Rosapenna (St. Patrick's)
Golf Magazine placed it at #55 in the world whilst the Top 100 website have it as #14 in Great Britain & Ireland. No doubt more accolades will follow.
In truth the course has been on my radar for quite some time. I knew there used to be two courses at St. Patrick’s and the last time I was at the Rosapenna Resort, who have owned the site since 2012, I could see construction work being carried out on the new links which had started in 2018.
Designed by Tom Doak and opened for play in 2021 the course has earned a raft of plaudits from the golfing cognoscenti. This heightened my expectations going into the round and this sometimes results in a bit of an underwhelming feeling. That was not the case here. St. Patrick’s not only delivered, it did so with verve and vigour.
There are many reasons as to why that’s the case but for me it is because it treads the line of subtlety and extravagance so well.
Doak has taken some risks and they have undoubtedly paid off. The course is at times brazen, especially with the bold green complexes, but there is an underlying sophistication to it all that purists will love. It ignores the rules of many modern courses… and that’s a good thing.
The first hole is just about as perfect as you can get. It teases you with a wide, rumpled fairway but no sight of the final destination and you must stay right to avoid a blowout bunker and for a better look at the green which is partially hidden behind a dune.
From this ideal opening hole the course takes you on a journey around the vast and sprawling property delivering unique holes one after another. Sometimes it goes with the flow of the land but at other times it is not afraid to tackle the wildest of terrain head on.
It has shades of one of my all-time favourite golf courses; Askernish. And I wonder if Doak took any inspiration from the Hebridean masterpiece for his work here. St. Patrick’s kind of makes me think it is what Askernish would be like if they had a good budget to spend. For the record I hope that never happens.
Not only do we have 18 wonderful, unforgettable individual holes at St. Patrick’s but they all tie into one another so well. The only minor criticism in this regard could be the shoe-horning in of the short 15th which does feel a little forced but if it meant getting the all-world 14th into the routing then I’m good with that.
In fact it feels as if the entire back nine was built around the 14th hole. A heroic two-shotter of modest length where we drive from an elevated tee with a glorious backdrop of Sheephaven Bay. You get to decide how much of the large wasteland bunker, if any, you wish to bite off but only a drive finishing on the left side of the fairway, closest to the water, will give you a glimpse of the green.
As discussed the individual holes tie in so well to create a vibrant cadence to the course but each stand-alone hole transitions from tee to green so well too. As good as anywhere. It is as if the tee, fairway, green and everything else associated with any given hole just bleeds seamlessly together. It is rare and so very pleasing to see how each hole melts and merges together effortlessly with its surrounds from start to finish.
Ultimately the entire course and property is at one.
It’s an unusual claim but I reckon St. Patrick’s has the best set of fairways in golf. They are brilliant to play to visually, amazingly contoured in all the right places and they fit in so well with the terrain and green complexes. Often fairways are just a passage to get from from tee to green but here they significantly influence the golf.
The bunkers are brilliant; natural, sandy, blown-out wastes with fescue growing in the sand. Take your chances with them but be it at your peril.
There are some brilliant reveals during the round too and this is thanks to the scale of the magnificent property which has a mix of towering dunes and smaller, low lying sandhills. The reveals at the fourth and 14th are the most dramatic and memorable where Sheephaven Bay is used to dramatic effect as a backdrop.
The aforementioned bold contouring often includes shaping & mounding at the front of the greens which gives the golfer the option of a running or aerial approach.
There are lots of other nice touches. I like the fact there is minimal course furniture. The help-yourself buggy at the side of the tenth tee which allows you to whizz back to the ‘clubhouse’ for refreshments is good too. (I say clubhouse but it is really just a registration office at present).
So, what’s not to like?
Firstly, one must remember that the course is fairly new and the greens, although running true, need more time to settle and get up to the required standard for a golf course demanding a 150 Euro green-fee. They putted fine on my visit but were a little hairy and if you are somebody who places an emphasis on quick greens and pristine conditioning you may wish to wait a season or two before visiting.
Critics may also cite the penal nature of the rough. This is true, it can be brutal in places although for the most part there is good width to the fairways. More play may lessen the severity of the rough in popular spots too.
I personally thought an opportunity had been missed at the sixth fairway which abruptly ends and you must play over broken ground at this par-five. I would have loved to have seen the fairway extended down the right side, which is partially obscured by a dune on the tee, as this would have given longer hitters more options.
You could also potentially argue that the course fizzles out over the last few holes. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory and although the best holes are in the early part and middle of the round the finish is still very strong. I do also wonder if the finish was compromised to get that bloody brilliant 14th in.
The course is a par 71 and stretches to 6,930 yards. Its width allows you to be aggressive from the tee so it plays a little shorter than you might imagine.
The addition of St. Patrick’s will, if it hasn’t already, raise the stock of the Rosapenna Resort significantly and it could easily become Ireland’s number one destination.
My ranking of the course does have an element of potential about it as the place is still a little rough around the edges but these are minor things and will resolve quickly.
As you can probably tell, I’m a huge fan. The biggest compliment I can give is that I feel St. Patrick’s is a course you will need to play multiple times to discover all its secrets. The very best courses in the world don’t give theirs up on the first play and I can tell this is going to be no different. It’s very rare you can say this about a new course but it is true, there are many nuances here.
As the cool kids say; St Patrick’s hits different.
Read the review of Rosapenna (Sandyhils) here.
Read the review of Rosapenna (Coastguard) here.