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If you're traveling to Lanai, Hawaii, you've got to experience golf at The Experience at Koele

Bill BowmanBy Bill Bowman,
The Experience at Koele - hole 9
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The Experience at Koele offers breathtaking views, amazing ambiance and, best of all, amazing golf challenges. (Courtesy of Joe West/joewestphoto.com)

LANAI CITY, Hawaii -- Trees, trees and more trees. No, you're not in Colorado or Carolina. You're on the stunning island of Lanai, weaving your way through the tree-lined golf paradise known simply as The Experience.

The Experience at Koele, a Greg Norman design, is just a 45-minute ferry ride from Maui. The Experience is the sister course of The Challenge at Manele, a Jack Nicklaus design also on Lanai. Both golf courses offer breathtaking views, amazing ambiance (it's usually just you and your golf partner and the golf course) and, best of all, amazing golf challenges.

"It's a very different golf course than most people who visit Hawaii get to play," Doug Stephenson, vice president of operations at Castle & Cooke Resort, said of The Experience. "It doesn't feel like Hawaii at times because it's 1,500 feet above sea level, but there are great views on the course and it's a great test of golf."

This 7,014-yard Experience at Koele layout was built on 163 wooded acres high above the ocean. Norman's design (with help from Ted Robinson) winds over, around and through tree-lined ravines. Streams, waterfalls and a lake add to the ambiance.

The opening hole, a 414-yard straightaway par 4, gives players an early scoring chance. The fairway is generous but a grove of trees cut into the fairway some 200 yards off the tee, so stay to the right to avoid tree trouble. Staying to the right, however, brings a greenside bunker into play on the approach shot. It's a solid and serene opener with birdie possibilities.

The Experience comes to life on the third hole, a par 5 reaching 512 yards. Every shot on this hole must avoid trouble, whether it's the two water hazards -- off the tee and into the green -- or the winding fairway that can be tough to hit. This hole will provide an early test of pinpoint accuracy. Getting home in two is a possibility, but the water surrounding much of the green can dampen your enthusiasm and swallow errant shots. Be careful -- and be smart.

The seventh, eighth and ninth are a trio of diverse holes that close out the front nine in style. The seventh is a 166-yard, par 3 with water guarding the entire right side of the green, so any misses must be short and left. More water comes into play on the 308-yard, par-4 eighth as water just about surrounds the green. Hit an iron or hybrid off the tee to set up a wedge shot into this undulating green. Or, if you're bold, drive the green like Norman has done before. It's your choice. The ninth is a great chance to finish the front nine with a birdie (or an eagle with two well-placed shots). Avoiding bunkers with the tee shot on the approach -- as well as a pond to the left of the green -- will give players a putt at birdie or eagle.

On The Experience at Koele's back nine, players will climb farther up the mountain (to 2,000 feet) and play nine holes winding through Norfolk Pines and Eucalyptus trees. There's also the chance you'll have to share the fairway at some point with about 20 deer that call the golf course home.

Dogleg holes, undulating greens and immaculate conditioning will set the stage for players as they approach the dramatic 17th hole. The 390-yard, par 4 plays much shorter, as it's a 200-foot drop from the tee box to the fairway. The tee shot must avoid a huge pond to the right as well as island flora and fauna to the left. A tee shot in the middle of the fairway sets up a short iron into the green, but that approach must avoid a solitary 70-foot Eucalyptus guarding the front right of this sloping green. From start to finish, it's a golf hole you won't soon forget and will definitely want to play again.

"The cool story about that hole is that they had the layout of the course done and went for a hike up that hill (where the 17th tee box is now located)," Stephenson said. "They loved what they saw and moved the golf course around so the center of the golf course is the 17th."

The Experience at Koele: The verdict

You're going to love the diversity of the two golf courses on the small island of Lanai. The Challenge at Manele is an ocean-viewing masterpiece, while The Experience at Koele is a mountainside paradise.

"One of the great things is there are two great golf courses here that are so different," Stephenson said. "They are close together, but because Koele is 1,500 feet above sea level, it's got a completely different feel."

And when you're looking for a great golf experience or challenge, different is a good thing.

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The Experience at Koele - hole 17The Experience at Koele - hole 2

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has more than 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 16-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas and has teed it up for magazine profiles with celebrities including comedian Bill Engvall, actor Jeffrey Donovan (USA's Burn Notice), ESPN personality Colin Cowherd, NASCAR's Kurt Busch, Collective Soul's Ed Roland, the Baltimore Ravens' Jonathan Ogden and many others.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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