COUNTY DONEGAL, Ireland -- The Sandy Hills Links at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort earned such a fierce reputation as one of Ireland's toughest links that, in the past, some tour operators have steered golf groups away from playing the Pat Ruddy design.
That's a shame.
The links, recently ranked no. 11 among the best courses on the Emerald Isle by Golf Digest Ireland, sits in a bold and beautiful piece of land overlooking Sheephaven Bay four hours northwest from Dublin.
Its wild side has been partially tamed in the last few years. Rosapenna has beaten back the deep fescue, taken out bunkers and redesigned a handful of greens to improve playability.
It's still a demanding test. Ruddy's holes often finish at platform greens perched well above the valleys in the fairway. Bump-and-runs can feel virtually impossible. Drop-offs and hollows punish weak approaches. The views take some of the sting off the scorecard. The vista of the bay on the par-3 third hole teases what's coming next. After back-to-back blind shots from the fifth and sixth tee, the reward is the walk up the sixth fairway. Cresting the hill reveals a visual bombshell, a green set against a backdrop of the bay.
The drivable par-4 14th hole and the reachable par-5 17th hole highlight the back nine. Sandy Hills Links might not be on the bucket list of most Americans, but it sure should be.