The views across St Patrick’s Links to Sheephaven Bay would’ve been enough to take my breath away if the wind whipping in off the Atlantic and across this incredible golf course, hadn’t got there first.
Finding the words to capture the feeling of standing on this jaw-dropping linksland is not easy – dramatic would certainly be one – remote, wild, natural, rugged, epic would be a few others. And yet on their own, none of them feels sufficient to sum up a place that is an assault on the senses in the best possible way.
I’m standing on the 4th tee at Rosapenna, St Patrick’s Links, where – for the first time – this Tom Doak designed golf course truly hits you between the eyes. The sound of the waves crashing onto Tramore Beach fills the air, the sweeping expanse of sand hugs the course like child to its mother with the Muckish Mountains beyond. Kite surfers zip across the bay in front of us and the only other thing challenging the wind for speed are the white horses: a lashing breeze driving them home, their tossing manes the white-sea foam.
It’s absolutely spectacular.
Rosapenna golf: a rich history
This stunning corner of County Donegal in north-west Ireland has been synonymous with golf since 1893 when Old Tom Morris made the journey from Scotland to lay out the original 9 holes at Rosapenna. The Old Tom Morris Links, as it’s known these days, was seen by many as one of the best courses in Europe at the time, alongside The Old Course, St Andrews, and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. From the early days, this has been a place of pilgrimage for golf lovers. Harry Vardon, James Braid and Harry Colt were just some of those early pioneers. More than 125 years later, they’re still coming – it’s not hard to see why.
In 2003, a second course – Sandy Hill Links – followed, thanks to the creativity and imagination of the enigmatic Pat Ruddy, who founded The European Club. And then in 2021, Doak brought St Patrick’s Links to life, reimagining and renewing a piece a land that had previously been home to two 18-hole links courses.
Rosapenna Golf: a family affair
The enduring success of the modern Rosapenna Golf Resort owes everything to the passion, commitment, and energy of the Casey family. As we arrive at the clubhouse – known as the golf pavilion – Frank Jr and his brother John are in the pro shop, waiting to say hello.
They are not absent owners – on the contrary – they’re as hands on as it gets. Since taking over from their father as the driving force here they haven’t taken a backward step in their determination to make this place a must-visit destination for golfers the world over.
The Casey brothers were out in the mud watching St Patrick’s Links emerge and evolve during the pandemic, dead set on their vision to create a course unlike anywhere else on earth – a links which would challenge golfers, but not punish them. They wanted to build a course that would make golfers smile, not only because of the generously wide fairways but because of the flair and fun of the greens and the variety of the routing. I get my first glimpse of St Patrick’s Links on the incredible drive in through the dramatic County Donegal countryside. I get a second one over lunch in the clubhouse. Beyond the statue of Old Tom Morris, you can see St Patrick’s rising up through the dunes, a distant call to adventure, a brooding presence on the horizon.
St Patrick’s Links: epic in scale
By now the breeze is really stiffening and as we make the drive out to St Patrick’s we begin to see the sheer scale of the land on which this golf course is laid out. No fewer than 370 acres of land Mother Nature clearly put aside for golf, were used to create this links. It’s a vast footprint for a golf course and not only adds to the epic scale of the place but ensures there is a real variety. On the one hand, you’ll experience holes which boast incredible panoramic ocean views, but on the other, you’ll find yourself on an inland fairway which shuffles through alleys between towering dunes. That it’s hard to imagine a golf course not being here is perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay the delicate touch Tom Doak has taken with his design. It feels like it was meant to be.
The opening three holes are reminiscent of Barnbougle Dunes with the fairways carved through dunes, building up to that great reveal on the 4th tee. Both loops of 9 finish in the same place, but each stretches out in different directions, and, at times, the routing ensures you becoming wonderful disorientated from one hole to the next, with the 4th and 5th the only two holes at St Patrick’s Links which run in the same direction.
The best holes at St Patrick’s
The best holes at St Patrick’s Links will be your choice and yours alone but our favourites included the short par-4 1st, the par-3 3rd, which features a fantastic green which will entertain and infuriate in equal measure, the 9th, 10th, and the 11th, which has another rock-n-roll putting surface. The two par-5s on the front nine, the 4th and the 6th, are fantastic too, but the 14th, which takes you to the shoreline and the 16th were the highlights of an excellent home stretch. The drama simply doesn’t let up from 1st tee to last green.
