- Rosapenna, Downings, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland
- 00353 0 74 9155301
Located in County Donegal on the striking north-west coast of Ireland, the Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort is a haven for lovers of links golf. The 800-acre (324-hectare) dune system features two championship courses – Old Tom Morris links and Sandy Hills – as well as a nine-hole academy course and training facility. Old Tom Morris, the original course, was established after the four-time British Open Champion visited the region in 1891 and staked out a links course using the undulating landscape overlooking Tramore Beach at Sheephaven Bay. The Scotsman spread the word about the fresh links course back home and Rosapenna became a popular spot for some of the world’s top golfers by the end of the 19th Century. A timber lodge was built to accommodate the travelling golfers, making this one of the oldest golf resorts in Ireland.
Old Tom Morris was redesigned and modernized in 2009 by Irishman Pat Ruddy of the European Club, replacing and separating the original back nine (known as the Coastguard Holes), which were then attached to a practice range. Sandy Hills, which was also designed by Ruddy, opened in 2003. It offers more length to challenge golfers, being about 300 yards (274 meters) longer than Old Tom Morris. The fairways run between the marram-covered dunes and there are elevated tees and greens. Golf Digest Ireland rated Sandy Hills as one of the best links courses in the country.
“A stunning modern links that funnels its way through centuries-old dunes created by, and still whipped by, the winds coming in off the Atlantic Ocean,” said Peter Acheson, Golf Digest Ireland editor *.
Considering the superb links challenge offered by both courses, Planet Golf’s Darius Oliver rates this as one of the best golf resorts in the country.
“It’s a combination of a beautiful, out-of-the-way coastal location, two distinct links/dunes golf courses and the charming family-run hotel and hospitality business. You could easily spend a few days there, especially with good weather.”
The challenges: Try to keep on the fairways and out of the deep bunkers. Winds can whip up off the Atlantic Ocean to make scoring on both courses difficult. Keeping the ball low and using links techniques such as bump and running and putting off the green are recommended. Sandy Hills is the tougher challenge here.
When to play: The courses open year-round, although the average temperatures drop to the single digit degrees Celsius during winter. The hotel is closed from November 1 to March 17.
Par: Old Tom Morris 71. Sandy Hills 72.
Yardage: Old Tom Morris 6975 yards, 6378 meters. Sandy Hills 6506 yards, 5949 meters.
Competition Scratch Score rating: Old Tom Morris 71. Sandy Hills 72.
Best hole: The signature hole on Old Tom Morris Links is 14, a 198-yard (181-meter) par 3 with a bunker in front of a small green. On Sandy Hills, hole 6 (420-yard, 384-meter par 4), at the southern end of the course, a drive over a crest reveals a gorgeous view of beach and bay with Muckish Mountain in the backdrop.
The pro says: “Both courses provide a stern links test while situated in one of the most beautiful bays in the world.” – Frank Casey Jnr, Director of Golf
The resort experience:
Rosapenna is a seasonal hotel but serves the golfers well during all but the winter months. The Casey family have owned and operated the resort since 1981, expanding the accommodation to a four-star 62-room hotel as well as the golf courses on offer. In 2012, they bought the nearby St. Patrick’s Golf Links (which has been redesigned by Jack Nicklaus), adding 36 holes and some 370 acres (150 hectares) to the development. The resort features a spa that includes an indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam room. The Donegal coastline is a beautiful part of Ireland and well suited to links golf. Rosapenna’s hotel and restaurant have grand views of Sheephaven Bay. The resort is about 3.5 hours’ drive from Dublin Airport and 2 hours’ drive from Belfast International Airport.
Dine and wine:
The Vardon Restaurant is named after English golfing legend Harry Vardon (with six Open titles), who had a hand in tweaking the Old Tom Morris course. No doubt Vardon would have enjoyed sitting down here for some of the fresh seafood that is delivered daily to the kitchen. Crab, shellfish, lobster and scallops are regularly on the menu. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset over Sheephaven Bay, too.
After dinner, enjoy a single malt Irish whiskey at the James Braid Bar (named after another Open champion who helped renovate the original course).
The rooms are elegant and comfortable. They start with a Classic Room (300 square feet, 28 square meters) with the basics (double bed, refrigerator, en-suite bathroom) and step up to the Bayview Suite (450 square feet, 42 square meters) with king-size bed, private balcony, 40in LCD TV and more luxurious bathrooms. All rooms come with Wi-Fi but you’ll probably be too busy enjoying the views over Sheephaven Bay to connect.
Take a copy of the Sheephaven Bay Walking Guide from reception and enjoy one of the great walks along the coastline here. The beautiful Glenveagh National Park is a 15-minute drive from the hotel, too. In the summer, you can also enroll in surf school and paddle out into the Atlantic at one of Donegal’s beautiful sandy beaches. Horse riding, deep-sea fishing and scuba diving can all be easily organized as well.
* Source: www.rosapenna.ie/sandy-hills-links.html#.WL1VpvmGMRk