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St. Patrick’s Links: A New Chapter in Irish Golf

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St. Patrick’s Links is one of the most exciting new courses to open recently. Located at the Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort in County Donegal, Ireland, the Tom Doak design has captivated the golf world since debuting in 2021 and has rapidly earned recognition as one of the world’s finest new courses.

Set on spectacular linksland with views overlooking Sheephaven Bay, St Patrick’s Links is routed across massive dunes and brings a modern sensibility to traditional links golf. From the undulating fairways that tumble through the sandhills to the small, heavily contoured greens, St Patrick’s Links offers an incredible variety of holes and memorable golf shots.

In this post, we’ll explore the origin and history behind St Patrick’s transformation from a 36-hole property to Doak’s 18-hole masterpiece, detail the layout and design features, look at its glowing reception and rise up golf’s world rankings, and walk through some of the course. We’ll close with further reading and videos to help bring the course to life. As always, the images are simulated to set the scene.

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Genesis

About two hours from Royal Portrush and set on 320 acres of spectacular linksland in County Donegal, Ireland, overlooking Sheephaven Bay, Rosapenna Golf Resort is one of the world’s most storied golf destinations. Originally laid out in 1893 by Old Tom Morris, the Old Tom Morris Links is considered a traditional test of links golf, with spectacular views over the bay. Rosapenna also offers the modern Sandy Hills Links designed by Pat Ruddy and opened in 2003, earning rave reviews as it has matured into a top-ranked course.

However, it is their latest creation, St Patrick’s Links, that has captivated the golf world. The land was originally home to two 18-hole golf courses called Maheramagorgan Links (designed by Eddie Hackett) and Trá Mór Links (designed by Joanne O’Haire). In 2006, plans were announced for Jack Nicklaus to redesign the 36 holes into a new course. However, the economic recession halted that project before major construction began, and the courses closed shortly thereafter.

In 2012, Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort acquired the dormant property. They brought in acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, who transformed the natural landscapes at Pacific Dunes into one of the world’s best courses, to turn the site into a world-class 18-hole links course. Doak first visited the property in 2013, and routing plans were drawn up.

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Course Design

Tom Doak is renowned for his minimalist design style, emphasizing natural contours and strategic play. Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort brought him in to transform over 300 acres of spectacular linksland that previously hosted 36 holes designed by Eddie Hackett and Joanne O’Haire.

In discussing his design approach, Doak stated that the top priority was keeping the course walkable and routing it to maximize variety. The 18 holes wind through massive dunes and undulating fairways, with no two holes alike. Doak highlighted the 6th hole as an example of using the natural contours, with its elevated green perched high atop a dune. He aimed to deliver an adventurous round through a beautiful landscape, allowing golfers to “roam freely” across the windswept terrain.

Construction on St Patrick’s Links began in 2018, with Doak collaborating closely with lead associate Eric Iverson and agronomist Gordon Irvine. They carefully integrated the new holes with the existing landscape, blending 30-40% of the old grass into newly seeded fairways and greens. The team emphasized firm and fast conditions to maximize playability.

The greens were built to USGA specifications for the first time in Ireland. They feature a sand-based rootzone instead of the heavy topsoil used on most Irish links greens. There are no trees at all on the entire 320-acre site, which accentuates the seaside terrain and rugged beauty of the fescue, marram grass, and colorful wildflowers.

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Reception

Since debuting in 2021, St Patrick’s Links has rapidly earned lavish praise and recognition as one of the world’s finest new golf courses. Players have touted its magnificent setting, strategic design, and routing that maximizes the spectacular seaside terrain. Golf Magazine named it the “Best New International Course” and one of the world’s 100 greatest layouts, a rare honor for a brand-new design. Doak’s minimalist style emphasizing natural contours has been widely acclaimed.

St Patrick’s Links debuted at #55 in Golf Magazine’s world rankings, then climbed to #49 within two years, an almost unprecedented rise. Critics have declared it a modern masterpiece certain to be revered among the best courses globally for years to come.