My game may not have stood up to a battering by the full force of the Atlantic, but I walked off the 18th green with a broad smile on my face. The acclaim with which St Patrick’s Links has been welcomed, has ensured this corner of the island of Ireland is beginning to receive the recognition it so richly deserves.
St Patrick’s Links pulls golfers north
Rosapenna Golf Resort feels like a place you come to escape the real world, to experience a sense of glorious isolation and to journey to what feels like the edge of the world. Despite the luxury and opulence of the hotel rooms and the excellent cuisine, it’s a more affordable trip than many in Ireland, and it’s every bit as dramatic thanks to the raw natural wonder which envelops you here.
Make no mistake St Patrick’s Links and Rosapenna Golf Resort are making waves, in every sense. My expectations were sky high, but they were blown away in so many ways. To borrow a few words from Harry Colt, ‘it’s difficult to write with restraint about Rosapenna. The exceptional beauty of the surroundings is liable to interfere with unbiased criticism.’ Guilty as charged.
*For more information on Rosapenna Golf Resort or to book a tee-time or package visit Rosapenna.ie
Rosapenna golf course map
Rosapenna Golf: frequently asked questions (FAQs)
How many courses are there at Rosapenna Golf Club?
Rosapenna Golf Resort is home to three fantastic links courses – the Old Tom Morris Course, Sandy Hills and now St Patrick’s Links. But it also boasts incredible practice facilities and short game areas.
Which is the best course at Rosapenna Golf Club?
Each of the three courses at Rosapenna Golf Resort provide an excellent and varied test of golf and ultimately your favourite, must be your choice. But St Patrick’s Links was ranked No 55 in the world top 100 list published in 2022, one of three courses in Ireland to feature – the others were Ballybunion, Lahinch and Portmarnock.
Where is the best place to find Rosapenna golf deals?
The demand to play golf at one of Ireland’s top golf resorts is unsurprising, so there are lots of places to find the best Rosapenna golf deals. But it’s worth starting with the excellent website they have and checking out the stay and play offers. Visit Rosapenna.ie/golf
What is the Rosapenna weather like?
On the day we visited Rosapenna Golf Resort the wind was up, and we had a little sprinkling of rain which caught us on the 17th tee. But this was the autumn, and it certainly didn’t take away from the experience. In fact, it added to it. The best time to visit is not always the height of the summer, with March, April, and May generally good for golf and September another excellent time to for Rosapenna weather.
Where is Rosapenna Golf Club?
Rosapenna Golf Club is located in County Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. You can fly either to Dublin or Belfast but from Belfast you can reach Rosapenna in around 2hrs depending on traffic. You can also fly into Donegal and City of Derry airports both are just over an hour away from Rosapenna. It’s worth the drive.
Which other golf courses are near Rosapenna?
As well as the three excellent courses at Rosapenna, golfers are within reach of a host of other fantastic golf courses nearby – including Ballyliffin, Narin & Portnoo, Cruit Island and Portsalon. We played St Patrick’s Links and then drove the 2hrs across to Royal Portrush, which is also next to Portstewart and Castlerock, so nothing is too far away.
Was Rosapenna Old Tom Morris the original course?
Yes, the Rosapenna, Old Tom Morris Links was the original 9-hole layout at Rosapenna Golf Club and dates back to 1893, when the legendary Scottish golfer and course designer came across the Irish Sea to create what is now known as The Old Tom Morris course.
How much are Rosapenna golf club green fees?
Green fees at Rosapenna can vary depending on factors such as the time of day, time of year, and whether you have booked a stay and play deal. It is advisable to check the official Rosapenna Golf Club website or contact the club directly for the most up-to-date information on green fees.
Who designed Rosapenna, Sandy Hills Links?
The Sandy Hills Course at Rosapenna Golf Club was designed by the renowned golf course architect Pat Ruddy. It is one of the more modern courses at the Rosapenna Golf Resort, having opened in 2003, and offers a challenging links experience amid the stunning natural landscape of the area.
What makes St Patrick’s Links Donegal special?
St Patrick’s Links is special for a whole host of reasons. Tom Doak’s design is brilliant but the land on which the golf course sits is just wonderful and it’s all topped off but a truly dramatic and incredible setting. Go and see it for yourselves.