A few hours’ drive from Carne on the wild and rocky northern coast of Donegal is Rosapenna, a four-star resort with a long golf tradition and grand plans for the future. The resort has been family-owned and operated since 1981—when Frank Casey purchased the 66-bedroom hotel and the 18 holes at its doorstep—but the game has been played here since the 1890s, when Old Tom Morris stopped by to design a nine-hole loop on an occasionally flattish but altogether pleasant strip of land paralleling the beach. In subsequent decades, Harry Vardon and H.S. Colt made their marks on this Valley nine, which remains the finest collection of holes on the property.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Casey presided over an expansion of Rosapenna’s golf offerings, hiring the colorful journalist-turned-architect Pat Ruddy to create 27 more holes: the Sandy Hills links, which opened in 2003 and is Rosapenna’s challenging big-dune layout, and the Strand nine. The Strand has since been paired with the ancient Valley holes to form the Old Tom Morris links.
The big news coming from Rosapenna is that even more golf is on the way. As Casey prepares for his retirement, he is readying his sons—30-year-old Frank Jr., who is the director of golf, and John, 26—to take over the family business. Fortunately for golf travelers, both lads are knowledgeable and skilled players who love the game. In November of 2012, the family laid the foundation for the next generation’s legacy, acquiring some 370 acres of prime duneland adjacent to their property. With the purchase of this real estate, Rosapenna is poised to become one of the biggest golf resorts in the European Union in total number of holes. And if the land is developed wisely, it may also become the home of the next great Irish links.
Despite having enough land for 36 holes, Casey Jr. thinks it more likely they’ll build 18 or 27 instead. With the stakes set, the million-dollar question becomes: Who will get the job? Representatives of firms ranging from Arnold Palmer Design to European Golf Design have visited the site and provided concepts. The punters and tea-leaf readers would probably set Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design as the current front-runner.
Rosapenna, with its comfortable lodging and beachfront setting, is already a solid fixture on the northwest route. But golfers on multi-course Irish adventures tend to move along quickly, either south toward Sligo or east toward Northern Ireland. One goal of the new links is to slow travelers down. “We’d love for people to come and stay for three or four nights instead of one or two,” Casey Jr. says. Given the tremendous charm and natural beauty of the region, we won’t complain when Rosapenna provides another good reason to take a little extra time in Donegal.