GOLF TRAVEL

Lanai, an exclusive Hawaiian island,
is a true treasure
with exceptional golf

By Cynthia Boal Janssens,
Contributor

LANAI, Hawaii (Dec. 5, 2002) -- The island looks brown and somewhat barren as our small plane swoops in on its flight from Oahu. The airport, when we finally spot it, is just a small building in the middle of a field. This is not, we soon realize, your typical Hawaiian island loaded with plush hotels and dramatic volcanoes.

No, Lanai is small. It is largely undeveloped. It has only a few roads and one town. It is 13 miles wide and 18 miles long. It is largely unknown to visitors.

But it is a treasure.

In days past, the entire 141-square-mile island was a pineapple plantation operated by the Dole Company. Most of its 2,800 residents either were employed by the company or were paniolos working with cattle. There was a settlement where the workers and their families lived. By the early 1990s, Dole realized it could not compete with the labor costs in developing countries (pineapples have to be planted and harvested by hand), and decided to phase out fruit and introduce tourism, on a very limited basis.

So Dole's real estate arm, Castle & Cooke Resorts, LLC, developed two lovely, exclusive and expensive resorts on Lanai. The Lodge at Koele, opened in 1990, is in a mountainous area just north of what is now Lanai City, and Manele Bay Hotel (1991) is located on the sea. Of course, elegant resorts must offer elegant golf and two lovely courses - the Expe rience at Koele (1991) and the Challenge at Manele (1993) -- give golfers of all levels the opportunity to play outstanding golf, with wicked holes and knockout scenery, at a pace that is downright leisurely.

Visiting Lanai is a lovely complement to any Hawaiian vacation. After the hustle and bustle of Maui, or adventuring on Kauai, wise golfers will add a few days on Lanai for a soothing and luxurious vacation experience unlike any other in the islands.

These two world-famous resorts could not be more different. The Lodge at Koele is a personal favorite of many. Located on a plain at the foot of gentle mountains, the Lodge is laid out like a big plantation home. It has 102 rooms, all of generous size. These are located in two wings off a main building that features large porches (with wicker rockers) with lovely views of the front lawn and back pond.

The lodge is built where the tiny village of Koele used to be and an Hawaiian church still graces the front lawn. Also on the grounds are a number of statuesque banyan trees, an orchid house, a putting course, croquet courts, a swimming pool and a fitness center. The riding stables are just a half-mile from the front entrance.

Everything about the lodge oozes elegance and charm. Rich, dark wood is used lavishly and contributes to the lodge effect. The Lodge has won all kinds of awards including "Best Tropical Resort in the World" by Conde Nast Traveler.

All sorts of genteel outdoor activities are offered here including hunting sporting clays and archery, but golf is foremost with many visitors. The Experience at Koele was designed by Ted Robinson and refined by Greg Norman. On this par-72, there is quite a contrast between the front and back nines, the front nine are cut through former pineapple fields and offering views of Lanai City and the Pacific Ocean. The latter holes being a mountain course at 2,000 feet that rolls through the highlands of what used to be the Koele Ranch.

Wild turkeys, axis deer and grouse wander freely and don't be surprised when cool mists come pouring over the mountains. It all adds to a mystical golf experience.

As you might expect, the price is pretty mystical, too. For two, the 18-hole tab tops $350. But this is one of those courses you may only play once or twice in a lifetime so most folks go for it. For long-hitters, it measures 7,014 yards off the tips with a rating of a whopping 73.3 and a slope of 141.

Women who play from the whites will find plenty of challenge also: a 77.5 rating with a 146 slope. Most resort golfers, however, will opt for either the resort tees (6,217 yards) or the forward tees (5,425) which make it manageable for all levels.

The course is built on 163 acres and Robinson's hand is evident everywhere. There are seven lakes, flowing streams and cascading waterfalls. Pot-bunkers and multi-leveled greens are also Robinson trademarks. The bent-grass greens are unique in Hawaii.

The signature hole is No. 17, a 390-yard, par-4 that is nestled in the deepest and most magnificent gorge on Lanai. It plays from a 250-foot elevated tee to a green guarded by a lake, making it a heart-stopper. Dramatic and difficult as this course can be, because of the low numbers of visitors to the island it gets very little play, usually fewer than 50 rounds a day. This makes it a perfect play for newer or slower golfers.

"These courses are definitely high-end and definitely quiet," explains Brendan Moynahan, the pro at Koele. "We don't start until 8 a.m., and we often send out twosomes. It is a very comfortable course. "In fact, it is the best place in the world if you are a beginning golfer. You can take your time and just let the faster players go through. No one pushes you here."

Koele's sister resort is the Manele Bay Hotel, which sits on a dramatic cliffside overlooking the beach at Hulopoé Bay. The two are operated jointly with shuttle buses traveling between the two (and through the town) every hour Manele Bay has 250 rooms and suites and the pace is a bit livelier here. This may be due to the presence of the beach, an elegant spa, a large central pool and an open-air bar on the upper level. For all these reasons, the guests appear to be a bit younger here than at the Lodge.

