For those who love statistics as much as they love golf, the island of Lana‘i might potentially lead the nation in number of golf holes per capita. Even though there are only 3,300 residents, the 45 golf holes scattered about the island make for 73 residents per hole. While a handful of towns across the country have close to the same statistic, none of them have courses which were designed by Jack Nicklaus or have tee boxes gazing over the Pacific.
When you combine this scenery with the masterful design and refreshing level of isolation, you can begin to understand why the island of Lana‘i is one of the best golf retreats in Hawaii.
Of the three golf courses on the tiny island of Lana‘i, two of them are championship 18-hole courses designed by the world’s best pros. At the Nicklaus-designed Challenge at Manele, there’s a good chance you’ll be reaching for your camera as often as you reach for your putter. Three separate holes at the Challenge at Manele are flanked by the rugged sea cliffs, and during the winter months from December-March you can occasionally see whales in the distance. On the 12th green—the signature hole where the Pacific backdrop is unobstructed for 3,000 miles—the view is so unspeakably scenic that it was the site of Bill Gates’ wedding.
More than just the views, however, the Challenge at Manele lives up to its name by testing even the lowest of handicaps. Once the scorecard is signed and the round is complete, grab a drink from the course clubhouse which looks back towards Hulopo‘e Bay. This beach was named as the best in America in 1997, and you can often make out Hawaiian spinner dolphins as they play in the waters below. Like we said, this isn’t your everyday golf course.
For those who would rather be surrounded by pine trees and bathed in the early-morning mists, the Experience at Koele is the second of Lana‘i’s 18-hole championship courses. Designed by Greg Norman, the course is a bit shorter than the Challenge at Manele, but the views aren’t any less stunning. Enveloped in forests of eucalyptus and pine, the smell of the countryside and the crisp mountain air are a welcome change from the shoreline. Here, at 2,000 feet in elevation, your drive will carry just a little bit farther—which comes in handy on the signature 17th since it’s a 200 ft. drop to the green. When the round is complete, either grab a drink in The Lodge at Koele, or make up for those three-putts on the 18-hole putting green which wraps its way around the hotel.
Finally, while nowhere near the same category as the famous, signature courses, there is actually a free, 9-hole course which goes by the name of “The Cavendish.” Directly adjacent to the Lodge at Koele, this course was opened in 1947 as a recreation option for plantation workers. There are no facilities, you must bring your own clubs, and the first hole has more dirt than grass, but the rest of the holes make for an entertaining practice round where you definitely can’t beat the price.
While guests who are staying at the Four Seasons on Lana‘i receive special discounts on green fees, all of the courses are open to the public regardless of where you’re staying. Given this option, many golfers choose to travel from Maui on the 6:45am ferry, and if you think you can squeeze in 36 holes, there are often discounts for doubling up and playing both courses in a day.