LANA'I, Hawaii -- Manele Golf Course is the rare gem where you can see the ocean from every hole. The Jack Nicklaus design, perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Hulopoe Bay and the Pacific Ocean, ranks right up there with the game's most stunning venues.
When the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i reopened after multi-million-dollar renovation in February, the newly rebranded course -- formerly called the "Challenge at Manele" -- became one of the most exclusive and expensive golf experiences in the world. Day trippers who take the ferry over from Maui no longer have access. Golfers must stay at the lavish five diamond resort to play. Those who can afford such luxuries get paradise virtually to themselves.
The only reason Manele isn't ranked the no. 1 course in Hawaii is its relative anonymity. It hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event like the Plantation Course at Kapalua on Maui, and it's not on TV every year. Manele rivals the strengths of Kapalua -- scenery, strategy, memorable holes, playability -- while delivering a more laid-back vibe. Tee time? What tee time? Most guests don't need one. Just show up and play.
The front nine follows a fun inland routing of three par 5s and three par 3s. The fifth hole serves up the day's cruelest test. Golfers must execute a semi-blind drive 240 yards up the left side to set up a demanding downhill approach at the edge of a major drop-off in the fairway.
Signature holes hug the cliffs of a back nine that Director of Golf Scott Ashworth called the "Ocean nine." The par-5 11th and par-4 16th holes roar downhill with nothing but sea blue as a backdrop. The 202-yard 12th might be the most thrilling do-or-die shot in Hawaii. Even downwind, the carry over the cliffs to the green feels daunting. The 444-yard par 4 at no. 17 doglegs right along the cliffs in the opposite direction, usually playing into the wind. Any misses right plunge to a rocky doom below. If you sink one, consider it an offering to the Hawaiian gods for allowing you to play at such a magical place.
Every round should finish at VIEWS, the clubhouse restaurant that cooks killer burgers, Baja fish tacos and a spicy Hulopo'e Bay Prawn B.L.T. The food is just as delicious as the setting.