Last week I gushed over playing golf at The Challenge at Manele on Lana’i in Hawaii. This week, I’ll share a completely different, but just as memorable golf course on the same island – The Experience at Koele. If you make it over to Lana’i, don’t leave home without giving Koele a try.
The Experience at Koele starts at 2,000 feet above sea level, nestled in forests of soaring pines, koa and eucalyptus trees.
While playing Koele, I found it hard to believe this course was even in Hawaii, let alone on Lana’i. When you play it, you might even think you’re in New England. But as different as this course is to Manele, it still has its own charm, beauty and challenges.
As you climb up, through and down the sloping wooded fairways, you’ll encounter many ravines, lakes, streams and waterfalls which bring both beauty and danger to your approach shot to the bent grass greens. But beware of your speed…as our starter said, “Koele has the slowest town and the fastest greens.”
The 3rd hole is a good example. This par 5 bends gently to the right and is one of the toughest on the course. Approaching the green there is lots to distract you, while it attracts your ball. But I parred the hole after hitting a nice pitch into the protected green, so for me it was a very rewarding “experience”.
The rough doesn’t seem to be as penal as on Manele and Greg Norman tended to add bunkers next to the ponds and lakes to catch your ball before it got wet. I’m not a big fan of fairway bunkers, but more than once I thanked the Shark for saving me from a penalty drop.
The #1 handicap hole, the 6th, looks pretty tame, but the trade winds can play havoc with your tee shot, making your second shot even longer. But the water features all down the right side of the fairway were so stunning that even my bogey didn’t feel so bad.
The short par 4, 8th is actually quite easy, but with an island green, it can be a bit intimidating on your second shot.
I tried to forget the water existed, but that was impossible. So instead I pretended that I was teeing off on the infamous 17th at TPC Sawgrass. I focused on getting my 130 yard 2nd shot up high in the air to try and land it softly on the green. Walking away with a par on that hole made me feel like a real golfer for a few minutes.
The back nine was my favorite of the two, probably because I shot my best 9 holes ever, which lead to my best round of golf ever. Hard not to love a course that rewards you. And although I double bogeyed the signature hole, 17, it was the most exciting drive I’d ever hit. From a 250 foot elevated tee my ball seemed to fly forever. Unfortunately, it flew into the sand trap next to the water – a hazard that took two shots to escape.
|Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Lana’i|
Koele is one of those unusual golf courses that ends with a par 3. Some people aren’t keen on that design, but I loved it. Birdying my last hole on my last day in Hawaii was like the icing on my birthday cake – a very tasty finish to a very satisfying meal!
Koele’s staggering elevation changes and beautifully landscaped highland terrain is most definitely an experience to be remembered. If you ever get a chance to play it, take 5 or 6 balls to the tee box on 17 and just keep on hitting until you’re happy. One shot just isn’t enough!