Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) - Donegal - Ireland

Rosapenna Golf Resort,
Downings,
Letterkenny,
Co. Donegal,
Ireland


  • +353 (0)74 91 55301


Visit Golfbreaks.com for a golf holiday at Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)

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. A triumvirate of former British Open Champions – Old Tom Morris, James Braid and Harry Vardon – created the Old course and it still represents a fine challenge. But it was Pat Ruddy, the man behind the European Club, who put Rosapenna firmly on the map. His new course, Sandy Hills, will surely end up on every serious golfer's must-play list.

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.

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Reviews for Rosapenna (Sandy Hills)

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Description: Rosapenna's fabulous new Sandy Hills golf course was designed by Pat Ruddy and opened for play in July 2003. Rating: 8.4 out of 10 Reviews: 53
TaylorMade
Jim McCann

Five years ago, in my last review for Sandy Hills, I ended by saying “I can’t wait to return for another beating”. Well, that day arrived today and despite being truly beaten up as anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting myself with this beast of a course.

Before playing, general manager Frank Casey Jnr pointed out a few changes designed to ease the challenge a little since I was last here. A number of the greens have had penal front Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerbunkers removed, allowing a running shot to be played, though several holes have had fairway bunkers installed to tighten up the visual options off the tee.

The par five 13th has been redesigned (with a new green installed) as has the 18th, where new mounding behind the green keeps the car park out of sight now. Looking back at the notes on my scorecard now, I’d forgotten just how good the uphill par four 9th is as its split fairway offers two exciting approach options and the heroic carry par threes at holes 3 and 11 are two of my favourite short holes anywhere.

I believe that greens on holes 10, 12 and 16 are due to be remodelled next winter and that’s good to hear about the par three 16th in particular because the gradient of its back to front putting surface is way too severe.

The Irish Ladies’ Close and the Mens’ Inter-Provincial competitions are due to be played here in a few months and I suspect the elite amateur players will be delighted with the changes that have been made to the course. Nonetheless, they should not anticipate it being any easier to post a score...

