Lana’i HI – The title is a bit of a play on words but aptly applies to golf in this Polynesian paradise. Unless you’ve been to the State of Hawaii before you probably don’t know much about Lana’i. It’s the smallest inhabited island in this Pacific chain measuring just over 35 by 13 miles and sits about 9 miles west of Maui but feels like a world away. Formally known as the “Pineapple Island”, it’s now the place where Hawaiians go to get away from it all.
There are only 3,200 full time residents here and no stop lights so you know traffic is not an issue yet there is so much to see and do from skeet shooting, horseback riding, world-class spas and of course whale watching. If you are adventurous make sure you take an afternoon to rent a jeep and explore the secluded Kaiolohia (Shipwreck Beach) or traverse a bumping one hour ride past Kaehiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) to Polihua Beach. Either way the final destination is worth the effort as you can walk miles of white sanding beaches collecting shells while being memorized by the humpback whales dancing in front of you on Kalohi Channel.
But beware, with all this solitude means that there are only a limited amount of accommodations to pick from and each is completely different as are the golf courses you are playing. Located in the quaint inland village of Lana’i City is the Hotel Lana’i, a very charming ten room inn and The Four Seasons Lodge at Ko’ele, which was originally built as a place to stay for the Dole executives and reportedly the largest wooden structure in Hawaii. Then there is The Four Seasons Lana’i at Manele Bay, a luxurious seaside oasis that will cater to even the most discriminating traveler. In fact rumor had it that Tom Cruise was staying while we were here. Both resorts are currently ranked in the top 20 best golf resorts in North America so you will not be disappointed.
I’ve always contested that you cannot compare one style of golf course to another since ocean golf and mountain golf are two totally different experiences. On Lana’i you get to challenge them both.
The Challenge at Manele Bay is a Jack Nicklaus Design that is currently ranked in the top 50 greatest public golf courses in the US and one of the most visually stunning golf courses you may ever play in your lifetime. That’s a pretty bold statement but believe you me the combination of dramatic elevation changes, volcanic rock outcrops, perfectly manicured bunkers and magnificent ocean vistas make every hole here a standout.
The first five holes gradually climb up the mountain and the views keep getting better as the colour of the water of Hulopo’e Bay change from a constant blue to numerous shades of teal and aqua. Once you reach your approach shot on five you are now at the highest point on the golf course. Faced with a sixty foot drop to the green where you now get to see the best view of the remaining holes on the front nine that gently brings you back down the mountain to the clubhouse.
The back nine has a little less elevation change but visually appears to be hugging the ocean coastal shore as six of the greens are perched on the shoreline cliffs of Huawai Bay. Their signature par 3 12th hole feels like you are perched on the edge of the world as the peninsula green is perched in front of a shear 150 foot drop to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean that will surely make your knees knock.
However in my opinion the 17th is their best. This testy dogleg right par 4 is not only visually appealing but requires a good drive to carry the rocky cliffs followed by a slippery downhill approach to a mound protected green that juts out to the sparking ocean at Kaluakoi Point.
Then to top it off as we approached the eighteenth green we were greeted by two humpback whales who surfaced to congratulate us before we putted out. What an amazing day of photographs!
The Experience at Koele on the other hand is a Greg Norman Design and the polar opposite to The Challenge. Because of the high elevation it is 10 degrees cooler in the mountains with a good chance of dew in the morning so they were able to plant bent grass greens which are unheard of in the tropics. The greens and the sea-shore paspalum tee blocks were in great shape however some of their Bermuda fairways were rough around the edges.
The first nine holes are built on the lower portion of the property offering subtle elevation changes with more of a parkland feel. There is some housing but they do not interfere with your game nor the beautiful surroundings of tall cork pines, kiawe and jacaranda tree-lined fairways. The par five 3rd hole is your first chance to see one of the signature features of this course with an amazing drop pool waterfall on the right side of the green. There are a number of these reclaimed water reservoirs though out the course but unfortunately some of them have dried up due to the ten year drought that this island has endured.
The back nine is a huge climb from the clubhouse to an upper level but it’s not until you reach the 12th tee you realize that you are actually playing on an island with magnificent views of Molokai to the left and Napili Beach on Maui on your right. The 17th hole is their signature hole, a deceivingly short par 4 that dives some 250 feet off the tee to a narrow tree-lined fairway on the left with a bunker and reservoir to the right. After a great tee shot you may be partially blocked out by the huge eucalyptus on your approach to the right side of green. Tough but visually stunning!
There is a total of almost 400 feet of elevation change here so walking is not an option. 18-hole green fees for either course are $210 for resort guests and $225 for non-guests but include use of their full size driving ranges and a GPS equipped cart. For information on these two amazing golf courses visit www.golfonlanai.com or Lana’i visit www.gohawaii.com/lanai. Where else can you play two diametrically different courses in one day? The challenge is maybe getting there but the experience is well worth the trip.