Rosapenna Golf Links
Golf here dates from 1891 when the fourth Earl of Leitrim who owned most of the local land enticed Old Tom Morris to come over from St. Andrews and lay out a nine hole parkland course near his manor house. When Morris saw the hundreds of acres of rambling sand dunes along nearby Sheephaven Bay, the Earl accepted Morris’s advice to locate the golf course there. The site was so good for golf that 15 of the original 18 greens were completely natural. Harry Vardon and James Braid subsequently added bunkers and length in the early 20th century as the golf ball and equipment improved but they left the greens untouched. Enter Pat Ruddy, of Ballyliffin Glashedy and European Club fame, who at the request of Rosapenna owner Frank Casey designed the Sandy Hills course in the early days of the 21st century. When the new course opened in 2003, Rosapenna had 36 of the finest holes in Ireland and a future as one of the world’s fine golf destinations, especially for the links land enthusiast.
Old Tom Morris Links
Designers: Old Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, James Braid, Pat Ruddy
While most of the original holes still exist, the original course does not as it has been parceled to accommodate a teaching academy nine and the new Sandy Hills course. Of the revamped course, we find the first eleven holes here on the seaward side of the main road the most interesting by far. The last seven are out of the sand dunes and two, number 12 and number 18, cross the road. Of our four favourite holes, two are by Morris and two by Ruddy. Morris gives you the 4th, a 390 yard par 4 that is set in some spectacular dunes and the 167 yard par 3 16th hole (the only across the road hole we like) where you play from the top of one hillock to the top of another. Ruddy gives you the par 4 6th where a right dogleg ends in a green partially hidden behind a dune and the 8th which is the best par 5 on the course.
Sandy Hills Links
Designers: Pat Ruddy
Let us say this about Pat Ruddy. He builds beautiful golf courses which are sometimes difficult to enjoy because they are so damned hard. Sandy Hills is no exception. It is an absolute delight to the eye of the dedicated golfer with its holes weaving over, around and through the massive sand dunes. Like Royal County Down, the landing areas may be somewhat broader than they appear from the mostly elevated tees but the penalty for missing them is, nonetheless, quite severe. Errant shots are grabbed if not completely hidden by the thick marram grasses that line the fairways—a wedge out most times and sometimes no more than a lob wedge. If there are two better starting holes in links golf, we have not played them. The first is 495 yards from the tips and the second is 463 yards. “Aye, it’ll take three good shots to get home in two today.” We are not certain that the 6th is the best hole, but with the green set against the back drop of the bay it is easily the most scenic on a most scenic course. When you play Sandy Hills, bring your camera, your courage, your steadiest swing and a larder of golf balls.