BUILD it, they will come.
o After hiring one of the world’s leading golf architects to create a new links golf course on idyllic grounds in one of the most spectacular corners of Donegal, Rosapenna Golf Resort is about to become a true game changer for Irish golf.
Ireland’s oldest golf resort, currently ranked 7th in the Top 100 Golf Resorts in the UK and Ireland by Golf World magazine, was founded in 1893 shortly after Lord Leitrim invited Old Tom Morris to design a nine-hole course on the property At home in Carrigart.
It was only when Old Tom was taken on a tour of the area and excitedly spotted the huge dunes and the untouched links country of Rosapenna that plans for the construction of an 18-hole course emerged.
It became a golf mecca for the idle rich of the day, but it wasn’t until Frank Casey Snr bought the hotel in 1981, which at the time had a golf course with sheep wire around the greens, that the new Rosapenna was born.
The Old Tom Morris course crossed the main street several times, so after the opening of Pat Ruddy’s highly regarded Sandy Hills Links in 2003, Casey Snr beached all 36 holes and the redesigned Old Tom Morris Links in September 2009 opened.
In November 2012, the Caseys purchased 370 acres, a five-minute drive from the hotel at the Carrigart end of the property now occupied by St. Patrick’s Links.
The site originally housed two courses designed by Eddie Hackett and Joanne O’Haire for the Walsh family, who ran the nearby Carrigart Hotel.
That changed in 2006 when the courses were sold to a developer who hired Jack Nicklaus to build his first links in Ireland.
But the project collapsed for lack of funds just six weeks into construction, and while the bank paid a local to mow the grass and the locals occasionally played casual golf there, it stayed deserted and blew in the wind until the Caseys bought the site by Nama in 2012.
Finding the right man to do the space justice was the next challenge, and the Caseys reached out to Doak, an old friend of the resort, and formed a partnership with the American reinventing the old layout and starting at 36 turning rough holes into 18 beauties November 2019.
The result is a modern masterpiece of minimalist magic in a dreamlike dune landscape that you simply have to see.
It’s called “St. Patrick’s Links by Tom Doak, ”and when it opens next week, the architect’s name alone will bring golfers to this beautiful corner of Donegal.
Doak is considered something of a design expert. Six of his secluded, sandy creations were named one of the 100 best golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine.
Pacific Dunes in Oregon, Ballyneal in Colorado, Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand are already places of pilgrimage for golf aficionados, and St. Patrick’s Links makes Rosapenna a 54-hole resort – a far cry from the early days of the One Steamship Service , who worked on the north coast, first brought golf tourists to this shimmering corner of Donegal in 1893.
St. Patrick’s was slow to build, but was well worth the wait as it meanders through the dunes and offers wonderful views of mountains, sky and sea as it meanders over glorious golf grounds.
Washed around by sea breezes and not protected by deep, rough, but lovingly designed garbage bunkers, it rises and falls like the Atlantic waves and hides subtle sinks, sinks and flowing drains, while you play from spacious fairways to undulating green courses that just look like they were before found in nature.
“Tom’s involvement here dates back to 2006 when we were introduced to a mutual friend by photographer Larry Lambrecht,” explains Frank Casey Jnr, who runs the resort with his brother John and father Frank Snr. “He knew some of the original holes, but nothing is left of the Nicklaus imprint.
“We used the existing corridors on 2nd, 7th, 8th, 12th and 16th of the O’Haire-Hackett imprint, but this is essentially a brand new golf course.
“We didn’t think the country was that good until we looked at it carefully and realized that Tom can do something very special and completely unique.
“Length didn’t matter at all in his thinking. It’s 6,930 yards, par 71, and he could easily have found a lot more than just another 70 yards to get it over the 7,000-yard mark. “
Only the wildest drive will make you hunt for your ball in the rough, as Doak has devised an ingenious route that leaves you plenty of room to find the fairway and play a tantalizing second after a series of green courses that look as if they were created by mother nature.
It offers a wonderful variety of holes from short par 3, 5, protected by beautiful garbage bunkers, medium-length par-fours and curved par-fives with a wonderful view of Errigal, Muckish and the shimmering sea to challenging par-fours.
It all ends with the uphill, par 3 17 with its huge green and the delightful 18th, where a deep depression just to the right of the green devours the approach shot, which is neglected and leaves you with a difficult slope to another beautiful green.
Like any work of art, it changes with light and has to be seen to be believed. In short, it is a modern masterpiece that tests every club in your pocket and the six inches between your ears, enchants you and encourages you to enjoy another golf feast.