This hotel is an architectural blend of Hawaii's many cultures -- Polynesian, Oriental, European and Mediterranean. This idea is carried out in five ethnic gardens located in courtyards throughout the property. Many of the rooms feature views of the coastline, the ocean and the marine preserve.

Dramatic also is the par-72 Challenge at Manele Bay golf course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, which stretches along the ocean's edge. It is a precarious perch, so much so that in mid-October when the island was deluged with unusually heavy rains, mudslides damaged a number of holes. The 9th hole has a temporary tee box. The 17th hole has a temporary green. All holes are open for play.

The course opened in 1993 and is fashioned from several hundred acres of natural lava fields and outcroppings. So impressive is the site that ancient Hawaiians built temples here and the remains are carefully preserved throughout the course. Five sets of tees make this course friendly to all. The Challenge plays 7,039 yards from the so-called Nicklaus tees, 6,310 from the blues and 5,024 from the red tees.

This is a target-style course, with a number of the holes requiring precise tee shots over natural gorges and ravines. The signature hole is No. 12, a par-3 that plays from a cliff 150 feet above the crashing surf, requiring a demanding 200-yard tee shot across the ocean. Also impressive is No. 17, a par-4 that requires another cliff carry, followed by a steep downhill shot to small, cliffside green. This site is so scenic that Bill Gates was married here in the early 1990s.

Every hole on this course enjoys incredible, 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean, where spinner dolphins cavort and humpback whales roll by in the winter months. Little wonder if you get distracted.

With a replay rate of $70, many golfers go back and tackle another 18 on both courses.

Memorable golf is not the only recreational activity available. There is also horseback riding, archery, sporting clays, croquet, boat trips, sport fishing, hunting, mountain biking, lawn bowling, tennis and island tours. The two resorts are only a half-hour apart, so all activities are open to all guests.

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Speaking of tours, be sure to venture out of your resort to explore this laid-back island. The easiest way is to do it on your own by renting a vehicle at the gas station (there is only one on the island) and following the basic island map. There are only 30 miles of roads on the island. Or, you can join a 4x4 adventure run by the hotel.

Also stroll around downtown Lanai City, perhaps having lunch at the Blue Ginger café or dinner at Henry Clay's Rotisserie in the Hotel Lanai. And meet the local people. They have wonderful stories of growing up on the island that they are more than willing to share.

Lanai really is the exclusive island, and well worth your visiting the next time you head to the Hawaiian islands for golf.

The Experience at Koele Men: Tournament 73.3/141 Champion: 71.5/134 Resort: 69.7/130 Forward: 66.0/123 Ladies: White: 77.3/146 Red: 72.6/130

The Challenge at Manele Men: Nicklaus: 73.3/132 Gold: 71/6/129 Blue: 69.8/125 White: 67.8/122 Red: 64.0/114 Ladies: White: 73.2/129 Red: 68.8/119

Accommodations: The Lodge at Koele and Manele Bay Hotel P.O. Box 630310 Lanai City, Hawaii 96763 (800) 321-4666 www.lodgeatkoele.com www.manelebayhotel.com reservations@lanai-resorts.com

Castle & Cooke Resorts owns Hotel Lana`i, a country inn built in 1923 that is leased and operated by Henry Clay Richardson. It has10 rooms and one cottage. www.hotellanai.com. (808) 565-7211.

Prices: Daily rates at both resorts range from $325 per person to $3,000 per person. Meal packages are available.

The golf package includes unlimited golf on both courses, unlimited use of the ranges and a $100 gift credit at any resort retail shop (one per room) for $1,557 per person double for three nights in a Koele Room/Garden Room, $1,707 in a Garden Room/Partial Ocean View room or $2,007 in a Plantation Room/Ocean View room. Three-night minimum stay required. Additional nights available.

Dining: At the Lodge, guests may dine in either the formal dining room (rated as the best restaurant in Hawaii by Zagat) or in the adjacent terrace. Lunch is served at the golf club (be sure to try a Lanai venison pastrami sandwich). Afternoon tea and cocktails are served in the Tea Room.

At Manele Bay, the spectacular Hulopoé Court serves innovative regional Hawaiian cuisine. The intimate Ihilani restaurant serves a French Mediterranean menu. The restaurant at the golf club is also exceptional, serving lunch and dinner. In Lanai City, try lunch at the Blue Ginger Café and dinner at Henry Clay's Rotisserie in the Hotel Lanai.

Golf rates (both courses): $165 for resort guests, $205 for non-guests, $70 for replay, $50 for club rental, $10 for shoe rental.

Air Transportation: Two airlines currently serve Lanai with more than 100 scheduled flights weekly.

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