the green because the holes seems to,keep,going to the right. The two bunkers on the left are very much in play for the second shot for most players sitting 70 and 35 yards from the green. One need to not go right into one of the valleys as they approach the green. It is a fun hole.
14. Par 4 - 353/324. A chance to score here as long as you find the fairway and avoid a deep bunker on the front left corner of the green.
15. Par 4 - 469/403. This hole plays fairly level. It has no bunkers. The larger green is set off to the right and is angled right with a fall-off to the front and left. A tall mound is also off the left side. This hole is significantly better from the black tees but a fun and challenging hole.
16. Par 3 - 187/162. This is a really good hole playing uphill with a very tall dune off the left side. A deep bunker is on the front left. The back left of the green is partially hidden. The green is tilted to the front where a ball landing in the front half could roll back into the bunker or well off the front. Dunes surround all three sides of this green. This is perhaps the most visually exciting hole on the course.
17. Par 5 - 474/474. This straight hole plays to a fairway that heaves, rolls, rises and falls. The green is on lower ground with a hump on the front left shoulder. The green falls away to the rear with very different sections. I disliked the shaping of this green including the green surrounds as I thought them to be inconsistent with the shaping on the rest of the course.
18. Par 4 - 432/387. You play slightly down to a wide fairway that ends at 285/240 down the right side. The fairway shrinks by nearly two-thirds at 135 yards out as the high dunes in both sides squeeze in. The hole widens only slightly to the green which is angled to the left with a front left corner bunker. The green has a lot of internal movement and decent micro-contouring surrounding the green backdropped by dunes and tall grass. The hole did not quite fit my eye due to the narrowness of the fairway but it is a good green.
I really liked the Sandy Hills course. Adding the St. Patrick’s and the Old Tom Morris make Rosapenna one of the premier golfing destinations in Ireland and the UK. Sandy Hills offers a good variety of difficult and fun holes requiring strategy and precision. It is a very fine routing that takes prime advantage of the land. With a few tweaks to improve its playability and fairness it could be even better.
Donegal, Rosepanna and Royal Portrush. What a trip. I had heard wonderful things about Donegal and the golf at Rosepenna for many years. It had reached an almost mythical status amongst well travelled golfers who would almost wink at you when talking about the place and whisper about this well kept golfing secret. "If you know, you know". Well although it is often the case that you should never meet your heroes because they always disappoint (Jack Nicklaus!), this trip certainly did not disappoint. It was brilliant and the fact that we were all debating whether St Pats was the 3rd or 4th best track we played is testament to how brilliant the other courses were. Personally, I think St Pats will become fabulous - a bit of tweaking with the greens and the run offs and more money spent on the infrastructure and clubhouse, but in a couple of years it will have bedded down and will be a true classic.
As for the other tracks - they were all individually brilliant. Ballyliffen the best manicured course and fastest greens I have played on all year, Old Tom was like two different 9 hole courses but both beautiful. The back 9 down the beach I loved. Sandy Hills was marginally disappointing in terms of conditioning and some strange blind tee shots to narrow landing areas. Typical Pat Ruddy design with his use of routing through the dunes, but again I think we were all a bit harsh in our criticism but I think this was a reflection of how good the other courses were. I just hope the Casey family do not run out of money over the next few years and can continue to invest in the set up. It is clear that the pandemic has hurt them financially. They need the Americans back asap.
Finally RPGC. Wow - it is an absolute classic and if pushed I would have it as my favourite Open course. I have played it 5 times now and the new holes have bedded in so well and really added to the routing and given a better finish. I love it and could easily play there every day if I had to.
In 2003 The Sandy Hills Links opened as the second course at Rosapenna. The course had been designed by Pat Ruddy, and while acknowledged as a very good course, the knock was that the course was just too tight. American architect Beau Welling has in recent years been employed to widen the playing areas, and generally improve the course, and the results of his work have been well received.
A recent acquisition has been the St Patricks Links GC, and Tom Doak is again involved giving Rosapenna the chance to become a very special golfing destination, indeed.
While The Old Tom Course was routed through lower lying linksland, The Sandy Hills Links takes advantage of some sizeable dunes, and unlike many of the better known links courses in the UK, all eighteen holes are routed through these impressive sandhills.
But while the terrain is absolutely world class, and perfect for a top quality links course, Sandy Hills does not quite hit the mark. But there are no poor holes, and the course is consistently good. It is well maintained, and a pleasure to walk.
