Lana‘i: A wondrous golf resort in paradise

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Home of two famed layouts, Lana‘i is a truly stunning example of premiere resort golf.

Story and Photos by: John Byrne

If one could sum up Lana‘i’s two resort courses in one word it would be: WOW!

Lana‘i is just a short Expeditions (661-3756) ferry ride away from Lahaina, and one of the few excursions from the Valley Isle that I highly recommend. It is home to two of Hawaii’s finest resort golf courses: the Challenge at Manele and the Experience at Koele. Each course is singularly unique in terrain, location, setting, and design.

The 7,000-yard, par 72 Experience at Koele is set on a plateau 2000-feet above sea level in the mountains where the cool air allows the course to maintain bent grass putting greens, and showcase stunning views of Maui and Molokai. Cook pine, eucalyptus, and koa trees line fairways that wind through hilly terrain, with beautiful, multi-tiered cascading waterfalls and placid ponds coming into play or view on 10 of its 18 holes.

Greg Norman and Ted Robinson Sr. designed the Experience to take full advantage of the two climates that exist on this serene site. The front nine is played through densely wooded foothills and features four sets of tees and water on all but two holes. There are amazing floral beds, rock formations, and mature trees amidst a plethora of abundant and dense indegenous flora. Perfectly manicured bunkers and strips of verdant green fairway seemlessly fit into the landscape, much the way nature intended it.

Norman and Robinson WOW golfers on virtually every hole and shot. They use water hazards and carries over bunkers strategically placed throughout as a means of protecting Old Man Par. They also place bunkers at or near the falloff areas where the water awaits the errant shot, to give golfers a reprieve when erring off many of the tees. It is a fair test of golf and a scenic one too.

No. 8 is one of Hawai‘i’s most interesting golf holes. It is a par 4 that features an island green just 308 yards from the tips. The green is fronted by water and a rock wall, and massive Cook pines serve as a backdrop.

The back nine rises about 300 feet in elevation and in the mornings is so silent you can hear a pin drop. Usually, a morning fog wafts in and creates a biota unlike anything here.

The course climbs to great heights and the crescendo is the 444-yard downhill par 4 17th, which is so high up that the fairway looks almost impossible to hit. But you can do it. And when it’s all over, you can be proud of your performance at the Experience.

The par 72 Challenge at Manele is 90 feet above Hulopo‘e Bay, in an oceanfront haven with the white-flecked sea crashing into the cliffs far below. A Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, the Challenge has five sets of tees ranging in length from 7,039-yards from the Nicklaus tees, to 5,024-yards from the Red tees. This course has five par 3s and five par 5s, and a number of exceptional par 4s, many of which exceed 430 yards in length.

The Challenge at Manele is famous for its cliffside holes, but Nicklaus has created an intriguing test of golf on the inland holes that has done justice to its name. Holes sweep to the left and right, favoring neither the fade nor the draw, but both. Lava outcroppings require precision off of the tees, but the approach shots are where the scoring happens, and Nicklaus makes every single one of them a thrill.

The Challenge at Manele is known for its incredible cliffside holes, and when you get to them, you’ll say ‘WOW!’ too. The first of them is No. 12, a 202-yard par 3 with dramatic cliffs that run as far as the eye can see. Making solid contact with the right club on this all-carry hole is paramount, as is being sure you have your camera handy!

What follows is the par 4 13th, which also follows the same coastline. It is much like a shortened version of No. 18 at Pebble, only here there is less room to the right to bail out. The 444-yard par 4 17th calls for a long carry over the cliffs, and successfully done, is a highlight for any golfer’s trip to Lana‘i.

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