THE CHALLENGE AT MANELE BAY – Lana’i City, HI
A – Playability & Challenge
A – Quality of Course
A- – Memorability
B+ – Service Levels
A – Pro Shop
B+ – 19th Hole Experience
A- – OVERALL EXPERIENCE
(Written by Jim Allen) … A few of the top ranked courses in the country require a lot of effort just to get to the clubhouse. One of those would be the Challenge at Manele Bay (pronounced Man-E-lee), which comes in at number 60 on our hit list. Located on the remote Hawaiian Island of Lanai, it’s the little brother of the seven island tropical chain. It’s only 18 miles wide, 13 miles long and appears to be time warped in the 1950’s. There isn’t a single stoplight on the entire island.
There are basically two ways to get to Lanai; a crop duster out of Maui, or a chartered ferry from Maui’s western shores. Considering that my wife Carol and I were already on Maui, and this course was begging to be played, we took the opportunity to book the 45-minute ferry ride and a $500 per night room at the Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay. Nailing down this course wasn’t going to come cheap, but I decided to take one in the best interest of the Golfest team. By the way, this is the same resort that Microsoft’s Bill Gates rented for his wedding in 1994. In fact, he rented every hotel room on this island and booked every charter helicopter to eliminate distractions. And we wonder why Microsoft Office cost $259?
This round was going to produce some “firsts” that I had yet to experience in my eight years with the sticks. It was going to be the first time that I had ever gone out without knowing at least one person in my group. The second “first” was that I actually went out alone. This surprised me considering that I was on a resort island that featured two Four Season Hotels and a pair of 18-hole courses.
Manele Bay is a unique Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, carved into lava-strewn hillsides, featuring fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. However, it doesn’t take long to figure out why the wordCHALLENGE was worked into the course name. It is loaded with mandatory carries over canyons and crevices and blind shots are the norm. I would also recommend snapping the shaft on your driver to eliminate the urge to use it, because it can make your life miserable without course knowledge.
It took me only two-holes to get into the “golf-alone” zone and I quickly realized that I liked it. It was quiet, no distractions and if there is something as a “golf-Zen,” I think I discovered it. The third hole, a short 137-yard par 3 over a lava flow, almost became a life changing event. It almost fulfilled a dream (a hole-in-one) and became my worst nightmare (no witnesses) all rolled in one. I nutted a nine-iron to a front pin placement. My ball hit the front of the green, hopped once, and began tracking to its target like a cruise missile in Iraq. I don’t normally talk to myself, but I went off the deep edge on this one. It went something like this, “Oh ya … be the club …. whose your daddy … go in … go in … it’s going to go in … wait, wait, wait, …. NO! … don’t go in… I need witnesses.” My Nike rode the entire rim, making a complete U-turn before stopping in front of the hole. Wouldn’t that suck? Get a hole in one, but have no witnesses to recognize it with the USGA? Not to mention the demoralizing bar conversation with other Golfest members.
“Hey, did I tell you about the hole in one I got while golfing by myself in Hawaii?”
“Sure you did Jim, and I just got done sleeping with Natalie Gulbis.”
With the adrenalin pumping, I tapped in the six-inch putt for a birdie.
The rest of my round could have used someone with some course knowledge. The course was an uphill and downhill rollercoaster, full of lava flows and obstacles that ripped the dimples right off my golf ball. The sand traps were filled with finally-crushed red-tinted lava rock that made getting up and down more like getting up-roll back down-and hit it again. I was proud to make the turn with a 49 on my card, because I had already lost four balls.
The signature hole is number 12, a par three, where you tee off over a cliff and the ocean. It’s an intimidating hole which I birdied with a 10-foot putt after my ball caromed off the hill that serves as a backstop. Just in case you care, this was the tee box that Mr. & Mrs. Gates got married on.
On the 15 hole, I finally caught up with the twosome in front of me, a pair of brothers from Missouri. One was a lawyer who used F-bomb as nouns, verbs and adjectives after almost every swing. The other one just laughed. We blew through the final four holes in record time, including finishing with a killer bunker shot and a one-putt to salvage a bogey as my wife looked on through the clubhouse telescope. Total time for the round: Two hours & twenty minutes. Man I love that!
So how would I rate this course? After playing at other classic ocean front courses such as Pebble Beach, Pacific Dunes, Kiawah Island, and the Kapalua Plantation Course, my standards are set pretty high. The Challenge at Manele Bay is nice in its own right, earning bonus points for its creativity as a killer golf course on the side of a rocky island.
The strange thing is that this course may not even be the nicest one on the island. Its sister Four Seasons course – the Experience at Koele – is the absolute bomb. It breaks all standards for Hawaii-style golf. The views on this hilly course located on the opposite side of the island resemble some place in Montana – not a tropical paradise. You have to look really hard between the pine trees to see the Pacific Ocean – and that is on just a couple of holes where it is even possible. The Experience at Koele is in my top 10 list – all time – while the Challenge at Manele Bay is just a Top 100 course that I have played.