We cruised into the Hotel at Rosapenna late at night, keen for a bit of Craic with the locals before a good nights sleep in the family owned hotel where we‚??d kindly been put up.¬†
The road in here is very remote and very picturesque.¬† The roads are barely wide enough for one car, let alone anyone coming the other way, and often there is a patch of grass sprouting from between the tyre tracks.¬†¬† Even Schumacher would struggle to get anywhere near the optimistic speed limit of 80 kph.¬† ¬†The Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort is on the outskirts of a quaint wee town called Downings, where there are plenty of houses but very few people.¬† A sign of the boom and bust times that Ireland has faced recently.
We went to the hotel bar and met up with Alan Jardine and his buddies who have been visiting here for thirty odd years.¬† As we chatted, one elderly lad by the name of Tom, was quite the inspiration on the D-Floor as he led one of two of the group of old women staying here on a waltz which was the envy of most.¬†¬† As the tunes got progressively quieter JP and I hit the hay for what was a great nights sleep and we woke fresh the next morning to a stellar breakfast and to play the Sandy Hills Links. [photographs to follow]
There are two courses at Rosapenna ‚?? the Old Course Link and the Sandy Hills Links.¬† The Old Course was a Tom Morris design and 10 of the original holes remain and are now accompanied by 8 holes of a much newer vintage.¬†¬† Our challenge for the day was Sandy Hills, a Pat Ruddy design cut through the Dunes on land far more undulating than the Old Course and situated a little further away from the waterfront.¬†¬†¬† The name fits the description generally ‚?? as you look out from many of the high vantage points all you can see are sand dunes protruding out of the ground like moguls on a ski slope.¬† The Rosapenna website aptly describes it as follows:¬†
‚??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.‚?Ě
Sandy Hills off the tips is a huge challenge as both Jamie, myself and all the lads playing in the scratch competition in front of us were left licking our wounds.¬†¬† The boys ahead were serious golfers, but it sounded that like us they got well and truly beaten up.¬† For example: the first hole?¬† 495 yards, uphill, dogleg right, huge sloping green, rough so high that you‚??ve very little chance of finding it let alone hitting it without breaking your wrist if you‚??re off the fairway ‚?? and, oh yeah, it‚??s a par four.¬†¬† Welcome to Sandy Hills.¬† The holes continue in this vein cut between the dunes with very few traditional hazards but if you get off the beaten track you‚??re in the ¬†long stuff or amidst the huge dunes which frame the fairways and tower over the greens.¬† Rather than bouncing the ball back to the short grass below, these dunes are covered in long grass which gobbles your ball leaving you hiking up and down the steep slopes looking desperately for it.¬†
Standing on the 11th tee we caught up to the tournament ahead.¬† It was slow going from there, as you can understand with the poor hardy souls trying to play strokeplay around this joint.¬†¬† At this stage JP had rolled in a few putts, many for par or even bogey, and was only 4 over par which had we been playing in the comp, have placed him in 3rd place through 11 holes.¬† After a 2 on the 180 yard par three 12th I think he may have been even closer to the top even with a number of Irish internationals playing ahead.¬† But the course caught up on him a little and the scoring struggled through the final few holes.¬† Alan had come out to support and provide some light hearted relief, but the pace of play was very slow and boys being boys we were trying to drive par fours and do all kinds of crazy things that are well beyond our competencies.
The course is relatively new (2003) and you noticed this on a few of the tees which had been either replaced or repositioned.¬†¬† The natural terrain through the dunes is so intimidating that it can get in your head even though some of the landing areas are much wider than they appear.¬† But when you‚??re hitting it in an ark as wide as the titanic it‚??s not ideal to look up and see sand dunes covered with huge clumps of tussock / marram grass everywhere.
Many of the visitors to this region prefer the Old Tom Morris course and after playing the Sandy Hills course I can understand why.¬† It would be hard to enjoy it if you‚??re not hitting the ball well and there are not too many simple holes.¬† Looking for golf balls becomes a bit tiresome too.¬† Both a caddy and a strong dose of scotch would be two essential aids in getting around.¬†
The Sandy Hills course has been well designed and, whilst not easy, is still worth a bash.¬† Thanks to the team here for having us at their golfers paradise facility (there is even a pitch and putt along with the two championship courses which looks to die for).¬†¬† My suggestion is that they should create some kind of incentive here (to become renowned for) that if you beat your handicap on the nuggety Sandy Hills links (without playing off the forward tees) there is a Guinness waiting for you in the bar.¬† Just a thought.
Jamie and I embraced the difficulties and the numerous donations we‚??d made to the golfing gods by jumping in The Tank and scooting South to Portnoo ‚?? the Patton‚??s old holiday house from when he was a nipper.¬† I wont steal JP‚??s thunder re Portnoo but it was a truly special place and a relaxing couple of nights awaited us‚?¶.
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