Rosapenna now offers the chance for links golfers to contrast the traditional, old-style links, created by Old Tom Morris and modified by Messrs Braid and Vardon, with the new Sandy Hills links started by the legendary Eddie Hackett and completed with considerable aplomb by Pat Ruddy.
Old Tom Morris Course- Par 71 - 6,612 Yards
When Braid and Vardon redesigned the orginal layout of Old Tom Morris, it is a testament to the latter's judgement that only 3 of the original greens were relaid. As with most good links courses, the course takes advantage of natural terrain to provide a classic links golf challenge, at least over the first 10 holes. These links holes run between the ocean and the dunes in what is known locally as "The Valley". The last eight holes actually play inland and uphill into high meadow that offer superb vistas over the north Atlantic ocean.
The first hole serves as an excellent illustration of the requirements for the day. An accurate tee-shot must find the right hand side of the sloping fairway to finish on the left hand side. The approach with a short-iron is to an elevated green must also be accurate, whether an aerial route or a bump and run up the steep embankment is chosen. Longer hitters might be tempted by the yardage but lots of accuracy and lots of luck are required to find the putting surface.
The next four holes are all par-4s played alongside the ridge of dunes separating the course from the beach. The 5th tee has marvellous views, and again longer hitters may be tempted to take on the trouble in an attempt to find the green. The sixth hole ends the outward journey. This is a magic par-3, 198 yards to an elevated green that has no bail-out areas.
The next four holes return towards the new clubhouse before the course ventures across the meadows to the opposite side of the peninsula. The 13th provides terrific views of Mulroy Bay. In between the tee-shot at the 11th (pictured left) is hit across the main road into the village of Downings. The second shot at the 12th is hit across another road. These unique 'features' of Rosapenna can provide lively debate!.
The 17th is probably the feature hole of this inland stretch. The fairway and green are spread away beneath the tee looking towards Sheephaven Bay and the Rosapenna Hotel. The tee shot needs to be kept left to finish on the right hand side of the fairway. The final hole, again crossing the R248 road from Downings to Carrigart, can provide a dilemma on the tee - to attempt to cross the road or not. Remember that the road is not a hazard and relief can be obtained and any ball striking the fence can be replayed.
Sandy Hills Links - 7,155 Yards - Par 71
Sandy Hills. Remember the name! This course, opened in June 2003, is set to become one of the most famous golf courses in Ireland. Where Old Tom settled for a course alongside the dunes, Pat Ruddy has gone straight through them from start to finish and created an awesome course that will test any golfer, yet somehow still seduce those that cannot live with it. Each hole is spectacular and the views across the Old Tom Morris course to the ocean will salve all the wounds inflicted by this incredible golf course.
For the professionals that will undoubtedly play here, the course measures 7,155 yards. Not that long you might think - but the par is 71. For amateurs the medal tees are sufficiently ambitious - the dunes have been so little travelled that balls straying off the fairway will almost always be just hacked back into play. From the tees, landing areas are clearly visible and the definition provided by the dunes is remarkable. From the fairways the traditional links bump and run is rarely an option - precise approach shots are required to large, elevated greens tucked into the dunes and protected by bunkers that can be properly called hazards.
Almost every hole on Sandy Hills is in a subtly different direction adding to the challenge in windy conditions.
The first six holes make an immediate impact. Each, except the 3rd, is a par-4 that invites a well placed tee-shot and not necessarily with the driver. Each approach is then played to an elevated green where the wind will dictate the club to be taken. The third hole playes across a dune valley towards the ocean - initimidating when the wind is blowing against.
The next six holes continue in similar fashion, hitting the greens at the par-3 7th and 11th is vital, while the par-5 8th typifies the necessity for brain rather than brawn to successfully negotiate the hole.
The final six holes maintain the incredibly high standard already set. Two par-5's at the 13th and 17th sandwich two more terrific par-4s and the par-3 16th that can play far longer than its 140 yards as it heads back towards the bay. From the medal tees the last hole is 394 yards - look back 83 yards and pity any pro that needs a 4 from back there to make the cut!!
Accuracy, both off the tee and on approach, are the hallmark requirements of Sandy Hills. Thoughtful play, even if it means sacraficing par, will be rewarded.
We look forward to following the emergence of Sandy Hills as an internationally renowned golf course.
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