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Lanai golf in Hawaii: Quality, not quantity, rules here

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
Koele Golf Course - Lanai
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The Experience at Koele golf course is one of two world-class championship courses on Lanai. (Courtesy photo)

Little Lanai is often overlooked as a Hawaiian golf destination. Hawaii's smallest island might not have many golf courses, but the sheer quality of world-clas runs like the Challenge at Manele and the Experience at Koele more than compensates.

It is interesting that Lanai is often the most overlooked of the Hawaiian Islands. Because of all the glorious islands of the 50th state that a traveler can choose, perhaps none encapsulates all that's good about Hawaii as well as Lanai.

Called the Pineapple Isle, for the former planations of the fruit that dominated the landscape on the 140-square-mile island, as well as for being an island owned by Dole (Lanai is currently owned by the company Castle & Cooke), Lanai is the smallest of Hawaii's inhabited islands, but makes up for that with big vacation - and golf - opportunities.

About Lanai

The Island of Lanai truly came to life in 1922, when James Dole purchased the island for just over $1 million. Soon canned pineapple found itself on store shelves and at one point, Lanai was producing 75 percent of the world's pineapple.

For decades, Lanai proudly rode the title as the Pineapple Isle, with much of its land dedicated to growing the fruit, and laborers coming far and wide to work the plantations. As the 1980s came, however, the pineapple boom had finally slowed, and Lanai looked to boost its stock amongst Hawaiian Islands by investing in tourism.

The Lodge at Koele and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay Hotel were built, along with two world-class golf courses - the Experience at Koele and the Challenge at Manele. The resorts opened up the activities of Lanai for the masses, as travelers now can enjoy the snorkeling, helicopter tours and other activities this lush island presents. And, of course, there's the world-class golf.

Lanai Golf: Challenge at Manele

If you're a golfer headed to Lanai and worried that there isn't the quantity of golf available as there is on other islands, you'll forget those concerns immediately upon arriving at the Challenge at Manele.

Jack Nicklaus designed this course, which is often called one of the best in all of Hawaii. The course was built on lava outcroppings, and delivers water views on every hole. Three holes will have you shooting with the Pacific Ocean as an imposing water hazard. Forced carries over gorges and ravines will test a golfer's nerves and talents as well on this mind blowingly scenic run.

"The views from the fairways looking over the ocean at the other islands cause golfers playing the Challenge at Manele to admit to never playing such an incredible golf course as this one," says Tim Hurja of Hawaii Golf Central.

And while Nicklaus can be known as a taskmaster when it comes to course design, it is the landscape that's the star here. Don't think you'll get off easy, however. The plethora of forced carries and chances to put your ball into the water mean this 7,039-yard course plays to a 135-slope rating.

Lanai Golf: Experience at Koele

Designed by Ted Robinson and Greg Norman the Experience at Koele gives golfers a stunning mountain course in a tropical setting. You'll be playing the first seven holes of this run atop a plateau, nearly a half-mile above sea level, leaving a golfer agog at the spectacular views available, notably of the islands of Maui and Molokai.

And while the 18-hole championship run will awe golfers with its diverse beauty as they wend their way through mountains, ravines, scenic views and lush vegetation, the quality of the golf is unquestioned. This is a course where you better remember your camera, and your game, as it plays to 7,014 yards from the tips and an imposing 144 slope rating.

So remember, Lanai may not seem like the dream island at first glance. But look a little deeper and you'll see that it can be a Hawaiian treat for both golfer and non-golfer alike.

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Lanai

    Syd Boyd wrote on: Jun 27, 2007

    I've played both the Lanai courses several times and have stayed in both resorts. I would place either of these wonderful golfing experiences amongst the best in Hawaii and in fact, anywhere else I've golfed. It is not uncommon to play a complete round without seeing another group of golfers, which is, indeed, a unique and pleasurable experience at a resort destination. Also very worthy of mention is that the 19th hole Mai-tais are incredibly effective in making those three putts seem very insignificant.
    For golfing enthusiasts who wish to experience the best golf has to offer, it would be a shame if you were in the Islands for any length of time and didn't make arrangements to play the Koele and Manele courses. And as mentioned in the original review, bring your camera.


      • RE: Lanai

        Laura Grainger wrote on: Jul 16, 2007

        After spending an unforgettable week golfing on Hilton Head, the story and comments about Lanai have encouraged me to consider it for my next golfing destination. I will indeed take my camera and enjoy Perrier instead.