GolfCentralDaily Course Review: Sandy Hills Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort

Intro I approach tough links courses in the same way I approached the Leaving Cert, job interviews, driving tests, bank manager meetings ...


I approach tough links courses in the same way I approached the Leaving Cert, job interviews, driving tests, bank manager meetings and doing tax returns. In other words, mainly with fear of humiliation and getting found out. But the funny thing is after being subjected to the magnificent above 1test that is Sandy Hills in Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort and being crunched to a little square of twisted metal I emerged the other side like a brand new golfing machine.  Recycled even!

Pic: The magnificent setting of Rosapenna, County Donegal

You wont find many course reviews on the site, I try to keep them as a special reserve for places I love.

I kind of have a little rule of thumb that has served me well since I started golfcentraldaily and it is to not write reviews of courses I don’t like. Though I say to managers “I will”, (mostly to make them go away) I don’t. It doesn’t serve any purpose to jon in the pro shopcriticize a course in print; it jeopardizes jobs, affects tourism and acts as a Microsoft word kick in the nuts for the course. It is thus with the greatest of pleasure that I want to tell you about a place called Sandy Hills in Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort, Co. Donegal that I’m honoured to review.  Even though I wasn’t asked to!

Pic: John Casey will greet you in the proshop.

I think we all have a comfort zone in our own golf clubs.  Plopping my golf ball around my own home course in a couple over allows me to maintain a pretty respectable 3/4 ish handicap, but I know in my heart of hearts it’s only a charade, a fa├žade. For there are courses, like Sandy Hills, dotted around our small island that are real examinations, where plopping will be greeted with one raised eyebrow from the dunes, where, in order to be classed as a real golfer, you must either (s) hit or get off the pot.

Pat Ruddy

Pat Ruddy designed Sandy Hills. Now I never met the man and to be honest I’m a bit afraid to at this stage, but until the day does come when we shake hands, I can give an honest appraisal of his work, without being accused of pandering or pat ruddyfear of repercussion. I’ve heard him described as everything from “genius” to “lunatic” but then again that’s exactly what many people say about me. Whatever he may or may not be, Pat Ruddy is a brilliant course designer.  You see his name on there, you know its good.  He is to course design what Gore-Tex is to raingear having also magic’d up the likes of Ballyliffin and the European Club.  If fantastic courses were war medals, Pat Ruddy would be Commander in Chief and Sandy Hills would be a medal of honour pinned to his chest. Pic: Pat Ruddy acting all serious. 

The Course

Hole 12 JPEG Sandy Hills expects you to be warmed up before you reach the first tee. It’s not like a title fight where there’s a first round of sizing up, jabbing and ducking around the ring. The opening holes hit you like a shuddering right hook, you know straight away you’re in a battle where every aspect of your golfing abilities will be tested. Though the sightlines through the dunes from the tees appear scary, you will be rewarded if you fully commit to your tee shot because your ball needs to be both long and accurate to even make it to the second round. My knees were clearly wobbled for the first five holes, my metaphorical gumshield was out and I was hanging on for dear life to scramble pars, before my head finally cleared and I began to face the challenge head on.

And boy was I glad I came around, just in time for the sixth hole. Ruddy must have been watching Dances with Wolves before designing this one, because the scenery is epic (with the beach and Muckish Mountain) but the hole is full of drama. Whether it will have a happy ending for you depends on whether you can crunch your sphere as good as you’ve ever hit over the crest from the tee, find the small green with a long iron, then negotiate the gentle slopes on the hard unblemished green that guards par. The sixth hole is typical of the  Sandy Hills test. Get a bit steery on your approach and settle for some hillwalking in the dunnice hole 2es. “Find a golf ball in here?” questioned my host Frank Casey in the dunes, “You wouldn’t find a soccer ball in here!”  That’s eloquent for a Donegal man, trust me!