However it does lack that ‘spark’ of creativity that the great courses show. The holes have a sameness, and lack sufficient definition to draw the eye. Don’t get me wrong, this is a quality links course that is fun to play and a good test of golf. I just feel it could be better with a knowledgeable creative architect having input, adding bunkering with a little more flair, and adding some variation to the green sites. At the moment many of the greens are elevated with little or no bunkering, and sharp drop offs at the front as the main protection. Perhaps Beau Welling has this all in hand as the playing areas seem to be quite reasonable now, and some new bunkering on hole 13 was a great improvement. We will have to wait and see!
Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort is an impressive facility and has the potential to be a truly world class resort. But in my view it needs one stand out course, so hopefully Sandy Hills can gradually be tweaked to the required standard, or the adjacent St Patrick Links can fill the void. It’s a good golf destination now. It could be a great one!
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Located on the edge of the picturesque Sheephaven Bay in County Donegal the Rosapenna Resort is a fascinating golf facility tucked away in a corner on the North-West coast of Ireland.
The complex has seen a number of alterations over the years, which admittedly does create a bit of convolution at times, and further change is planned for the future.
Firstly, the hotel is excellent with all the facilities you would expect from an upmarket, luxury resort with particular mention going to the spacious rooms. It is located a very short drive from the golf pavilion and clubhouse so makes a great base for a stay here. I would personally look no further.
The Sandyhills course, largely undisputed as the best on the estate and often ranked within the top links of Great Britain & Ireland, is a relentless modern golfing experience of the big dune type.
Created by Pat Ruddy and opened for play in 2003 the 18 holes are effectively laid out on one mammoth dune ridge way up in the clouds but across this ridge there are some huge undulations and dunes within their own right.
Golf courses are often described as a roller-coaster ride and Sandyhills is the epitome of this. Drives from elevated tees to plunging fairways and then back up to raised greens with killer drop-offs and deep bunkers are the norm. We have blind, or at least partially sighted, drives at a number of holes and the fairways, not particularly generous, twist, weave and turn through the sandhills. Very rarely do you have a boring golf shot at Rosapenna. In a wind the course is difficult and you will need to try and play shots that you never thought you had in your locker.
Without giving a blow-by-blow description of each hole I will just say that the drama never ends. Be it the cascading fairway at the sixth, the tantalisingly difficult fall-away green at the downhill 7th or the arguably unfair crater that fronts the 12th you will not leave Sandyhills feeling you weren’t engaged, entertained and perhaps even mauled by the course.
I love the golf that Sandyhills produces. It is not dissimilar to that at Carne or Enniscrone where it just never lets up. And ironically that would be my only criticism – is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Can it be too dramatic to be truly great. The more golf I play the more I think I have decided in my own mind that the answer is yes but equally I don’t have a problem indulging myself now and again.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Rosapenna is the real deal, proper linksland. You get sight of this on the drive in as huge rolling dunes catch your eye. I’d go as far as to say that it’s the most impressive duneland I’ve ever seen around a golf venue.
I’d highly recommend starting your Rosapenna experience on the Old Tom Morris Links first which is well worth playing on its own merits, and it’s on the back nine of the Old Tom Morris Links where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the massive dunes donned with orange flags. That my friends is Sandy Hills, and she’s a beauty.
In truth, I first visited Rosapenna six years ago and played Sandy Hills in a three-club wind. All I can say is that I’ve never been so badly beaten up by a golf course. The bones of a wonderful course were there but it was just far too tough to be enjoyable and the condition of the course, still being fairly new, also needed improving. I made my first return to Rosapenna this month and I’m so happy that I did as the course has improved immeasurably. The greens ran perfectly smooth, maybe the best links greens that I’ve played. The turf conditions are now perfect with that springy links feedback pronounced on every iron shot and the fairways are now much wider and fairer. The blind shots are still there but bunkers have been removed from positions where they didn’t really belong. The green surrounds are closely mown, so whilst many greens are elevated, I found the ground game a realistic option.
What remains from when I first played the course is the sheer beauty of this place. Donegal’s a delightfully scenic county with rugged hills set alongside perfect sandy beaches meaning that the views from this elevated property through the first six holes are spectacular, culminating in the dramatic “up and over” 6th with its green perched in front of the backdrop of the sea. The rest of the course is very much submerged within the dunes such that each hole plays in isolation. Those dunes are covered with long and wispy marram grass meaning each hole is an absolute picture from the tee.
Being set amongst these gigantic mountains of sand, severe drop offs are inevitable. A prime example is the par five 8th where a ball played to the left of the green will just get ejected, so whilst the course is much fairer than it was, accuracy still plays a key part in the course management strategy.
From the first hole with its green located in a trough created by flanking dunes, through to the 18th that’s routed through a valley, there are few places more dramatic. Rosapenna proves to be one of the most spectacular places that I’ve played golf and I hope to see the course rise higher in the rankings as its more mature, fairer self starts to get more recognition. Given time, I firmly believe that Sandy Hills could be making its way into the World Top 100 so get there first before the prices start to be more reflective of a course of this stature.
