Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Donegal: The Power of New

It is surprising – to me at least – that Irish golfers are not that aware of the many ‘new’ things happening at Irish golf courses. We all knew about the massive upgrade at Adare Manor and many of us had heard that Skellig Bay was evolving into Hog’s Head, but the changes going on in Co. Donegal over the past three years have slipped by relatively unnoticed.

One of the new (Pat Ruddy) holes on the Old Tom
course at Rosapenna.

I conducted a poll on Twitter asking if people knew that Tom Doak was redesigning

the St Patrick’s Links at Rosapenna? The result of 350 replies was that 54 per cent did not.


Tom Doak is one of the top golf course architects in the world today. There are many outstanding architects out there and a list of the best would undoubtedly include Doak, Gil Hanse, Coore & Crenshaw, David McLay Kidd* and Mackenzie & Ebert. And those are just the names that spring instantly to mind. How you rank them is up to you.


This is huge news for Ireland, and even bigger for Donegal. What’s more, Gil Hanse redesigned the links at Narin & Portnoo, which opened for play this summer. So that’s not one but two of the world’s best architects working in Ireland, putting their name to courses that will attract visitors for the design pedigree alone. Rosapenna will now have 63 holes, making it Ireland’s premier golf resort, and the quality of courses around it, never mind the beauty of Donegal and the Wild Atlantic Way, will give it added attraction to the travelling golfer.


Let’s just take a spin along the Donegal coastline, east to west, and you’ll see what I mean: 


Ballyliffin (now 45 holes with the par three Pollan links opening this year)

North West




Cruit Island (9-holes)

Narin & Portnoo




And those are just the links.


So Rosapenna is set to become our newest course with a brand new layout of 18 holes where once two courses existed. These were laid out by Eddie Hackett and Joanne O’Haire in the 80s and 90s. Jack Nicklaus was brought in during the 2000s to change the courses but the project never happened. The course has not been in play for years.

The Fried Egg Podcast has done many pods with Tom Doak ('Yolk with Doak') and in episode 16 he talks a lot about the St Patrick's Links project. It tees off at the 13 minute mark.


There have been scarce few new courses in Ireland in recent years. Redesigns like Adare Manor don’t count (IMO) as the routing is identical, and while extensions which see 9-hole courses becoming 18 (e.g. South Meath, Mountbellew) obviously involve new holes over new land that doesn’t make them a new course. Hog’s Head has many new elements (plus one of the most outstanding clubhouses) but even here Trent Jones Jr employed some of the existing routing. At Narin & Portnoo, Hanse has introduced several new holes but the structure and routing has strong ties to what was there before.


Doak’s work will therefore be Ireland’s newest 18-hole course since Cobh moved to its Marino Point location in 2009. It is due to open next year in the spring.


When it comes to golf, Donegal does not need to be ‘put on the map’ because it is firmly there already… but the name of Doak – and Hanse – will give pause to international golfers who instinctively look to Ireland’s south west for their golf.


On a completely separate note, but also to do with the word ‘new’, there are many courses with new in their title. Two courses in Scotland spring to mind: St Andrews (New) was designed by Old Tom Morris in the 1890s; Luffness New was also designed by Old Tom Morris, but even earlier in the 1870s. In Ireland, Headfort New opened in 2000. Slightly different ends of the timeline.


* David McLay Kidd designed Bandon Dunes and he is revered for that work, but he also designed Powerscourt West, which has some of the most magical and remarkable greens you will play on in Ireland.

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