Jim McCann

April 24, 2015
9 / 10
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Fran
July 23, 2015
Great review Jim! I played Sandy Hills in 2010 and it''''s my all time favorite, nothing else comes close. Easing the ferocious nature of this course will lighten many a golfers heart. Thanks for the update!
Fran
October 17, 2015
Excellent review Jim. I played Sandy Hills in 2010 and it became my favorite course. Would love to see before and after photos.
Brian Ward
Four of us made the pilgrimage to Rosapenna in August, playing Sandy Hills in the morning and the Old course in the afternoon. Not the easiest of locations to get to but we were so glad that we made the effort. Make no mistake about it this is a great course but boy is it tough. With a three club wind and a few heavy showers to deal with we were thankful that the rough wasn't particularly brutal at the time of our visit or we may well have run out of ammo. The routing of the course through such an impressive landscape means that you are faced with a number of wonderful raised tees and plateau greens as you wind your way through the sand dunes. Some of the plateau greens are fronted by fiendish pot bunkers built into the up-slope which must be avoided to reach the putting surfaces. Add the typically firm links greens and the constant windy conditions into the mix and you have a challenge that few will conquer. The most spectacular run of holes comes between the 6th which is a stunning par-4 and the attractive dogleg 12th. These holes are situated at the furthest point from the clubhouse and are all of the highest order. The beautiful downhill 7th is possibly the pick of a high quality quartet of par-3’s and the huge grassy crater in the 9th fairway is just one example of the interesting characteristics much in evidence throughout. For a relatively new course this is a real stunner which I'm confident will only improve as it matures. We spent two nights at the welcoming on site family run hotel where the food and accommodation were excellent. There is also a great little pub within walking distance. We also enjoyed the Old course which has a handful of very good holes but overall it's not in the same league.We hope to return soon as this was a memorable trip. BTW
October 30, 2014
10 / 10
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Charles Farquharson
Had a wonderful few days in Donegal last September and Sandy Hills was the pick of the trip. Great course in great condition in a great setting. I suspect this would be too difficult for most of us in bad weather - take lots of ammo if it is windy - but the location and the quality of the course will draw you back no matter how bad your last score, and the second time around you will know the geography of the approach to the second, how missing a right hand pin at the par 3 3rd on the short side gives you no shot, how the 5th doglegs right over the brow, to avoid the chasm short left of the 6th etc etc.. Rating Bamburgh on this site recently, I thought the magnificent setting and "good to be alive" feeling it engendered more than offset any qualms about the quirks of the course. At Rosapenna the magnificent setting and good to be alive sensation means that you can more than tolerate the sensation of being beaten up by the course. CF
September 04, 2014
10 / 10
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Dave Adams
Visited Rosapenna in late Sept on a golf trip that also included playing in the Great North links Competition at Ballyliffin, Portstewart & Royal Portrush. In my opinion this was the best of a great set of links. For many years I have dreamed of finding a course that would be a combination of the front 9 at Portstewart & the back 9 of Hillside well the Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna comes very close. 1 superb hole follows another, not a weak hole amongst the 18. The course can be very challenging especially if the fairways are not found, (it completely beat up this single figure golfer) so as previous reviews state, select the right set of tees, but this course is a MUST PLAY for top 100 junkies especially if you enjoy holes routed through high dunes with fantastic scenery. I can't wait to return. Old Tom Morris course is also very enjoyable. Dave A
October 13, 2013
10 / 10
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Simon Wakefield
Having just returned from playing both courses at Rosapenna, I would like inform those who have yet to have had the pleasure, this is a must for all Links Fans, we started the weekend by playing the Old Tom Morris Course, which was an excellent course and a good warm up for Sandy Hills which is spectacular, we were lucky to play the course on a clear day so we add the extra bonus to soak up the wonderful scenery that surrounds the course. Back to the course it's self, some of the run offs around the greens are little penial, but add to the very enjoyable roller coaster ride of playing a Pat Ruddy design, there is a great variation of holes and makes it a absolute pleasure to play if your on your game, if your not playing your best you could lose footballs, not golf balls in the dunes that border most holes. Finally a big thank to Frank Casey Jnr and all his staff for making our all our stay a pleasure. Cannot wait to return.
October 22, 2011
10 / 10
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Peter Teague
What can I say! I have played most of the great Links in the North West and this has to be the most spectacular roller coaster ride of a course you are likely to play anywhere. The holes just get better and better as you play through the dunes and I thought the routing was excellent all the way along. Some of the views from the elevated tee boxes are amazing. I would rank Sandy Hills up there with Enniscrone as my favourite links. I honestly cannot wait to return and anyone who plays this course and knows anything about golf will be in awe. If you think your game is in good shape and want a good test try Sandy Hills. If you can shoot anything near your handicap you've had one hell of a round of golf.
October 14, 2011
10 / 10
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Ken Ward
I am a frequent visitor to Ireland and specifically Donegal. I have played all the great links of Ireland and Sandy Hills has risen to the top of my list. The routing through the dunes is bewildering-I doubt you will have any idea where the Hotel is once you enter the dunes. The course plays as a true links-fast and hard. The conditioning has always been acceptable and the course has no weak holes, unlike 17 & 18 at Lahinch, 4 & 5 Ballybunion etc. The new Ruddy nine for the Old Course is also an improvement
December 18, 2010
10 / 10
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Robert Aiken
I played this course in August 2010, and I have to say it is a tough and beautiful course. Tight fairways on some of the holes, and difficult greens. I was dissappointed with the state of the tee boxes and the fairways. They seemed unloved and badly loooked after which s a shame, as it is a very impressive course. I bit of TLC and this could be spectacular.
December 01, 2010
6 / 10
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Fran
We (my brother and I) Played Rosapenna, Sandy Hills course in June. We had a 2:30PM tee time. We left for the course from The Bushmills Inn in Northern Ireland and not being familiar with Ireland and it's roads we were late to say the least to tee off. Arriving two hours late, frustrated and tired we thought we had missed our opportunity to play one of the courses on our vacation. We checked the pro shop but it was locked, so we went up to the bar and decided to wet our whistles and get something to eat since we still had another three hour ride to our next hotel. While I sadly looked out on the course I would never get to play my brother slipped away and came back a few minutes later with scorecards, yardage books, and a couple of logo balls. He said that the man in the pro shop had just stepped out to check on something outside. He gave my brother a key to a cart. he told him he was closing up shop soon and asked us to return the cart to the back of the proshop after our round. We set down our Guinness' and sped out to the course and what a course it is! Your welcomed by a 461yd opening par four! Thankfully the tees were up and it played only about 375 or so with a generous fairway that narrows as you get closer to the green with a fronting bunker. The second hole, a 411yd par four and another stunner with an hour glass shaped fairway with bunkers on either side of the green. The third, a picture postcard par three that plays directly toward the bay and mountains in the distance. It's tough concentrating on the shot and not the scenery. The ninth hole was a favorite of mine with a volcano deep grass bunker in the center of the fairway, it's much better as a visual memory than a physical one. Each hole was different, scenic almost to the point of distraction. Sadly, we had to leave after ten holes so we would reach our next hotel before sundown. On the way back in we traveled through each hole and they were as good as the first ten we had played. If this course isn't a top fifty or even a top twenty in the world within ten years than there is no justice in the world. There wasn't one weak hole on the course or even one average hole for that matter. Every hole left you with a smile, at least it did me. Admitteidly, I played one of the best rounds of my life, so that has something to do with it. One other thing before I forget. The pro shop worker turned out to be Mr. Frank Casey, the owner and proprieter of Rosapenna. Thanks Mr. Casey for making two yanks feel right at home at Rosapaenna.
October 06, 2010
10 / 10
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Tom Sampson
Played Sandy Hills last week in the usual splendid isolation. I was starting to wonder if it is just me who is in love with this golf course when one other group appeared on the 1st tee. It was the current US Open champion and his father, presumably the McDowell family know a good course when they see one. Magnificent as ever!!
August 02, 2010
10 / 10
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Fran
August 07, 2010
Cool! This is my favorite course in the world. We played it without seeing another golfer the whole round. This is at least a top fifty course in the world. I think the reason it isn't yet is because there haven't been enough of the people who make these descions play it yet.