Review for Rosapenna (St Patrick's)

Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Review:

Rosapenna St Patrick’s, designed by Tom Doak, made a strong debut after opening in 2021 with Golf Magazine ranking it the 55th best course in the world.

Combined with Narin and Portnoo about a half hour away, designed by Gil Hanse, this corner of northwest Ireland has two course designed by two of the most highly acclaimed American “modern minimalist” golf architects.

While it is hard to conceive of a course being rated so highly after opening there is Tara iti, also designed by Tom Doak that also was rated that highly by Golf Magazine upon opening. As to whether it is the 55th best course in the world, that seems a bit high but certainly it is one to be considered for inclusion. Combined with the Sandy Hills and the Old Tom Morris courses, both of which offer a mixture of difficult, strategic and fun holes, Rosapenna is one of the best three golf resorts in the UK and Ireland.

The St Patricks course properly balances challenge, playability, strategy and fun across its routing. The routing takes very good advantage of the tall dunes and rises and falls in the land. It takes you to the beach and coastline both times in the middle of each nine each time with a compelling hole.

The course is in excellent condition from tee to green.

While it is not the easiest of walks, it is a delight to walk it and stand on the tee or before the approach shot to consider one’s options.

I did have some criticisms of the course with regards to the green surrounds and a few of the greens which work against fairness and do not reward what is either a good or reasonable shot. Some of that might be due simply to some very difficult pin positions that we had but center without those pins, I thought a few holes suffered from the same design flaw. This is a very natural course but one can see where the shaping is contrived and unnatural.

We played St Patricks three times with each day providing an even stronger wind. The wind was very strong on the final road took which away much of the enjoyment as we went into grinding and survival mode. On that final round, the stiff wind only seemed to work In our favor only on a few holes even if the routing had holes changing directions. The course is designed to play firm and fast but with the strong winds all three days we rarely had that experience.

The course features wide fairways, particularly on the par fives. The greens are either long, wide, or sizable with a lot of undulations and interior movement. For the most part there is a lot of contouring in the green surrounds. The bunkering is almost perfect in number, size, shape, and depth.

The course measures 6930 yards from the sandstone tees, par 71, rated 73.2/128. The slate tees are at 6490 yards, rated 71/125. The granite tees are 5919 yards rated 68.7/121. Obviously due to,the winds the course played significantly harder but even without the winds I would state that the slope ratings are ridiculously low by 13-16 points. Evidently some course raters need more training in how to determine slope. We played the slate tees the first two days with the exception of the fourth hole where we moved up. Due to the high winds, we moved up to the granite tees on the final round although moving back on a couple of holes where we were downwind. Unfortunately, two of the better greens were closed during our visit although I hit balls close to them and had a good look at them during the first two rounds. A third person who has played all but one of the great links in the U.K. and Ireland joined us for the third round.

The course reminds me of Ballybunion Old where the first six holes are somewhat standard with a bad hole and with one good hole (in this case at St. Patrick’s one very good hole). Both courses are very good from the seventh through the seventeenth with personal preference at each course dictating whether one likes or not liked eighteen.

1. Par 4 - 382/369/345. This is typical hole for Mr. Doak where he favors the daring, longer hitter who can drive it down the tighter opening where their bill can nearly reach the green on this sharply downhill hole starting from an elevated tee. For the shorter hitter they are tempted to go left and catch the downslope but are unlikely to clear the high dune left and therefore have a blind shot. The safer play is out to the right even if it results in a longer approach shot as the green should be visible to you as the high dune on the right should not block one’s view unless you go right up against it and fall down a slope into a hollow. There is a bunker left pressed against the mound 200-235 yards from the tee but it does not feel as if it’s a threat. The bigger threat is a long, raised bunkers that begins around 20 yards from the green on the right side finishing close to the edge of the green. The green has an interior depression that pushes a bit right while the front and back fall to the middle. I do think the bunker and green are unfair as the green is on lower ground making it too low of a probability of getting a ball close to ant pin location on the front third of the third. In the seven rounds played, sux of the approach shots ran through the green. Even though I made par both times it was much more effort than I expected after hitting what I thought were good shots landing well short of the green.

2. Par 4 - 372/358/339. This hole plays uphill set between dunes. Bunkers are down the right side set into the tall dunes and are very much in play because the fairway shrinks by more than 50%. The fairway shrinks on the left side to be parallel to the green. The green is narrow at the front widening to more normal size at the back half. The green has various rolls in its interior but overall goes back to front. The left side of this green has high grass next to it while the right side has a sizable area of short grass. It is a fun hole.

