An Irish (golf) Odyssey

John Casey, 30,  manages the hotel his grandfather Frank founded in the 1960’s

Playing golf in Ireland is like climbing the Kilimandjaro with espadrilles, you feel you can do it but you are slightly helpless. The wind, the rain, the daunting bunkers and the narrow fairways make you act like a dwarf. And yet, once you have survived your eighteen holes, you feel like a hero and you are extremely happy !

The starter’s cabin overlooking the first tee of the Old Tom Morris course

This is what I experienced this week at Rosapenna golf Club in Downings, Donegal, where my friend and golf Pro Nathalie Jeanson had kidnapped me. We spent four days there and it felt like having gone away for a fortnight. It was a huge challenge and a great pleasure.

“Mother Nature” has sculpted dunes and gaps

A very strong shower caught us at Belfast airport (where Easy Jet flew us impeccably from Charles de Gaulle) just as we were picking up the car key. Two hours and twenty minutes later we reached the holy grail of golf, in full summer light and could enjoy the beautiful sunset on the sea just outside our room at 10 pm, having driven through the wildest moors of Ireland. We went through Londonderry, Letterkenny and the Derryweagh mountains,  never knowing whether the speed limit was in miles or in kms. Nor whether prices for petrol were in £ or in €. For there are no borders yet in this Northern part of Ireland.

Old Tom Morris of St Andrew’s designed Rosapenna in 1893, but also Prestwick, Muirfield and Crail…

The 1893 designed Rosapenna golf links were waiting for us  and we were soon to discover that they are one of golf tourism’s best kept secret. Designed by Old Tom Morris from St Andrews, a four time Open Championships winner, the Old course seems easy at first. When the wind rises, it is a true challenge. But there are no nasty hidden obstacles nor blind holes. The roughs are very thick and you just have to “take your punishment” as the Irish say when you fall in it.

This green on Sandy Hills has a view of Sheephaven bay and Tramore beach

The new course, designed by architect Pat Ruddy in 2003, is visually even more spectacular with many sea views and high posted tees. It is named Sandy Hills. The blue and purple flowers growing into the wild grass are spectacularly beautiful and the pure links fairways make for a special touch on the ball. It is controled wilderness by “Mother Nature”!

Frank Casey presenting Rory McIlroy the 2005 Inaugural Rosapenna Scratch cup

The resort which comprises 45 holes, a pitch and put and a 58 room hotel with swimming pool and spa, was revamped in the sunny years of Ireland’s economy boom by the Casey family. Frank senior can be seen in the lobby on a picture handing 16 year old Rory McIlroy a cup in 2005. His wife and two sons, Frank and John, work around the clock in the hotel and at the golf club which also has local members.

The staff is particularly efficient and nice and travels from hotel to golf at lunch time. The Irish have this amazing quality of kindness, sense of humour and generosity that make for a great holiday.

Every detail on the course is modest and pretty

We felt it all along our stay, while visiting a tweed studio in the village, Fabric Affair, run by Margaret Lee, who teaches quilt making and cushion sowing in different types of Mc Nutt tweeds. They are with Magee in Donegal the champions of colour and fabrics.

The view from my room with the village and beach of Downings

While the decoration style of the hotel is a little old fahsioned, the rooms and bathrooms are as large as airports and dinner is excellent, with a mixture of guests, American golf freaks and chic old gentlemen from Royal County Down drinking their wines and Guiness. Lobster, sea bream and trifle are on the menu as well as kipper for breakfast. I had a great swim and sauna session in the pool after the first round of wet and windy golf and loved it.

Blue flowers and high grass make for a perfect links course

This is a very special vacation. Do not expect good weather, look for a unique experience of wilderness and perfect golf from April to October. The course is busy but not crowded. There are sightseeing trips to be taken in the immediate area where sea views and mountain hikes are spectacular. A pub plays Irish music in the village and there is a bridge tournament in April.

(reservations@rosapenna.ie, from 210 € a night including green fees)

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6 Comments on “An Irish (golf) Odyssey”

  1. Rosine NATALI

    Comme tu sais je suis convaincue d’avance.
    C’est un endroit exceptionnel et l’accueil il est extraordinaire !

  2. Lesley Velten-Jameson

    Dear Laure,
    Your writing is so enjoyable and convincing! Now I must convince Christian. Thank you once again for your great diary.
    Enjoy your summer,
    Lesley

  3. Caroline Gillespie

    Lily Tuck sent this to us. ( we are Islesboro childhood friends)We were in that part of Ireland in 1971! How things have improved. You inspire us to return.

  4. Alexandre Bernard

    Chère Laure,

    Cela donne vraiment envie d’y aller. Ça me rappelle surtout le links splendide où papa et moi avons péniblement débuté le golf à Donegal. On y trouvait les mêmes obstacles: la pluie, le vent, les hautes herbes et encore la pluie!!!

    Merci pour cette très agréable piqûre de rappel!

    Alexandre

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