The Rosapenna Resort sits on the outskirts of Downings Village in Donegal. Set along the shores of Sheephaven Bay with the Donegal Hills as its backdrop, Rosapenna is a beautiful place to play golf where you will be warmly welcomed by the owners, the Casey family who have owned the property since 1981. Comprising a 60-bedroom four-star hotel, leisure center, golf pavilion and now 81 holes of golf plus a practice facility that comprises 12 Par three holes, Rosapenna can genuinely be called a golfing mecca. The 36-hole Jack Nicklaus redesigned ‘St. Patrick’s’ was bought by the Casey family in November 2012 after the developer behind the project collapsed. What was originally two courses (Magheramagorgan and Trá Mór) designed by Eddie Hackett and former Royal County Down Assistant Professional Joanne O’Haire, were completed in 1996 but never officially opened for play.
Golf in this part of Donegal dates back to 1891 when the Lord Leitrim conscripted Old Tom Morris to come to Donegal to assist with the design of its first links golf course. This duly opened in 1893 alongside a timber-framed hotel to accommodate the many visiting golfers to this part of Ireland.
Sandy Hills opened on the 25th of June 2003 and has rightly risen the rankings of the best links courses in the UK & Ireland. This Pat Ruddy designed course is as true a test of links golf as you will find in Ireland. As you stand on many a tee box at Sandy Hills, you would be forgiven for wondering precisely where the fairway is, and this is not untypical of Ruddy’s designs. A narrow channel of fairway leads to an obscured yet generous landing area that isn’t always in view. Once this has been negotiated, your approach needs to be sufficiently accurate not to succumb to the severe run-offs’ that are plentiful around the Sandy Hills links and gives it that added difficulty. This is not a course for the faint-hearted, but the tee complexes are such that players of all abilities will be able to enjoy its challenge.
Sandy Hills is predominantly played through, as opposed to around the dunes. Elevated tee boxes and greens are approached from bowl like fairways, and deep marram grass awaits any poorly struck shot. However, holes six through thirteen provide the most challenging, most picturesque and above all the most fun on the golf course. Some of the elevation changes and panoramic views are simply breathtaking, providing stunning vistas across Sheephaven Bay and towards the Donegal Mountains. There is no doubting that Sandy Hills is a modern links in so much as the Old Tom Links is a true classic. The former requires incredibly accurate shot-making and also a tremendous stroke of luck at many times during a round, to keep the scorecard ticking over, but it is also incredibly good fun and indeed a course that you must play when you are in the northwest of Ireland on a golf vacation.