Sandy Hills was the standout highlight for me on a recent trip to the North. For too long, I had been hearing stories comparing Rosapenna and Ballyliffin, but having experienced them all – in my humble opinion – the Sandy Hills course is miles ahead of Ballyliffin in terms of quality, topography and ranking.
It’s a non-stop thrilling experience playing through the dunes, with no shortage of difficulty added by blind tee shots and approach shots. Par is a hard earned rewarding score for each hole. Mr. Ruddy never wants to make anything too easy in life. It’s a championship test like no other in the northwest, and in firm and fast conditions, this Donegal jewel will knock your socks off. The jaw-dropping surrounding scenery will take your breath away as will the routing that Mr. Ruddy discovered in this idyllic setting.
The opening 6 holes are outstanding with a healthy mix of long and short holes, but each just fits the land perfectly as you climb up and down the dunes. The quality continues the entire way through the back nine and I walked off the course wondering how on earth this course doesn’t get more awards. Sandy Hills belongs comfortably inside the Top 10 in the Republic of Ireland, unlike other big names in Donegal.
On a beautiful day, it’s one of those courses that you wish never came to an end. Add in the Old Tom Morris course as a perfect complement to the might of the Sandy Hills championship layout, and you’ll experience a glorious piece of the Emerald Isle.
The Rosapenna resort is the best golf destination in the entire country. With the addition of St. Patrick’s, Rosapenna has firmly blown the competition out of the water. In terms of quantity and quality, there are more “great” courses concentrated in the northwest compared to any other area of Ireland. In 2003 when Sandy Hills opened, not only was it a massive testament to Frank Casey Sr and Pat Ruddy, but it broke ground on new course development in a region hungry for golf. Furthermore, it gave visiting golfers to Ireland a fresh option as itineraries haven’t really changed over the past 40 years. A return visit has confirmed that Sandy Hills is one of my favourite courses in Ireland - it's just brilliant.
Played today, overcast then glorious sunshine, wind manageable up to 3 clubs. Loved Sandy Hills, a very tough course but a great experience. We didn't see anyone else or on the course, strange given the very long overdue sunny weather we are mercifully enjoying in this lovely corner of Ireland. In many ways the course reminded me of the sainted Castle Stuart if a bit harder - very fair, exciting, scenic, great sense of isolation on each hole, views down to the water over other golf holes, lots of skylarks and the round just flew by leaving one wanting to start again. As noted, it's a tough course and if I could make one suggestion it would be to soften some of the runoffs on the frequent elevated greens. A slightly off approach races off to a collecting gully which is typically heavily divoted. Hypothetically this might lead a player just off the right of the 17th in 2 to thin a lob wedge through the green into the marram and lose the match. Hypothetically. Also, the raised greens and chasms make ground shots sadly rare, typically it's all carry, tough in the wind. That said, Sandy Hills is brilliant fun and achieves what Trump Aberdeen doesn't in a similar setting by creating a spectacular but charming place to play golf. Would love to return, clearly the best course we've played so far in the area.
Coming back to Rosapenna, I noticed how much more I appreciated Sandy Hills. The course felt a lot friendlier than I remembered it to be.
This hunch was quickly confirmed by the pro shop: there has been a lot of tweaking of mowing lines and other design details in the last ten years to make the course less penal and more playable. Having said that, Sandy Hills is still a difficult course, especially if the wind is up or driving is off. The two unfortunately tend to be related for most golfers. In any case, it is not a track I would recommend to a high-handicapper.
However, I would advise anyone with the right game to give it a rematch sooner than I did (first visit 2008, second late August this year) because like any other Pat Ruddy design it is a lot less exhausting mentally if you played it recently and can sort out the real trouble from the imagined.
Very seldom busy, which means you will likely play at your own pace, which could be fast or excruciatingly slow, depending on how many balls you have to search for.
I can only confirm that the hype around this course is utterly justified. Conditions were really tough with 5 Bft. and some showers every now and then. This really hadn't been necessary for Sandy Hills to send me home with not much left of my pride. It's a cracking course but man is it difficult. I found the landing areas to be increasingly small for 3 woods and drivers, where an iron off the tee would often result in a long iron into the prevailing wind to a raised green between dunes. A lot of shots therefore felt awkward. Visually, Sandy Hills is as good as it gets. Few holes reveal sights of the next one, and not a single hole is alike. For my liking though, there are just a few too many blind shots to be played but that could be my grudge speaking for all the brand new balls I sprayed around the course. Sandy Hills is beyond memorable and really a fantastic course. Don't bring your pencil however, just enjoy the beating and pure linksgolf. MO