LANA'I, Hawaii -- I've never thought of tropical islands with only one 18-hole course as true golf destinations. They're more like vacation getaways with golf, not for golf.
My recent visit to this secluded Hawaiian paradise blew away that misconception. Playing Manele Golf Course three days in a row enlightened me. I don't see myself ever growing tired of the Jack Nicklaus design routed along spectacular oceanfront cliffs.
Each time I played Manele, a new tee or pin placement added an intriguing twist. Although I teed off at the same time every morning, the tradewinds continuously shifted, sometimes mid-round, making certain holes play completely unique. I met another couple who planned to play the course every day for a week.
Lana'i is the best example of a tropical island with only one regulation course that's worth turning into an extended golf getaway. There are others, mainly located in the Caribbean. I've ranked them from best to worst to help you decide that age-old question: Should I bring the sticks?
1. Lanai, Hawaii
Comment: Only guests of the Four Seasons Resort Lana'i can play Manele. The entire experience will cost you more than $1,500 -- rooms are $1,000-plus per night and a tee time costs $325 -- but the price tag is worth seeing what might be the best resort golf course in Hawaii. Koele Golf Course, Manele's sister track near the cooler climate of Lana'i City, is currently closed with no timeline for reopening. The island does have a free (albeit scruffy) nine-holer, the Cavendish Golf Course, set among the pines near Lana'i City as well.
2. Canouan Island, St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Comment: The front nine and the finishing hole of the 150-acre Grenadines Estate Golf Club at Canouan Resort stretches across flat coastal plains with holes 11-17 climbing 480 meters above Carenage Bay to the cliffs of Mount Royal.
3. Great Exuma, Bahamas
Comment: Similar to Manele, the Sandals Emerald Reef golf course is a scenic stunner that serves as an amenity of a five-star resort, the Sandals Emerald Bay, an all-inclusive luxury hotel that used to be a Four Seasons property. Greg Norman designed Emerald Reef through a mangrove swamp on the front nine before a spectacular stretch of windy holes tours the rocky shore on a narrow peninsula.
Comment: The Norman design at CuisinArt Golf Resort and Spa starts out with an eye-popping view of St. Maarten and the Caribbean Sea from the first tee. More visual fireworks continue with a double green for holes no. 2 and no. 10 set along the Anguilla Channel. The Jumeirah hotel chain out of Dubai has long been linked to an 18-hole Nicklaus project called Forest Bay, but nothing has come to fruition.
5. St. Kitts and Nevis, West Indies
Comment: St. Kitts and Nevis -- two small Caribbean islands that are one nation -- each boast an outstanding 18-hole course worth playing. St. Kitts won't be a one-trick pony for long with the potential opening of an Ian Woosnam-designed course called Kittitian Hill later this year. I have great memories of playing the island's original course, Royal St. Kitts Golf Club, a par 71 redesigned by Canadian architect Thomas McBroom in 2004. I shot my career low round thanks to a hot putter, but it's not an easy track by any means.
The golf course at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, a 1991 Robert Trent Jones II design, garnered five stars from Golf Advisor contributor Adam Stanley. It is just a ferry ride away from St. Kitts. A rudimentary 12-hole, par-3 course called Cat Ghaut Chip N Putt is located near Charlestown, the capital of Nevis.
Comment: A pair of nine-holers -- Aruba Golf Club and Links at Divi Aruba -- complements Tierra del Sol, a par-71, Robert Trent Jones Jr. design on the island's northwest tip. It is managed by Troon Golf.
7. Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas
Comment: The Reef course at the Grand Lucayan, an RTJ2 design from 2000, is the only surviving 18-hole course on the island. Water comes into play on 13 holes. Fortune Hills Golf & Country Club was meant to be a full course but only nine holes were built.
8. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
It's tough to lure tourists away from the award-winning beaches of Grace Bay, but Provo Golf Club still accomplishes the task, even though it lacks the dramatic ocean views of other Caribbean golf courses. Karl Litten gouged the island's rocky terrain to create the course in 1992. NBC Golf Analyst David Feherty serves as its spokesman.
9. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Comment: Short but sweet, the 6,022-yard Mahogany Run Golf Course is a narrow, challenging course cut from the island's Blue-Bit stone by George and Tom Fazio in 1980. Even President Bill Clinton has taken on the Devil's Triangle, a three-hole stretch highlighted by the par-3 14th sitting 200 feet above a rocky inlet on the Atlantic Ocean.
10. St. Lucia
Comment: St. Lucia Golf Club, set within the scenic rolling hills of Cap Estates, was created from an old nine-hole routing. The all-inclusive Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa, meanwhile, allows free play for guests on its nine-hole course.
Comment: Empress Josephine Golf Course at the Martinique Golf and Country Club was named after Napoleon Bonaparte's wife. It is a 6,640-yard, par-71 design by RTJ Sr. dating to 1976. The official language of the island is French, so holler "devant" not "fore" when you hit one astray.
Comment: Cuba could become the Caribbean's next golf hotspot. The island has a history with the game, hosting a PGA Tour event before Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and bulldozed the host course. Varadero Golf Club, a resort course two hours from Havana built by Canadian Les Furber, operates out of a clubhouse that was once a mansion for the Du Pont family called "Xanadu." The nine-hole Havana Golf Club is closer to the capital city.
13. Cozumel, Mexico
Comment: Cozumel Country Club, a 1991 Nicklaus design, was routed among coral outcroppings, lagoons and mangrove swamps on the island directly across from Playa del Carmen of the Yucatan Peninsula. It remains a favorite of golfers arriving by cruise ship. It has received reviews from one to five stars on Golf Advisor.
14. Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Comment: The interesting thing about the largest island in the Caymans is the nine-hole Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, a Norman design adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, is kept in better shape than the island's only full course, North Sound Golf Club, a 6,605-yard par 71. There's also another nine-holer by Nicklaus called Britannia.
15. Grande-Terre Island, Guadeloupe
Comment: The Golf International of St. Francois is RTJ Sr. design featuring eight holes protected by water.
Editor's Note: Baker's Bay, a private club in The Bahamas was not considered. Neither were the Hawaiian island of Molokai (Ironwood Hills) and Grenada (Grenada Golf Club) -- two islands that only offer nine holes each.