As a lead auditor in another sector for ten years, I use a reasonably strict set of mental criteria to rate a great course. One aspect, in my opinion, of an elite course is in the layout of the holes. The very best courses have “individual” holes; this doesnt mean they dont fit together, but rather when you are playing a certain hole, it requires your full attention. Your mind is so busy you don’t think about “the next one” even for one second, and most importantly in most cases you cant even see it. Sandy Hills ticks all these boxes. Set among the dunes, with stunning scenery all around, the layout is a complex labyrinth that you can either let swallow you up or you can roll your sleeves up, knuckle down and get busy trying to solve it.

Old Tom Morris

old tom If I’m making Sandy Hills sound a little too tough for the modest player, Rosapenna have also addressed this issue in a most delightful way. They only went and got Old Tom Morris to design their other 18, the “Old Links” which runs around the perimeter of Sandy Hills and is a fine little links of its own. You could say the Old Links plays the role of main road to the Sandy Hills Formula One circuit!

Pic: Old Tom presiding over affairs outside the Pavilion.  That’s a pretty strong right hand grip he has there.  Imagine, he could have won more Major’s if I was his coach back then.



above 2

the pavillionPic: (Above) The Rosapenna Hotel and (Left) The Golf Pavilion, literally 100 metres from the Hotel.

The Rosapenna estate is choc full of everything a golfer needs. A sprawling driving range, chipping greens, practice putting greens left right and centre, a massive clubhouse, and the wonderful Rosapenna Hotel make the resort a golfer’s Mecca.  I found myself eclbhouseenthusiastically racing out to the practice chipping green at 8.30pm just to practice some flop shots; just because I could. If golf was soccer, Barcelona would come to Rosapenna for their pre season training!

The clubhouse is nigh on 18,000 square foot, which actually qualifies under mega building regulations as a “Pavillion”. The restaurant and the bar are enormous and both look out over the 18th from on top of the property.

rory winning the scratch cupPic: Frank Casey says its Rory McIlroy presenting him with the Scratch Cup trophy but we think its probably the opposite!

A really cool little touch too is all the golf memorabilia gathered up by Frank Casey Jnr and presented around the walls like signed GMac and Podge flags, Rory pictures, shirts, balls and much more from all the big names.  

Padriag The annual Rosapenna scratch cup attracts all the top Irish amateurs, and even Rory McIlroy  won the cup a few years back.  More memorabilia!

Pic: Now we know where Padraig’s USPGA flag went!

 Pic (below): The bar- a vital yet often overlooked aspect of a top golf course!

bar There’s plenty to do also for the non golfer in Rosapenna and surrounds. The hotel alongside the golf club has loads of facilities and a big pool for the kids. Just outside the gates of the golf club starts a little circuit of about 5 miles of coast road which brings you up into the village of Downings where you can grab a nice sandwich in McNutts (not a makey up name) before heading off to see the stunning coast. And it is truly stunning. I’m not even half qualified to describe it.

scenerry All in all, for me Sandy Hills is a superb test of golf, a five handicap here could probably compete on the European Tour. It goes straight in to my top 10 courses in Ireland and is a must play on your golf Bucket List.

Pic: Literally up the road this is the view . I wish I had listened more in Geography class!

Okay it’s a little bit hard to get to but then the best things always are; I’m thinking Everest here, or the good looking girl the other side of the nightclub. You know the type, she’s the Premiership, you’re non league.  But trust me if you make the effort to get up and go, and your playing well (!!!!!) you’ll enjoy every second of it.

Contact and Website Info

Find out more about Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort by checking out their website

Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort, Downings, Co Donegal, Ireland
Hotel: Tel: +353 (0)74 91 55301 | Fax: +353 (0)74 91 55128 | Email : Hotel Enquiries
Golf :  Tel: +353 (0)74 91 55000 | Fax: +353 (0)74 91 55899 | Email: Golf Enquiries




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GolfCentralDaily | Golf Parody Fun Gossip Jokes Betting Tips: GolfCentralDaily Course Review: Sandy Hills Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort
GolfCentralDaily Course Review: Sandy Hills Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort
GolfCentralDaily | Golf Parody Fun Gossip Jokes Betting Tips
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