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
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Fran
I enjoyed the course. It's well conditioned but tough. the fairways are a little more generous than what you see off the tee. The greens aren't overly sloped. Getting to the green though can be a frustrating endeavour due to raised plateaus with bunkers fronting some of the greens. I just had an enjoyable time playing one of the most scenic courses I've ever seen.
June 30, 2010
10 / 10
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Tom Sampson
Having just played Sandy Hills for the 4th time I finally feel I can now comment on its true worth. This is a great golf course and as long as you don't want to punish yourself off the back tees not as difficult as some reviewers make out. A word on its condition, having played it last summer I found it much improved and also to be congratulated for appreciating water and links fairways were never meant to go together. The only worry for the future is the lack of players on it. |As usual the Old next door was packed and we were the only player on Sandy Hills. With the current travails in Ireland you wonder how long this can be sustained. Definitely one of Ireland's best courses.
June 19, 2010
10 / 10
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Martin Jordan
Rosapenna (Sandy Hills) - photo by MPPJThey say that confession is good for the soul so here goes, I am the fellow Scotsman mentioned in the review below and I can tell you the awakening was truly rude. I was chewed up and spat out, I had more slaps than a Morris dancer's ankle but I adored Sandy Hills. There is no denying that is a tough tough track, big boy’s golf to the n'th degree, golfing par excellence!! Jim is right, put the scorecard and pencil in your back pocket and enjoy the experience it is bewildering and, at times, very frustrating but you won’t regret one second of your time here. You therefore wont be surprised to hear that you are thrown to the golfing lions from the off and although the opening fairway is fairly generous it then funnels to a tight green and that is Sandy Hills in a nutshell pinched fairways to tight greens being the order of the day. The par 4's at 2, 4 and 5 see you contending with emerald ribboned fairways abutting the golden rough and the wild grasses, it is a feast for the eyes. The undoubted star of the outward half is the stupendous 6th which is SI 1 for a reason. An uphill tee shot to the crest of a hill where the fairway tumbles down to a green which is magnificently framed by the beach, water and Muckish Mountain. You will be glad to note that the back 9 is every bit as magnificent as the front. There isn’t a weak hole on the inward half, but holes 11, 12 and 16 stood out for me. Words fail to portray how great Sandy Hills is. It is beautiful, beguiling and, if you can’t keep your ball on the fairway, a bit brutal, but you will love it. As golfing experiences go it is Champions league level and if you are lucky enough to be able to play the Old Tom Morris course as part of a 36 holer you will have participated in a day of golfing heaven. MPPJ
April 30, 2010
10 / 10
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Jim McCann

I returned for my third visit to the course two days ago and enjoyed the experience as much as when I first played here five years previously. Like my last game here, I had a fellow Scotsman in tow – who may have thought he knew all about Rosapenna from playing the Old course last August; boy, was he in for a rude awakening!

Having lost a handful of balls on the opening few holes, my playing partner was told to forget about his scorecard (as I was doing) and concentrate on the match play because I think not keeping score just might be the secret to enjoying a round at Sandy Hills.

Yes, it’s a demanding, intimidating 18 holes that grabs you by the throat as you stand on the 1st tee and only releases you as you walk off the 18th green but, for the four hours in between those points on the course, you will be given one of the most enjoyable, thrill a minute tests of links golf in all of Ireland. I can’t wait to return for another beating.

Jim McCann

April 08, 2010
9 / 10
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Jeff Kimbro
Played Rosapenna with my father in the spring of 2009. Enjoyed the layout, especially playing thru the sand dunes that encompass the middle 14 holes (the first 2 and last 2 are flat and at the base of the dunes). Those in the middle play like a roller coaster ride with some excellent par 5's. The course was in very good, but not great condition. A small problem is the fact that the course is in the middle of nowhere and difficult to get to. Enjoyed the Sandy Hills course immensely, and also played the Old Tom Morris course. It was a complete waste of $$$ and in terrible condition (expecially the back nine).
January 23, 2010
6 / 10
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Jim McCann
January 23, 2010
You'll find that the revamped Old is a FAR better course than its former configuration of Strand and Coastguard nines - well worth a warm up here before tackling the beast next door!!!
Chris McCann
Very challenging course off the Whites, and difficult off the Yellows - one of the best courses i have ever played. Great scenery. With the wind and rain we had it played exceptionally difficult. The course layout is great, but the greens weren't in as good condition as i had anticipated, though with the strong atlantic sea spray i guess its hard to keep them in great condition. Some of the tee boxes weren't great, but overall course is fantastic. Heading back soon!
August 27, 2009
10 / 10
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Tom Sampson
Possibly the best setting for a golf course I have ever played and a fiendishly stiff test. My only criticism of the layout would be the greens are mainly plateaus and and upside down saucers. Ok for Pinehurst but i am not sure about that on a links. My major complaint would be the condition. The greens are Ok but the fairways very poor. We were told to play winter rules in July!! All in all the positives out weigh the negatives. But with a little TLC this could be one of the great courses of the world not just Ireland.
July 18, 2009
6 / 10
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dan
December 01, 2010
So does Royal Dornoch, and that's not a bad links course !
Chris Healy
We played both courses at Rosapenna on our recent trip to Donegal. The Old Links is a fabulous test of traditional links golf and to play a such a piece of golfing history with names like Old Tom Morris, James Braid and Harry Vardon was just magical. The Old Links was in top class tournament condition with the truest links greens i think i have ever putted on. The big course Sandy Hills is just WOW! It makes its way through some of the highest dunes i have ever seen with beautiful views across the bay. The flags, flag poles and cups were in fine condition and the course was playing really bouncy - just as a links should in July.. The greens were quick and true but hard to hold from the fairway, this is a real thinkers course you can't just bomb it along and hope to wedge it into every green... We stayed in the four star hotel on site where our every need was catered for, excellent food and first class service at a very reasonable price. We plan to return as soon as possible to this wonderful links destination...
July 10, 2009
8 / 10
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lodgeboy
This is a fantastic layout but is let down by the obvious way in which it has been starved of care and attention. Whilst the old course was presented in a fabulous state, Sandy Hills had poor greens and the flags and flag sticks were in a terrible state. With just a little more attention this could have been the highlight of our trip. Pity. The "Golf Pavilion" was the most ridiculous building I have ever been in - 18,000 square feet and you couldn't get a sandwich!
July 07, 2009
6 / 10
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ryan
I have played this course 4 times now, twice in the winter and twice in the summer and i must say that the seasonal variations in the standard of the course are huge! In summer, the course is in great condition, with great greens, but in the winter disease seems to hit the course of the salty ocean as the greens become very bumpy and quite slow, and the fairways don't seem to get cut that often. However, it is a must play in the Summer-just don't think about it in the winter! I placed it fifth in the area, behind 1) Ballyliifin (Glashedy), 2) Royal County Down, 3) Ballyliffin (Old Course), 4) Royal Portrush, 5) Rosapenna, 6) Murvagh, 7) Portsalon and 8) Castlerock! What a great golfing area, can't wait to come back- it'll be hard to beat ballyliffin though!
February 25, 2009
6 / 10
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