3. Par 3 - 178/167/163. This hole has a forced carry over a sizable and deep valley set between dunes. Far off the right is a large bunker while a collection of bunkers are on the right back of the green. The valley has very thick, tall grass and could lead to a blind shot due to its depth. The green slopes to the front with a central vertical swale. This is another fun hole featuring real drama.

4. Par 5 - 555/508/451. High up a dune is the sandstone tee with one of the most dramatic tee shots one would ever play with the ball dropping perhaps over 150 feet. This hole parallels the coastline and beach. The fairway begins very narrow for its first 40 yards with dunes and tall grass between the sea and the fairway on the right and a rough area of short grass on the left. The fairway is blind from the slate tees but you can see it from the sandstone and granite tees as the granite tees are close to the edge of the lower dune but still high at perhaps 100 feet. On day one we played the slate tees and due to the wind I did not quite make the fairway going slightly left into the clumps of tall grass. On days two and three we moved up which allowed me to reach the fairway. The hole plays straight with the green set off slightly to the right. The hole plays longer as the green is on higher ground. Sand lines the right side for most of the first half of the fairway before giving away to dunes and grass. The left side has a long area of sand for nearly 100 yards where the fairway narrow. The fairway pinches at 200 from the green for nearly 70 yards. There are two small bunkers placed inside the fairway at 75 yards from the green on the right. Bunkers appear on the left 20 yards in front of the green continuing to the back of the green. The early double bunker left is pretty cool. The green has a bump-out on the right side after a hollow that fronts the right side of the green. The green has several hollows and mounds in it and is large, moving almost always to the front with an inner plateau. There is more room to miss left of the green due to short grass while the right side has the taller grass closer by. I liked everything about this hole.

5. Par 3 - 214/153/144. We did not get to play the green as it was being repaired for the upcoming season and would open two weeks later. But we did walk around it. It is likely one of the three best greens on the course. There is an early forced carry over a wide expense of sand that ends well before the green. There is a small hidden central bunker about 20 yards from the green. It is quite large with an overall tilt to the left. There is a back left section that protrudes to the left but very shallow that is almost hidden from the tee and likely hidden from the sandstone tee due to a dune knob on the left. The green has various little spines and small swales going through it. Go too long and you can run into sand behind the green. It is likely the best par 3 on the course.

6. Par 5 - 571/522/506. Each time I played this hole I liked it less. It plays downhill and in our case, downwind to perhaps the widest fairway on the course. The hole plays as a slight dogleg left. There is a wide area of grass and sand on rougher ground that diagonally left to right bisects the fairway. From the slate and granite tee one can run into it. It is 30 yards wide. The fairway remains wide and one should not be too concerned about the 50 yard long bunker placed inside the fairway on the left beginning at 75 yards from the hole. Sand bunkers are also in play off to the right. What I disliked about the hole is the mound that fronts the green that kicks any ball that lands on its front either left or right. Land too far on the other side of the mound and the ball will release all the way off the green even if the green slants to the front after this mound. We had a front pin all three days and it was impossible to get close to it. I do not mind mounds that front a green but I do mind mounds that re too high that half of the green is out of play for a pin position. I saw this same shaping resulting in too tall of a mound fronting two other greens. Keep the mound, but reduce it by two to three feet to make it more natural. I also wished the green was placed off to the right set closer to the wall of the high dune behind it but perhaps that was not environmentally possible.

7. Par 4 - 427/399/368. I liked this hole more and more every time I played it. From an elevated tee you play over the grass and dunes wanting to go left of the bunker complex that begins about 190-220 off the tees. We played the slate tee the first two days and the granite tee the final day due to the strength of the wind. If one can stay left of the bunkers they have the chance to clear the top of the slope that is 225-250 yards from the tee which will add as much as 25 more yards to the tee shot. The fairway has various rolls and shelves to it. The green is partially tucked behind a tall dune mound on the left which can hide much of the green. A direction marker is provided on the hill behind the green for its central landing area. The green sits below the fairway surrounded on three sides by tall dunes. It is angled to the left with a narrower front right portion. There is not as much undulations in this green but there is certainly adequate movement. I liked the visual of the hole from the tee shot to the approach shot as well as the protected setting of the green.

