The Old Rosapenna Hotel and first Rosapenna links course designed by Old Tom Morris opened in 1893. Changes were made in 1906 when James Braid and Harry Vardon played an exhibition match, and made recommendations which added length and more detailed bunkering. Over a century later new holes known as The Strand nine were layed out by Pat Ruddy, replaced the back nine, and were incorporated into the course. And later again Tom Doak’s Renaissance Design reinvigorated the Strand nine which was now the front nine of the Old Tom Morris Links
In 2003 The Sandy Hills Links opened as the second course at Rosapenna. The course had been designed by Pat Ruddy, and while acknowledged as a very good course, the knock was that the course was just too tight. American architect Beau Welling has in recent years been employed to widen the playing areas, and generally improve the course.
The new Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort now comprises the two championship links courses, a 60 bedroom hotel, a leisure centre, 9 hole academy course, 12 hole par 3 course, and extensive practice facilities. A recent acquisition has been the St Patricks Links GC- giving Rosapenna the chance to become a very special golfing destination.
While The Old Tom Course was routed through lower lying linksland, The Sandy Hills Links takes advantage of some sizeable dunes, and unlike many of the better known links courses in the UK, all eighteen holes are routed through these impressive sandhills.
But while the terrain is absolutely world class, and perfect for a top quality links course, Sandy Hills does not quite meet the mark. There are no poor holes, and the course is consistently good. It is well maintained, and a pleasure to walk.
But it does lack that ‘spark’ of creativity that the great courses show. The holes have a sameness, and lack sufficient definition to draw the eye. Don’t get me wrong- this is a quality links course that is fun to play and a good test of golf. I just feel it could be better with a knowledgeable creative architect having input, adding bunkering with a little more flair, and adding some variation to the green sites. At the moment many of the greens are elevated with little or no bunkering, and sharp drop offs at the front as the main protection. Perhaps Beau Welling has this all in hand as the playing areas seem to be quite reasonable now, and some new bunkering on hole 13 was a great improvement. We will have to wait and see!
Notable holes include:
hole 5- a par 4 that arcs to the right to an elevated green with sea views
hole 6- a straightaway par 4 with a tee shot over a saddle in the dunes leaving an approach to a low green with ocean backdrop
hole 16- a longish par though a narrow valley to a tiered green set in it’s own little amphitheatre. It’s an attractive hole that has bite.
hole 18- a strong par 4 finishing hole with a fairway pinched by dunes at the landing area and which requires a very accurate tee shot. The slightly elevated green lies at an angle to the fairway and is protected by a lonely pot bunker in just the right spot. The town backdrop adds to the atmosphere
Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort is an impressive facility, and has the potential to be a truly world class resort. But in my view it needs one stand out course, so hopefully Sandy Hills can gradually be tweaked to the required standard, or the adjacent St Patrick Links can fill the void. It’s a good golf destination now. It could be a great one!
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