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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Ivan Morris
Sandy Hills is one of the most exacting tests of golf I have ever played but in such stunningly beautiful surroundings it is a joyful struggle. Rosapenna, including its flatter Old Tom Morris Course, is right up there at the top of Irish golf in more ways than one. True heavenly links to play over and a delightful place to stay for a few never to be forgotten days of golfing pleasure!
October 26, 2006
10 / 10
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LC Lambrecht
Rosapenna, Sandy Hills - The most dramatic and well routed new course in Ireland in the past decade. This links is extremely challenging and beautiful, the dune structure of this virgin property is the best in Ireland and the architect Pat Ruddy has used it to perfection. It is still being refined and slight adjustments are being made that will make the Sandy Hills Links a definite contender for a top 20 course in Europe. The value and the level of play here can not be matched anywhere in Ireland or the UK.
October 26, 2006
10 / 10
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Shaun
A fantastic links course that will continue to rise up the ratings over time. Criticism of the rough is unfair as each hole rewarded good shots and was not tricked up in anyway. The welcome afforded to our party was second to none and our stay at the attached hotel was superb.I would rate this course within the top twenty links courses in Britain and Ireland, highly recommended.
October 08, 2006
8 / 10
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Keith Baxter

We played Sandy Hills recently and contrary to the previous review, our foursome loved this course. I agree with one of the comments below in that it’s a tough and long walk made even more difficult if you have to go ball hunting regularly in the enormous energy sapping dunes. Make sure you play off the tee that reflects your ability… we are all decent golfers ranging from low single digit to 12 handicap and found the white tees exceptionally challenging, some of the par fours into the wind were simply impossible to reach in regulation. Put your bravado aside and play off the yellows unless your game is hot… some of the carries can be quite daunting too. Most fairways are tight and you need to keep the ball in play, so use your driver sparingly and avoid spraying the ball around otherwise you will lose plenty of balls. I totally disagree that Sandy Hills is uninspiring and unexciting. This is a fun course that not only makes you think and constantly re-evaluate your shot making but it comes with magnificent 360-degree ocean/bay views and this is a course not only for the golf addict but also for the dune junky. The raised and in some cases domed greensites would have Donald Ross smiling in his grave and the par threes are simply magnificent. Perhaps the only weakness of the course is that the bunkers are sometimes hidden from view and are a little untidy around the edges but that aside, this is a world-class course that simply must be played by any serious golf course aficionado. I loved every moment of it, even the sheer exhaustion that transpired as a healthy glow when we sipped our Guinness in the wonderful new clubhouse after what was a truly memorable round.

October 06, 2006
9 / 10
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john schick
My foursome really disliked this course for several reasons. First, it's a difficult walking course and secondly it isn't forgiving. We lost about 8 or 9 balls each as the fescue here is some of the toughest we encountered. The caddy told us that the owners have been cutting the fescue back to widen fairways as too many golfers walk off #18 saying that the course is too unfriendly and that they won't return. I agree. The layout doesn't inspire. There was just nothing exciting about playing this course.
September 12, 2006
4 / 10
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Cédric
Had a tee time at 10.00 in late august and there were no signs of life when I arrived 20 minutes ahead of time. After looking around a couple of times I finally found someone who told me I should go to the hotel a couple of hundred meters down the road where you get a beautiful stroke saver with your green fee. The course was fantastic and in great condition. The round was very enjoyable with great holes and no weak one. But why on earth don’t they use their newly built pavilion to serve meals as you get a fantastic view from there of the course!!! Instead you have to go back to the-beautiful-hotel…
September 05, 2006
10 / 10
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Darren
Strewth! That’s the first word that comes to mind in reviewing this course. I was fortunate enough to have recently been on a golf trip that covered much of Ireland’s “hidden” gems. The course that gets spoken of greatly is Carne, and rightly so, the back 9 at Carne was the best 9 holes of my trip. However, Carne does have weaknesses; holes that you feel can be improved. Not so here at Sandy Hills. What an outstanding, and most importantly, complete golf course. From hole 1 to hole 18, there is not a weak hole. Yes, I know reviews say this all the time, but Sandy Hills certainly does not suffer. Enniscrone has 3 weak holes on the front 9, Carne has a couple also, and as for Ballyliffin Glashedy, the final 3 holes do not match the rest of the course. Sandy Hills wins hands down on end to end strengths. It’s a very tough course to play, I am a single figure handicap player and was well and truly beaten! Of all the courses I played in West Ireland, it is this course that would draw me back again. Play it!
June 08, 2006
10 / 10
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Gareth Williams
Sandy Hills is undoubtedly a superb golf course. Weaving it's way through the dunes it offers wonderful views out to sea and across the excellent old course at Rosapenna. The changes in direction and elevation test your club selection on every hole making this a truly mammoth challenge even in calm conditions. There are many wonderful holes to pick out with most enjoying the isolation of their own little valley through the dunes. My only criticism would be that the greens are absolutely rock hard. That's what you would expect from a links course but as this is not a natural old links there is no option to run the ball into the greens. The result is many approaches to greens require you to carry the ball over bunkers, mostly to elevated greens with run-offs and when the greens are so hard it offers very little help to the golfer. A little more thought to this design aspect would have made it all the more enjoyable for its many visitors.
May 31, 2006
8 / 10
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Clive Drew
Firstly I must declare a very distant family relationship on my wife’s side of the family, notwithstanding this, my sons and I played both courses, Old Tom Morris and Sandy Hills, at Rosapenna daily for five days in October 2005. Sandy Hills I rate as being one of the most testing courses I have ever played on, added together with the fact that it is a links course with the variable weather to contend with, this course is a true test of ones golf and if you let it get the better of you it has the ability to destroy your self belief. Playing straight golf is not good enough you must be able to shape your shots. The greens are true and straight however it is an absolute imperative to read the greens correctly, very expensive if you cannot do this. Rosapenna is a gem. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful with probably the most exhilarating golf in the world. Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Royal Portrush, Lahinch, Waterville, and dare I say it The European Club eat your heart out you have been well and truly matched and overtaken.
February 26, 2006
10 / 10
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Jim McCann

If you have played the Glashedy at Ballyliffin, you would know exactly who the course architect of Sandy Hills Links was as you stood on the first tee looking out into dunes to the first hole – it could only be Pat Ruddy, the Irish golfing magician with the ability to create big dipper, thrill a minute, links golf in and amongst the most inhospitable of terrain.

Ruddy design hallmarks abound: spectacular elevated tees, clearly visible landing areas and subtly undulating raised greens where anything short is easily gobbled up by protecting bunkers at the front – golf here is designed to be exhilarating and if your pulse is not racing as you go round then you should be packing away your clubs and taking up another sport.

It is demanding and far from easy to play but if you like your links golf to be spectacular then this is the place to play. A brand new clubhouse has been built which is enormous – serious cash has been spent on the fitting out of the locker rooms and shop downstairs plus the lounge and dining room upstairs – so it's evident Rosapenna has invested heavily in the future of golf in this remote north west corner of Donegal.

And that investment continues as the Old course is to be revamped in the very near future, removing the old back nine and replacing it with new holes that venture into the same dunes that the Sandy Hills course is built on. When updated, the Old course should be able to rival its big brother next door as it doesn’t quite come close enough at the moment. Oh, and the greenkeepers told me there are fifty new bunkers planned for Sandy Hills so there’s no resting on laurels here either.

James McCann

September 02, 2005
9 / 10
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