The Challenge at Manele on Lanai: Stunning views from a stunning golf course

By Rodney Campbell, Contributor

LANAI CITY, Hawaii -- If it's good enough for Jack Nicklaus and Bill Gates, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

The Challenge at Manele Bay - 12th
The dramatic 12th hole at The Challenge at Manele Bay.
The Challenge at Manele Bay - 12thChallenge at Manele golf course - 6th
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Manele Golf Course

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The Manele Golf Course (formerly known as Challenge at Manele) is a visually stunning golf course that is painted a rainbow of colors from black lava outcroppings to red cliffs that tumble towards the blue sea to the pristine white sand traps that dot the lush green coastline.

18 Holes | Resort golf course | Par: 72 | 7039 yards | ... details »

The Jack Nicklaus-designed Challenge at Manele golf course, is located on the Hawaiian island of Lana'i, and multi-zillionare Gates was married on the stunning 12th hole. This course is well worth the 45-minute ferry ride from Lahaina Harbor on Maui or the 25-minute flight from the capital city of Honolulu.

The Challenge at Manele's 12th is also the signature hole and one look tells why. The 202-yard hole features a drive over the ocean, which sits 150 feet below the fairway. It's all carry if you go down the left side, so don't count on bouncing onto the green. One thing to factor into your club selection is that the wind will also be at your back. Those tradewinds can blow quite hard and cause you to go down a couple of clubs.

"The look of No. 12 is spectacular," said Assistant Professional Linda Gehringer, who moved to Hawaii after attending college in Wyoming.

But for as tough as the 12th can be, the bookend 17th is even more of a challenge. It's the golf course's No. 2 handicap (how could any hole here be tougher?) and measures 444 yards from the back tees. It also requires a 220 yard carry to get over the water, which cuts into the fairway down the right side. If you play from the gold tees, it's 392 yards to the hole and 177 yards to clear the water. But if the wind is helping you on the 12th, it's stiffly against you on the 17th.

Even if you do make it over the Pacific, you must negotiate a serious dogleg right with water running down that side of the fairway. This is one tough golf hole.

"Seventeen is much more difficult (than 12) because of the carry," Gehringer said.

A true golf rarity exists on Challenge at Manele's seventh and eighth holes. These are back-to-back par-3s, something only a confident course designer such as Nicklaus would dare try. Playing the golf course for the first time can cause a double-take unless you checked the scorecard before the round.

No. 7 is 172 yards long and often plays into the tradewinds, breezes which will make you think twice about which club you would like to use. The eighth is a little longer, 210 yards from the back tees. While there are no bunkers on the hole, the green is hilly and requires an extremely accurate shot to stick it close.

The No. 1 handicap at the Challenge at Manele is the 462-yard fourth hole. Length on this hole is a little deceiving because the second shot drops 60 feet to the green below. Back in the early days of the course, this big hill wasn't filled with grass. Instead, it was brush and bushes. That must have been what caused people at the course to rate it as the top handicap. With the more golfer-friendly grass in place, this hole is a lot tamer now. The views are stunning, with Maui and sometimes even the Big Island looming on a clear day.

"It used to be a lot more difficult," Gehringer said. "The downhill lie is still difficult."

While the Challenge at Manele's front nine offers nice views of the water, the back nine brings the water more into play.

"After the first nine, people will come in and say it's beautiful," Gehringer said. "I tell them they haven't seen anything yet. This course is visually challenging."

It's also extremely fair to women. "It's like a different golf course," one woman said after completing her round. The Challenge measures 5,024 yards from the red tees and greatly cuts the tough holes down to size.

The golf course is a monster from the black tees, stretching out 7,039 yards. There are three other tee boxes that offer a challenge to any player. It's 6,684 from the golds, 6,310 from the blues, and 5,847 from the whites.

One thing you won't want to miss once you reach Lana'i is the beauty and hospitality of the island's two world-class resorts. The Manele Bay Hotel, located right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and The Lodge at Koele, which sits in the mountains of Lanai, are both owned by the Lana'i Company. The hotels don't compete. In fact, they complement one another and give island visitors a choice of two distinctively different places to stay.

"It's a joint effort," Gehringer said. "I think the whole island is like that."

The Lodge at Koele is also the home of The Experience at Koele, a Greg Norman-designed course. The centerpiece of this course is the 444-yard eighth hole, which features a 250-foot drop off the tee box. There's also water down the right side, which people at the course say acts as a magnet for golf balls. Once the ball leaves the tee and dives into the fairway valley, prevailing winds push the ball right. Or maybe we should say wrong because right means right at the water.

Golf Magazine said the hole "may be the single most spectacular hole in Hawaii."

Course architect Ted Robinson said he and Norman's work wasn't so tough despite the stunning results. "Our challenge was simply a matter of finishing what nature had started," Robinson said.

"People come in for the day and play both courses," Gehringer said.

Neither course will get worn out from overplay. The Challenge averages about 80 rounds a day during the summer while the Experience averages 60, course officials say.

The island is only 141 square miles and has fewer than 3,000 residents, many of whom work at the resorts. There are only 30 miles of paved roads, so this is a peek at what much of Hawaii was like 20 or more years ago.

Rodney Campbell, Contributor

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