The course has had a major impact on elevating golf and tourism in the northwest region of Ireland, an area that was previously overshadowed by the more popular southwest. Rosapenna head John Casey summarized its impact: “It’s amazing that it’s given us that (world-class) stature. That is what the southwest of Ireland had in spades. Now the northwest has it, too.”

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The Course

The course plays to a par of 71 over 6,930 yards from the back tees and was designed to take golfers on a journey through huge dunes high above the bay and along the coast. It features a variety of holes playing through the enormous dunes, while others meander over the terrain, showcasing the grand scale and setting. There is plenty of variety in scenery and playability.

There are fun risk-reward holes and short par-4s that can be drivable under the right conditions. It also features creative and quirky green contours rarely seen on links courses. The routing and holes look like they’ve been there for over a century rather than just opened recently in 2021. The course is walking only and open for play from April through October.

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Outward Nine

St. Patrick’s Links features a spectacular first nine routing through enormous seaside dunes. It starts strong with a short risk-reward par-4 and continues through various holes, playing up, over, and through the massive dunes. The two par-5s on holes 4 and 6 are highlights, taking full advantage of the oceanfront property.

Signature holes on the front side include the drivable par-4 opener playing to a well-defended green; the “Cape” 6th, driving over a vast sandy waste to an elevated punchbowl green; and the tough closing hole, a long bruising par-4 with a deep hollow right of the green. The par-3 3rd also stands out with its boldly contoured putting surface.

The first nine features only two holes playing in the same direction, keeping you disoriented from one hole to the next. The fairways have wonderful natural movement, and the green complexes present a stern test with bold interior contours and slopes. The routing culminates along the coast at the 8th and 9th, showcasing the beautiful seaside setting.

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Inward Nine

The inward nine traverses through towering dunes before reaching the oceanfront for a memorable closing stretch. It starts with a strong par-4 playing to a green with a deep swale demanding precise distance control. The routing keeps golfers disoriented, with only two consecutive holes playing in the same direction. The green complexes present a stern test, with the 11th green being one of the most devilish on the course. The vast sandy areas frame holes beautifully without ever feeling contrived.

The par-3 15th is a standout seaside hole featuring an elevated tee shot to a green perched high above Sheephaven Bay. The tee box had to be supported by stilts embedded deep into the sand due to the dune ridge’s steepness and instability.

The downhill 16th plays over rugged dunes, significantly shorter than its 473 yards from the back tees, thanks to about 60-70 feet of elevation change. Workers had to carefully stabilize the fairway’s steep slopes during construction with railroad ties and other supports to prevent sand blowouts. The inward nine culminates along the picturesque coastline to provide a beautiful backdrop, with the par-4 18th serving as a potentially drivable finale.

Visit St. Patrick’s Links at Rosapenna online at https://www.rosapenna.ie/st-patricks-links-by-tom-doak-2021.html.

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Further Reading

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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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Classic Golf Links
by Donald Steel

Summary: Classic Golf Links of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland by Donald Steele is a guidebook featuring 75 spectacular links golf courses in the British Isles, covering their history, design, and challenges. The book includes scorecards, hole maps, photos, and playing tips for each course, providing key information for golf travelers while celebrating these revered seaside tests.  With writing by Donald Steel and photos by Brian Morgan, Classic Golf Links is considered an essential reference for experiencing the best of links golf.

This book is a must for anyone with an affinity for links golf. I bought this book years ago and still return to it often. The pictures are amazing and they alone will make you fall in love with these courses.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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True Links
by  Malcolm Campbell & George Peper

Summary: True Links by Malcolm Campbell and George Peper profiles over 240 of the world’s top links golf courses across the British Isles and beyond, examining their history, design features, and status as an authentic “true links.” Organized geographically, the book offers photos, maps, scorecards and playing tips for renowned seaside tests like Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Cabot Links, Barnbougle Dunes and others that meet the authors’ criteria.  For links golf aficionados, True Links serves as an illustrated guidebook for experiencing the unique joys and challenges of the game’s most revered coastal courses.

Videos

St. Patricks Links Walkthrough
Welcome to Rosapenna
Impressions from St. Patrick’s Links
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