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  • Neil White

Rosapenna - Sandy Hills

Updated: 4 days ago

Enjoy the read and also listen to The Golf Pilgrim podcast from Rosapenna, Sandy Hills at or your favourite platform

"Why have they got us playing off the forward tees?" was the unanimous verdict of our bullish team as we embarked on a version of Sandy Hills that was less than 6,000 yards.

We soon found out why. Precision is the key to success on these Pat Ruddy links and all of our quartet found it impossible to maintain for 18 holes.

We played Rosapenna's three courses in the Muckish Links Classic – an excellent value open event.

So, after a hair-raising drive down a single-track road around a mist-hidden lough, we arrived at the kingdom of the Caseys.

This family owns the Rosapenna resort, which includes a hotel, golf pavilion, driving range, football golf, pitch and putt, and three championship courses.

The Old Tom Morris links were here when the family arrived but they commissioned Ruddy to create Sandy Hills which was opened in 2003.

It has many quirky traits reminiscent of The European Club, Ruddy's most famous enterprise.

This is apparent from the first hole, a par-five that curves between dunes covered in the tangly grass that is omnipresent throughout.

Like many on the course, the target is cut between the mounds and has a false front. 

However, the need to attack the pin is tempered by a steep run-off over the back of the green. This is not the last time the golfer faces the dilemma between aggression and safety.

Although it wasn't the clearest day when we played Sandy Hills, the views across Sheephaven Bay were stunning.

The water and hills are the backdrops for the short third hole, on which correct club selection is imperative because any short approach will see the ball trickle down into the rough.

Prior knowledge of the layout would have been a distinct advantage because the course's natural undulations can dramatically favour either side of the fairway.

This was evident on the curving fifth hole, where I hit my blind drive wide to the right. I looked for the ball in the rough for a couple of minutes and then spotted it in a dell in the middle of the fairway, at least 70 yards further than I expected.

Two of my playing partners hit left and found a vast bunker and wispy rough, respectively.

The sixth is one of my favourites because it is unconventional and has a vista that takes your breath away.

It demands a central-left drive before a mound encroaches the fairway from the right, and then a dramatic swale guards the entrance to the green.

Sandy Hills' greens are imposing and subtle, and despite our quarter including a former caddie whose advice prevented further damage, a couple of three-putts had already cost us.

The par-threes are memorable and yielded glory and disaster in equal measure.

My round disintegrated after a well-struck tee shot into the downhill seventh shot off the left-hand bank, flew across the green and tipped into a cunningly well-placed pot bunker.

Mrs W and my podcast partner (PP) struck the centre of the green, the former scoring an easy par and the latter nestling a long putt for birdie.

We mused how easy the eighth would be because it is a short par-five, but giant bunkers await on the left and right sides of the fairway. 

My ball ran into the former and my attempt to hammer it out only buried it deep into the grass directly above it. Blob.

On the same hole, Mrs W produced a divine chip to the bank behind the hole, feeding the ball towards the pin for a tap-in birdie.

That is the point about Sandy Hills. Keep the ball away from trouble, and scoring is possible. Find the traps, and it isn't.

The ninth is another stand-out hole. Correct placement off the tee is essential before a big decision about whether to play a grassed crater ahead of a steep slope up to the green. 

Funnels are typical on the course, and they are arguably most pronounced on the 10th, where steep dunes filter drives into the fairway unless you strike them as wide as I did. 

The 12th is another short par-four, which needs more dexterity than I possessed by this stage. 

It sweeps around a substantial mound on the right, which hides the target from any second shot that is not coming in from the left.

My radar had gone badly askew mid-round but fortunately righted itself with a moment of comic glory on the 16th, a par-three with two-tiered green between a large dune on the left and a steep slope on the right.

It appeared that I had pulled my tee shot as it disappeared but, after what seemed an eternity, it re-emerged off the hillock onto the top tier of the putting surface. 

Our green-reading maestro then showed me a tricky left-to-right line, which the ball followed into the back entrance of the cup for an unlikely two.

The final two holes at Sandy Hills are strong, with the accent again on the accuracy of drives towards undulating fairways.

The par-five 17th has yet another raised green, while the 18th has a flatter target with heavy grass to the left and bushes beyond with the now familiar swale in front. 

Parring both holes gave me an unexpectedly uplifting finish.

It ended the first of our rounds on the three courses, and while we found scoring tricky, we agreed that the design and views of these links were very special.

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Clay Kimsey
Clay Kimsey
May 14

I'll get to travel to Rosapenna next year. I enjoyed your reviews. How did you like Old Tom?

Clay Kimsey
Clay Kimsey
May 20
Replying to

I see! Our plan is to play one of the two others on the afternoon of our arrival, before playing St. Patrick's the following day. We are unlikely to play the third course on the property. If that was your itinerary, would you play Old Tom or Sandy Hills on day 1?

Thanks in advance for the recommendation.

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