While on vacation on the near-private Island of Lanai, I had the chance to golf a round on the links at The Challenge at Manele. This 18-hole golf course, operated by the Four Seasons Manele Bay, is one of the most picturesque golf courses I’ve ever experienced. In true Jack Nicklaus style and mirroring the great Pebble Beach Golf Course, every hole has a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, and the other Hawaiian islands which surround Lanai.
From the beginning, I was extremely nervous about a round on such a magnificent course. As an amateur golfer in every sense of the imagination, it was hard to swallow that I was going to step foot on the grounds, sculpted by former Hawaiian King Kamehameha I, and in more recent times, the site where Bill and Melinda Gates wed. Those items, combined with the crashing waves against the coastline left me shaking as I waited for the complimentary shuttle from the lobby.
Upon my arrival, the course check-in was efficient and worry-free. Since I chose not to ship my clubs from home, I got a rental set at a price close to what it would have cost to check my set on the two flights I had taken from the mainland. After receiving a few tips about where the golf cart could and could not go, my complementary waters in the ice box, and how to navigate the onboard GPS/computer – complete with “Send the beverage cart to me” button. (I think I speak for us all when I say life could sure use one of those buttons everywhere you go.)
I suggest you get a cart rather than walk the course; it’s scenic but quite the hike. All settled into my golf cart, I was off to the first tee. My palms were a little sweaty as I tried to decide which tee box to use. They really have a level or teeing ground, for all levels of player:
- Black (Jack Nicklaus/Championship) – Plays at Par 72, 7039 yards
- Gold (Men’s) – Par 72, 6684 yards
- Blue (Women’s Championship) – Par 72, 6310 yards
- White (Women’s) – Par 72, 5874 yards
- Red (Amateur) – Par 72, 5024 yards
I stepped onto the first tee box at hole number one, took a deep breath, leveled my stance, and had to step back for a second. I was really teeing off on an island that was once on the vacation spot of a king, on a golf course designed by the world’s most famous name in golf. I grounded myself and swung steady. Off my ball went. The rest is pretty much a blur, but I will always remember the sixth hole, the site of my first birdie ever. There are little challenges all throughout the course, and it’s easy to get lost in the surroundings as everywhere you look, there are blue skies and a bluer ocean.
Want to support a friend on the course? Hang out at the clubhouse, whose restaurant has one of the best views in Lanai, a fabulous dining menu, and of course, some fresh cocktails prepared to order. Hard to go wrong, eh?
Lost in the Scenery
Take a moment to enjoy the turn at the ninth – it is a nice and easy straight fairway. As you move through the clubhouse, stop by the cooler to get a (free) bottle or two of water and take off to the back half of the course. The signature, par 3, 12th hole is where you should, if you can, stop and take in the scenery, and maybe a photo, too. The hole itself is a challenge to cross the inlet. Also, as you stand on the tee box, you’re standing where Bill and Melinda Gates got married in 1996.
On the Challenge at Manele Bay, I found myself at the 18th tee box before I knew it. A couple hours in the hot Hawaiian sun and still, I was ready to go back and golf another full round. I drove as slowly as possible to my ball. After a quick chip from the fairway onto the green, I was standing on the green at the 18th, looking at the Pacific Ocean and the Clubhouse. I stopped to savor the moment. Never before had I had a more memorable round of golf. With the sun dipping lower towards the horizon, I took my final putt to the hole, heard the roar of the crowd (in my mind, of course), and got back into the cart.
In the cart, I recorded my final score into the onboard computer, selected “email my scorecard” and in minutes, I had an email record of my best round ever, an 11 over, 83.
Was it the incredible scenery that allowed me to drop my worries, focus on a good game, and play an amazing game? Perhaps. The experience would have been just as good even if I hadn’t done so well – that birdie was an extra bonus.
Was I right in feeling a bit intimidated as a total amateur on a very much professional course? No; not one person laughed at my consecutive string of double and triple bogeys, or pointed when I stopped to take pictures (just remember to be considerate of the speed of play.) There’s no time for pretentiousness when on vacation, and the staff on the golf course treated me as if I was a visiting pro preparing for the Masters or the Fed Ex Cup.
Upon returning my cart to the clubhouse, I was greeted with a signature Four Seasons Resort cold towel, and a short ride back to the hotel.
And memories to last a lifetime.
Editorial Disclosure: Our Visit Lanai series is sponsored in part by the Lanai Visitors Bureau and their travel partners – we thank them for their support! The opinions reflected here are entirely the author’s.