After spending 2 weeks on Maui last year playing golf at some of the world’s most beautiful golf resorts every day, I didn’t think life could get any better. And then I experienced Lana’i.
Only a 45 minute ferry ride from Lahaina, Lana’i is the smallest of the inhabited islands in Hawaii, but one that packs the biggest punch per square mile. Once the producer of 75% of the world’s pineapples, this 140 square mile gem was purchased by one man (James Dole) in 1922 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today this Garden of the Golf Gods hosts two world-class Four Seasons hotels and two magnificent championship golf courses that are as different as the golf legends who created them – the Challenge at Manele (a Jack Nicklaus masterpiece) and the Experience at Koele (Greg Norman and Ted Robinson’s and Greg Norman’s work of art).
The Challenge at Manele defies superlatives.
Nothing I write could possibly do justice to the unsurpassed splendour of this golf course. I was completely distracted by the breathtaking views and took over 125 photographs during our round. Thankfully there was no one behind us because that round took over 5 hours to play. We are normally pace-of-play bulldogs, but not at Manele. I can’t tell you how many times I just stood still, stared at yet another breathtaking view and listened to Nature’s voice in the wind and crashing waves. It still gives me goose bumps when I think about it.
But as beautiful as this course is, it is no walk in the park. Jack Nicklaus wasn’t distracted by the views when he created what he considers to be one of his finest designs. Yup… the Golden Bear sure had his claws into the lava rock when he carved out these 18 challenging holes.
I didn’t play very well at Manele, so it’s high on my revenge list, but I blame Mother Nature for that, not Jack. He actually designed a “women-friendly” course and I think that Golf for Women Magazine would have given it high marks, if it was still around to rate it. With two tees rated for women, (Red: 5024 yards, White: 5847) and no real forced carries from the forward tees, it would appeal to golf gals and guys of all levels.
I started off pretty well, parring the first hole, but then the scenery really kicked in at number 2 and my mind took a sabbatical from my game. Looking out on to Puu Pehe (Sweetheart Rock) I remembered the ancient story behind this landmark.
There are a number of variations on the legend, but my favorite was the one told to me by the Starter.
Way back when, a beautiful young couple wanted to be together, but their parents wouldn’t allow it. So the man hid his love in a cave near Sweetheart Rock. When he went to get food, the tides came in and she drowned. He was so devastated that he buried her on the top of Sweetheart Rock and then dove into the ocean where he turned into a shark. Today he still swims around the rock protecting her.
I loved the romance and mystery of that story. So when my score card started to get me down, I just looked around at Manele’s wonders and my spirits were lifted.
And it just got better from there… until I almost fell out of my Sandbaggers at the hole where Bill Gates said “I do!“ – the 12th.
|Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Lana’i
I have a touch of acrophobia and so my challenge at “The Challenge” was just to walk onto the tee box. Wind plays a factor here and I was sure I heard the whales, dolphins and sharks calling my name in the breezes. Needless to say, my tee shot went quite a bit right and I ended up bogeying the hole, but I felt like a winner because I got from tee to green without fainting.
If I could have one wish, just one, it would be to score my first hole-in-one on #12 at the Challenge at Manele. I don’t think that’s asking too much, do you?
From 12, you wind your way in and along the coast, each hole with a beauty of its own, until you come to yet another Kodak moment at 17.
It’s actually back-to-back with 12 so no matter which way you turn the view is spectacular. It’s the number 2 handicap hole on this course, so the kind hearted Nicklaus offered two choices of forward tees for those who didn’t want to tackle a long carry. See, I told you Jack loves women!
After our round, we spent a leisurely lunch on the patio of the cliff-side clubhouse where I enjoyed the best blackened fish tacos I have ever had. If you’re not into blackened, then do try their Mahi Mahi fish and chips with their homemade tartar sauce.
It’s been almost a year since I took on the Challenge of Manele, but not a week goes by that I don’t think about playing it again. Lana’i was an experience of a lifetime for me and I have only one regret about my visit – leaving.
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