8. Par 4 - 339/318/280. We played the slate tee all three days. This hole plays as a slight dogleg right. Do not miss right or you can end up in a very long, wide and deep sand dune of 55 yards. On day three I missed far enough right to have a flat lie and even though I had a blind shot into the green due to the rise of the dune in front of me, it was easy to reach it. Another bunker complex is off to the left short of the green but should not be an issue. Much like the sixth, the front of the green has a contrived mound/knob fronting the green which blocks one’s view of the green and balls landing on the downslope will kick all the way to the back of the green. Land too short of the knob and your ball with likely stop and then roll either left of right. The green itself is a good one with movement in all directions. Once again, the fronting mound is two-three feet too high, looks unnatural, and eliminates the front third of the green for a pin position. I had to hit long putts from the back of the green each day for my par. It’s fun, but one would think a shorter hole might offer a better chance for birdie.

9. Par 4 - 460/460/398. Much like the seventh this seems to play as a dogleg right but the tee shot here is to a straighter hole. From another elevated tee one plays to perhaps the lumpiest fairway on the course as it tumbles down to the green. There are various sand bunkers down the entirety of the left side while the right side is tall grass. At 125 yards from the green the fairway narrows at the point of a left side bunker. Much like the seventh, the green is angled to the left and is thin although nearly 40 yards in length. Much like the seventh, this hole is both visually attractive and requires precision to make par. As it was into a fierce wind on my third round, I was not surprised at my double bogey but did not care as I had parred it the previous two days both with a two putt and one putt. The green complex sits surrounded by dunes which provides a very good chance for recovery if one has a decent touch with the short game.

10. Par 4 - 412/400/356. After a longer walk you arrive at a tee where the hole plays gently uphill. On day three into the wind it felt 100 yards longer. There is a bunker on the left in play off the tee only in the strongest of winds but its main purpose is to pinch the size of the fairway from a visual standpoint. The reality is there is a lot of fairway hidden from the tee to the left of it. The fairway widens at 225/210/165 from the three tees. As you move up the fairway higher dunes are on the right. Two bunkers creep in on the left at 95 and 75 yards with the second bunker being nearly 25 yards in length. These two bunkers shrink the fairway. A final bunker is right of the green about 15 yards from the green. This is another fairway featuring multiple rolls and small humps. There is a lot of room off to the left of the green in the form of a higher ridge where the green sits below it. The front right of the green, where we had our pin for all three days is very slanted to the front and left. Somehow I had the same putt all three days from just to the right of the right front and on the third day I learned the putt broke 15 feet. I would have liked to have played to a back pin on this green as it sits below the surrounding rises on all three sizes as it is a nice visual. This is a terrific hole to kick off the back nine.

11. Par 4 - 472/450/399. This hole plays fairly level but if one can clear the rise they can get an additional roll which is necessary given the complexity of the green. I marked down only one small bunker on the right about 50 yards from the green. The fairway narrows by half about two thirds into it. The green is placed off to the right and is an exciting one. The right half is on its own plateau perhaps five feet higher than the left side. It makes for a very small green to try to stay on it. Tall grass if off to the right. Fronting the green on the right side is a small valley but one can still try to run a ball onto it. The left side of the green falls to the back and has its own small plateau towards the back left that releases balls to the middle of the green or off to the left. I loved most of the green but felt the second smaller plateau on the back left should have been at least 25% larger as it felt unfair to me. But perhaps they never put a pin there? It is one of the most unique greens one will play.

12. Par 5 - 560/546/482. We turned direction to face the wind again on a hole that felt like it was 700 yards in length due to the wind and it plays uphill. The first bunker is left at 235/220 on the right. I did not have to concern myself with the center-line bunker at 280/260/200 as I could not reach that in any of the three rounds. The hole plays straight with the next set of bunkers at 120 yards from the green on the right and another center-line bunker at 90 yards from the green. The green is exposed with short grass available on all sides for a miss. Much like the tenth, the green is narrower at the front and has multiple shelves in it. On all three days we had a middle left pin where there is more movement in the green. This is a strong par 5 that offers something for players of all caliber.

13. Par 4 - 376/343/333. You play uphill to a blind green which sits over the rise. There is a very tall dune on the right side that has a hollow before it much like the opening hole. This mound is 50 yards in length. Stay middle or left off the tee and you have a much better chance of making a reasonable score. Just before the green on the right are two deep bunkers set below a taller mound. If you go into these bunkers you will have a blind shot to a pin on the right which we had all three days. Although I went into these bunkers on two days I thought they were perfectly placed and shaped. The green is long and wide which is appropriate for a likely blind approach shot. I have seen this type of hole on many links courses but this is one of the better ones.

