Review for Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)

Reviewer Score:


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.

Date: May 28, 2022

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