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.
Date: October 24, 2018