14. Par 4 - 399/365/340. The green was closed to us for maintenance. This hole offers the second best view from the golf course of the beach, coastline, and surrounding tall hills. I think the fourth tee is slightly better. From this tee you can see the remnants of the previous 36 holes that were there. These remnants will likely be blown over in a few more years. It is a dramatic view as the fairway sits perhaps 80 feet below you. The hole is played as a sharp dogleg right. One can easily hit through the fairway so cutting the dogleg or getting close to the large blowout bunker 150 yards from the green is a requirement. The fairway does not quite feel wide enough so one wants to either go down a club or swing a bit less. For longer hitters who want to fly over that inner corner bunker the fairway shrinks by half at 100 yards from the green where another bunker is placed on the left. A final bunker is on the right at 50 yards from the green. The green itself is set below dunes behind it with some room to the dunes to the right. The coastline and tall grass is off to the left. The green itself looks somewhat flat with no bunkers. One could have an approach shot of nearly 200 yards to this green if they lack the courage to take on the dogleg. It is a visually stunning hole that requires decision-making and conviction.

15. Par 3 - 130/125/117. I do not favor uphill semi-blind par 3’s. I especially dislike them when playing into a wind that is blowing 35-40 mph, mainly in our face but also a bit from the right. We had wind around 20-25 for the first two rounds, but it was quite high for that final round. From the tee down the left side of the green is a large exposed sand bunker that is both a waste bunker and a blowout bunker with sparse grass and mounds. Go left and you will have an uphill blind shot of 30 feet to the pin. I managed to find the pin each day and get relatively close for a good look at birdie at which I made none. I hit 6 iron the first two days and 5 iron the final day to seven feet. Thankfully the green is relatively flat but it does move in all directions. Some will likely love this hole but for me it served as a connector hole to the sixteenth as you make the final turn for the pro shop.

16. Par 5 - 534/487/471. From an elevated tee this hole plays to a wide fairway which narrows at 345/290 yards from the tee. At the point of narrowing, a large blowout waste area comes into play on the right side that is nearly 80 yards in length. Flanking bunkers are next placed at 60 yards from the green. Finally, two bunkers are on the right side of the green complex, the first at 15 yards away and the second on the right side. This is another fairway with ample rolls, depressions, and humps. There is ample room to miss the green to the left but the recovery up a slight false side is to a green that releases away from you. This is another hole with a front hump which I did not like for the reasons listed earlier. Shave down the hump a bit and this becomes a very playable and fun par 5.

17. Par 3 - 199/176/155. Although the green is on the larger side, it looks larger than it is because it is exposed, sitting inside of surrounding short grass of which there is more to the right. The landing zone has various humps and rolls so a ball should land either on the green or as close as possible. The green looks relatively flat but again has good inner micro-contouring.

18. Par 4 - 361/344/272. I could not make up my mind about this hole much like the finishing hole on Ballybunion Old which I do not think much of. What I like about the hole is playing it from the two longer tees as they are elevated playing downhill, even if one has to walk a bit to get to them. There is good land movement in the landing zone for most players from these two tees including a central bunker 230/215 from those tees. I landed just on the other side of this bunker on my final day. The green is nestled on three sides below dunes. Longer hitters will need to avoid the large bunker on the left that is 290/270 from the tee as the fairway cants towards it if you land left of center. There is an early bunker that begins about 20 yards from the green on the right but stops 6-7 yards from the green. The left front corner bunker is deep and to be avoided. The green basically seems to take any ball to its center. It is a good chance to finish with a birdie and nothing worse than a bogey. For me, the hole is visually attractive but might have been better with another 40 yards down on a lower shelf which I think is possible given the lengthy walk back to the pro shop.

There is much to admire about the St. Patrick’s course at Rosapenna. I think its inclusion in the top 100 of the world by Golf Magazine is warranted, although perhaps a bit high. It has everything one could want in a links golf course played mostly atop or between high dunes. The routing is near perfection for the land. The course offers you opportunity while having some stout defenses. It is not quirky, it is about as natural as a course can be. Each hole, other than the sixth and fifteenth, is either fun or interesting. I do expect that many will like the sixth and fifteenth so that is merely my personal preference. You will get to play some heroic shots and some delicate recovery shots. But you will enjoy every shot even if you mess up. The greens are shaped to provide maximum thought, yet are rarely overwhelming save for the three high knobs fronting three of the greens. The views from each tee box is outstanding. The par 3’s are perhaps the weaker holes on the course but they would be easily called out on other courses as among the best. It is merely that they do not compare as favorably against the many very good par 4’s and 5’s. This is a course that one should make a concerted effort to play at least twice. Hopefully the wind be less for you!

Date: May 29, 2022


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