Once upon a time—1891, to be precise—Old Tom Morris was called upon by an English lord to design a golf course along the huge dunes over Sheephaven Bay in the northern tip of Ireland's County Donegal. It was called Rosapenna, and after Harry Vardon and then James Braid helped shape it, it stood alone, far off the beaten path, a remote linksland joy.
More than a century later, Ireland's preeminent golf course architect, Pat Ruddy, got the nod to build Rosapenna a sister—a new course in the peaks of the dunes where the panoramic view spans the horizon. Ruddy, who'd had his eye on the site since drawing up plans for a previous owner some thirty years ago, revisited his earlier designs and took to a bulldozer. (He prefers to shape his courses himself.)
It's no mean praise to say Old Tom Morris would be proud—perhaps even jealous—of the 7,155-yard par seventy-one that Ruddy has caressed from the dunes. The Sandy Hills Links Course at Rosapenna is a fierce challenge that unfolds with diabolical cleverness through what Ruddy fairly describes as "the most beautiful linksland in all Ireland." Indeed, it's a tiger from the very first hole, a par four that sweeps rightward 495 yards over a fairway pinched at the entrance to a steep, narrow green tucked behind a deep cross-bunker. As Ruddy deadpans, "It's more difficult the worse you are."
Surrounded by elysian views of far-off bays set below stark mountains, you can almost hear Ruddy's generous laughter in the wind rustling the deep rough—or is that the siren song of the grass calling out to errant shots?—over this immensely penal but fair course. "I've never built a golf hole yet that people don't have strong opinions about," Ruddy says. "I don't ever claim to be perfect, I don't ever claim to be right, but there she is. She's honest." And an honestly fine addition.
Greens Fee: $93. Tee Times: 011-353/74-915-5301 or visit rosapenna.ie.