Hawaii's Lanai a life experience that's disguised as a premiere golf vacation
Can a golf destination that's a pain to get to, that's populated by locals who don't seem sure they want you there, that has only two golf courses you can play without getting on a plane or a boat be a must-visit?
If it's the little Hawaiian island of Lanai, the answer turns out to be a resounding yes.
Lanai is bound to surprise first-time visitors in ways both good and bad. And those ways are likely to be different for almost every person. This former pineapple plantation land still has just 30 miles of paved roads - and 28.5 miles of them seem to be windy, two-lane roads with more curves than Natalie Gulbis. Its "downtown" consists of two streets, two small streets.
Yet, the thing that surprised (and disappointed) me most was how many new big golf course homes have sprung up on Lanai. The front nine of the Experience at Koele is dotted with so many mini mansions and ongoing construction projects that if you forgot the towering trees, you could think you're playing golf in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Forget the tourist-luring talk of Lanai being one of the last undiscovered islands. It's been plenty discovered by developers. Lanai will really make you consider the pluses and undeniable minuses of new golf destinations. Unless you're the Republican golfers from Wisconsin I encountered who made the old Newt Gingrich look moderate by comparison.
Then again, Lanai will also cause you to fall in love with golf all over again. Especially on the back nine at Koele, which climbs up, up, up into a cool-breeze pine forest that looks like it belongs in British Columbia - except you can see the ocean.
It's usually best to smile politely and slowly move away when some numbskull starts describing golf as a religious experience. Except … well, when the light's breaking through the trees around Koele's 15th green near sunset, it's a near religious experience. (Especially if you stick one in the center of the green.)
Down the one main road, only about 25 minutes and another climate away, Jack Nicklaus' Challenge at Manele may not be the single best ocean golf course in the world, but it's certainly one of them. And no course offers great Pacific looks on more holes than Manele.
Lanai is a getaway that makes you think and love. It's why you travel to golf.
A recently completed renovation at Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach, Calif., led by Tom Fazio himself, saw thousands of shrubs moved around the Ocean South Course in the nearly two years it was closed. The result? Ocean South is now one of the most scenic rounds of golf on the West Coast, even trumping the vistas of Pelican's more wide-open sister North Course. That qualifies as near hearsay in these parts!
In a Phoenix-Scottsdale corridor that boasts more than 200 golf courses, it's amazing how little the top plays have changed in the last decade. Troon North, Grayhawk, Boulders and TPC Scottsdale Stadium largely remain the coveted make-a-trip rounds of golf in the area. But tee times at lesser know plays such as the Saguaro Course at We-Ko-Pa, Raven at Verrado and TPC Scottsdale Desert Course are well worth the trip.
Do you live in a locale where the golf season dies with the leaves? Equipment Editor Kiel Christianson recommends cold-weather gear such as Ecco's Casual Cool GTX golf shoes, Ahead's Convertible Vest and the Dunning Interface Thermal Sweater to allow you to squeeze in a few more rounds before the snow flies.