St Patrick’s on the Edge of the Picturesque Sheephaven Bay
In 2018, when my partner, Kevin McGrath, and I were in France we heard rumors about a new golf course that Tom Doak was designing in Ireland. Kevin and I were part of the festivities at the course Tom had designed for the Mourgue D’Algue family in Bordeaux called Grand Saint-Emilionnais Golf Club.
There was talk floating around about Tom going to Ireland in the air. Our antennae were up because we live in Ireland (near Lahinch) so we were very keen to keep tabs on it.
Now it has actually opened, a couple of months ago. This is the third course at Rosapenna, located on the edge of the picturesque Sheephaven Bay.
The First Course – the Old Tom Morris Links
The first course, known as the Old Tom Morris Links, opened in 1893. Old Tom had been a guest of Lord Leitrim at his estate in 1891, and while enjoying the Donegal scenery he noticed a fine stretch of inviting coastline. Before returning to St Andrews, Old Tom staked out the first Rosapenna Links over the undulating terrain of the dunes. Harry Vardon and James Braid added length and more detailed bunkering in 1906. Further changes were made by Harry Colt in 1911. In 2009, the new Strand Nine opened at Rosapenna to replace the original back nine that had you playing across the main road on a number of holes.
The Second Course – Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna
The second course, Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna, opened for play in June 2003. The Irish golf architect, Pat Ruddy, in collaboration with Rosapenna owner, Frank Casey Sr., created one of Ireland’s finest modern links courses. Pat’s design is both bold and seductive. He designs for the serious golf enthusiast. While the course stretches to over 7,200 yards, with sensational views of mountains and sea, it blends sympathetically with the Old Tom Morris Links.
The Third Course – St Patrick’s Links at Rosapenna
Our day to play St Patrick’s Links (course #3) at Rosapenna, dawned with cloudy skies. Not a whisper of wind…until we got to the course, that is.
Sound the horns. We’re off. And what an adventure it was. Captivating… Check. Memorable… Check. Muscular… Check. Has that I-Want-To-Go-Play-It-Again factor… Check.
This newest Tom Doak course is laid out over land that had been a 36-hole facility developed by the Walsh family of Carrigart. It was known as The Maheramagorgan Links, designed by Irish architect Eddie Hackett, and the Trá Mór Links were designed by PGA Professional Joanne O’Haire. Both courses opened for play in the mid-1990s.
The Rosapenna Golf Resort acquired the land in 2012. Discussions with Tom Doak ensued, and with his lead associate, Eric Iverson, the layout was finalized in March 2013. Construction began in April 2018, with all of the greens completed in 2019.
Behind the big project for #3 course is a group of founding members including Frank & John Casey of the Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort and architect Tom Doak who had funded the construction of the new 18-hole course in a partnership between The Casey Family who have owned and operated Rosapenna since 1981, along with Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design.
St Patrick’s – A Must-Play Heroic Course!
It is cleverly laid out as two loops of nine, returning to a temporary Links House where you check in and get a scorecard. The St Patrick’s logo is distinctive and ultra cool. Be sure to pick up a cap, putter cover, or towel to add to your collection.
I was impressed when I discovered there is a Forward Scorecard. Playing from the Claret tee markers, the overall yardage was a testing 5,136. On the not-so-puny-par-3s, where I had the best chance to par the hole, I needed to hit a driver into the wind, or at least a 7-wood. Total yardage of the par-72 course is 6,826 yards.
On all the par-4s and par-5s the landing areas are very generous. But when the wind whips up, as it often does, it can grab your ball and send it rolling faster over the undulating links land. The fairways need a bit of maturing; but all the quirk that we links lovers crave is part of the excitement of playing over centuries-old dunes.
Upon arriving on the first tee, you’ll see a sign indicating the club length you’re allowed to move your ball to a more-grassy lie. The turf and green surfaces have a way to go before they mature; but even before they do, there is no doubt that Ireland now has another must-play course that will top all the lists. This one is heroic.
Our first go-around, the course was absolutely intoxicating and we’re dying to come back soon.
A Tipping Point
We’ve reached a tipping point. It’s official now, as if it wasn’t already, this northwest corner of Ireland is a bona fide golf destination unto itself. A perfect itinerary includes Ballyliffin, St Patrick’s, County Sligo (Rosses Point), Narin & Portnoo, Donegal Golf Club (Murvagh), Carne and Enniscrone. An enchanting week in pure golf heaven.