by Dave Finn
Lana’i, once known as the Pineapple Island, is the smallest inhabited island in this Pacific chain. It sits about 9 miles west of Maui but feels like a world away. Known for its laid-back lifestyle, Lana’i boasts fewer than 3,200 full-time residents, 30 miles of paved roads, no traffic lights and two of the top 20 golf resorts in North America, according to Golf Digest in 2011. No wonder Lana’i has earned a reputation with not only visitors but also Hawaiians as the place to go when you need to get away from it all!
I’ve always contended that you can’t compare one style of golf course with another since ocean golf is completely different than mountain golf and staying at a seaside resort is very different than relaxing at a lodge. Fortunately on Lana’i you can experience both and draw your own conclusions.
The Challenge at Manele Bay is an ocean lover’s dream come true and one of the most breathtaking courses you may ever play. Jack Nicklaus certainly had a vision when he laid out this course taking full advantage of the raw ruggedness of the tract and the natural beauty of the island. As you leave the clubhouse you’ll gradually traverse up the mountain and be treated to an ever changing kaleidoscope of color from different vantages of Hulopo’e Bay. On our approach to the 5th hole we reached the highest elevation on the property and an indication of what the back nine revealed. Up until this point I had been tearing up the course but from here on in it was all downhill, if you’ll pardon the pun.
On the back nine, several holes hug the shoreline. Each one is framed by the ocean challenging not only your senses but also your skills and your strategy. No doubt about it when I looked at my scorecard I knew that from here on in I had to focus on every shot, be that with a club or my camera!
When we reached their 12th signature hole, I found a peninsula green perched in front of a sheer 150 foot drop to the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean below. I felt like I was standing at the edge of the world and that there was nowhere else I’d rather be, despite the fact that I was facing a very unforgiving water hazard. Without a doubt this is probably the most photographed hole on the islands. No wonder Bill Gates chose this 202-yard, Par 3 to say … “I do!”
Still, in my opinion, the 17th is their best and my favorite hole. This testy Par 4 features a big dogleg right. Not only is it visually appealing but it also requires a good drive to carry the rocky cliffs followed by a slippery downhill approach to a mound protected green that juts out into the sparkling ocean at Kaluakoi Point.
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, even if my score was less than stellar!
The Experience at Koele on the other hand is an entirely different experience, hence the play on words. Nothing soothes the soul like being surrounded by century old cork pine and kiawe forests, babbling brooks and cool mountain air but who would expect to find this in Hawaii, let alone less than eight miles from The Challenge at Manele Bay?
When Ted Robinson and Greg Norman collaborated to make the most of the highland terrain, they created a ‘tropical course’ unlike any you’ve played before. But be forewarned, there is a total of almost 400 feet of elevation change here so walking is not an option.
The Experience at Koele features cascading waterfalls, creeks that meander along the hillside and seven lakes. The Par 5, 3rd hole is your first chance to see one of these signature elements with an amazing drop pool waterfall on the right side of the green. Next you’ll encounter a lake that completely surrounds the green on the Par 4, 308-yard 8th hole that will challenge you to bring out you’re A-game. But to make it a little easier, Koele has bent grass greens which are definitely unique to this part of the world and no mean feat to maintain when you’re fighting against a ten year drought.
The back nine is a dramatic climb from the clubhouse to the 12th tee where you’ll hit 10,023 feet above sea level and realize that you are playing on an island once you take in the magnificent views of Molokai to the left and Napili Beach on Maui on your right. Several holes have dramatic elevation changes but none so much as their signature 17th hole where I felt like I was playing from the top of a 20-story building. It’s 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!
18-hole green fees for either course are $210 for resort guests and $225 for non-guests but include use of the full size driving ranges and a GPS equipped cart. For information on these two amazing golf courses visit www.golfonlanai.com.
I’m not sure where else you can play two diametrically different courses in one day but I’d strongly suggest that you consider staying a few more to not only golf but also enjoy the island’s culture, heritage and hospitality.
There is so much to see and do on Lana’i including skeet shooting, horseback riding, being pampered at a world-class spa, gourmet dining 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 negotiate a bumpy one hour ride past Kaehiakawelo (Garden of the Gods) to Polihua Beach. Either way the final destination is worth it once you find yourself walking miles of white sand beach in blissful silence, collecting shells and watching the humpback whales dance before you in Kalohi Channel.
Until 1990, the only place to stay was the Hotel Lana’i, an intimate eleven room inn and restaurant that was built by James Dole in the 1920’s to house his executives. It’s within walking distance of the museum, shops and eateries like The Blue Ginger and the Lana’i Ohana Poke Market where you’re treated like family and can savor some of the best poke in the islands.
The Four Seasons Lodge at Koele was the former Dole plantation and is now a 5-star resort. Steeped in history it can only be described as tranquil and genteel. Enjoy a fabulous sunset from the wrap-around front porch then have a cocktail in front of the massive fireplace in the lobby before retiring to either The Terrace or The Dining Room for a sumptuous meal prepared by Chef Kevin and his amazing team. Guests of the Lodge enjoy old world charm and mountain solitude in addition to the amenities of their sister property The Four Seasons Lana’i at Manele Bay.
Overlooking Pu’u Peke – Sweetheart Rock and adjacent to a marine preserve The Four Seasons at Manele Bay is simply heaven on earth for anyone who craves sun, sand and sensational service. If you’re seeking quiet, stroll the lush gardens or indulge your senses with a massage on the beach. Swim with the dolphins on the beach, sip a Bikini Blonde at the bar then satisfy your appetite at One Forty featuring steaks and Hawaiian cuisine made with the finest of local ingredients or dine at the famous Japanese restaurant Nobu.
We spoke to many people who told us that Lana’i was on their bucket list and while it might have been a bit of a challenge getting there, it was worth the effort. From the moment we stepped off the ferry from Lahaina and boarded the shuttle to The Four Seasons at Manele Bay I knew that this was going to be an experience of a lifetime and I was right.
Explore the island, experience the golf and enjoy life in the slow lane. For more information visit: www.gohawaii.com/lanai.