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Challenging, scenic golf at Four Seasons Manele Bay on Lana`i

The 18th green at The Challenge at Manele Bay showcases the beautiful condition of this Jack Niclaus-designed course, as well as the scenic beauty of the island setting overlooking Lana`i’s Hulopo`e Bay
The 18th green at The Challenge at Manele Bay showcases the beautiful condition of this Jack Niclaus-designed course, as well as the scenic beauty of the island setting overlooking Lana`i’s Hulopo`e Bay
Photo credit – Gary McCormick

Co-located with the beautiful Four Seasons Manele Bay resort on the island of Lana`i, Manele Golf Course is all that you would expect from a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in such a beautiful setting. Located on the south side of Lana`i, 45 minutes by ferry from Lahaina or 25 minutes by air from Honolulu, Manele Golf Course offers dramatic views and one of the finest golf courses in the Hawaiian Islands.

Currently the only full-length course on the island while Koele Golf Course, located 30 minutes away in the island’s central uplands, is closed for renovation, five sets of tees allow Manele Golf Course to play at lengths ranging from 5,024 yards from the forward tees to a Tour-length 7,039 from the tips, ensuring the best experience possible for golfers of all abilities. The course rises to a maximum elevation of nearly 475 feet above sea level at the fourth fairway, and dips to as low as 51 feet above the crashing Pacific surf at the tips of the 12th hole. A full-service golf shop, generously sized driving range, putting and short-game practice areas are there to help you prepare for your round.

The course was in immaculate condition when I played it in late July, with pristine fairways and true-running greens. Manele Golf Course features playing surfaces and rough mostly composed of paspalum, a hardy, salt-tolerant turf grass which performs well in a warm seaside environment, with a minimal amount of Bermuda grass in some of the fairway and rough areas.

If you haven’t played on paspalum before you will find that it takes a different technique to make a clean shot out of the rough. The ball sits up on the springy blades, rather than burying itself as it would in Bermuda grass or the cool-weather ryegrass or bluegrass found on courses in some parts of the mainland, so a shot from the rough must be played as if the ball is teed up to avoid slipping the club head under the ball completely (don’t ask me how I know this…).

This aptly named course presents golfers with a two-pronged problem: First—confronting the challenges presented by the design of the course, which features a number of blind tee shots, two carries across ocean inlets, mildly slanting and rolling fairways that present challenging lies, and well-bunkered greens; second—keeping your mind on your golf game when there are stunning ocean views on nearly every hole!

With more ocean exposure than any other course in the state of Hawaii, Manele Golf Course offers stunning vistas from almost every hole, with views southeast across the water to the low-lying island of Kaho`olawe, a former U.S. Navy gunnery and bombing target range, twenty miles away; and east to the southern end of the island of Maui, where the volcanic peak of Haleakala, over 40 miles from Lana`i, rises 10,000 feet above the sea. On exceptionally clear days the 14,000-foot-high twin volcanoes of the island of Hawai`i, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, are visible—over 100 miles away.

Dramatic shots abound at Manele Golf Course. Probably the most famous hole on the course is the long par-three 12th, which features a carry of over 200 yards—partly over water—from the black tees, which are perched atop a small point jutting out into the sea. Regardless of what tees you are playing from, it is difficult to resist the temptation to at least try a shot to the lozenge-shaped green from the tips. My advice—club up and go for it; if you overshoot the green the slope behind the green will save your shot.

Another dramatic shot presents itself at the 10th hole, where the approach shot is to an infinity green with a back edge that appears to be bounded only by sky. A bunker behind the green will catch a shot that is slightly overcooked, but the visual prospect of that second shot can be daunting.

The closing holes at Manele Golf Course provide a fitting denouement to your round. The 17th hole calls for another stout carry over a ravine; from the tips and gold tees, your drive will be sailing over water again. The second shot on 17 is downhill to a kidney bean-shaped green which is presented lengthwise to your shot, so accuracy is crucial. The closing hole gives the player a straightforward tee shot, just slightly uphill, to a generous and straight-running fairway, but take care with your approach shot—the green is well-guarded by bunkers.

Reward yourself after your round with a snack or lunch at VIEWS, the outstanding restaurant in the Manele Bay clubhouse. The patio seating area overlooks the 18th green, but your attention is likely to be drawn to the views of Hulopo`e Bay and Pu`u Pehe Rock, or farther off, to the distant vistas of Kaho`olawe and the majestic peak of Maui’s Haleakela volcano.

Whether staying at one of the Four Seasons resorts on Lana`i or ferrying over from Maui, Manele Golf Course is one of the Hawaiian Islands’ not-to-be-missed golf experiences.

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