If you find yourself walking around Maui’s Lahaina Harbor around 6:30am you’ll notice a curious sight: A bunch of nicely dressed people walking around with golf clubs in the middle of a dingy harbor basin. No, they aren’t planning on using their seven-iron as a gaff while sportfishing; they’re taking the 6:45am ferry to Lana‘i for the day to tackle one of the island’s two championship golf courses. Although the courses are obviously open to guests of the Lana‘i resorts, they’re also open to golfers from the general public—many of whom choose to commute from Maui for the day.

On a morning when low-hanging clouds usher in a mist, this is truly a course where your competitive spirit is dampened by relaxation.At the 7,039-yard, Jack Nicklaus-designed Challenge at Manele (1 Manele Bay Rd., 808/565-2000, $210 resort guests, $225 day guest), the course lives up to its name by forcing golfers to tee-off across natural ravines which use the Pacific Ocean as a water hazard. There are five different tees which you can choose from, although pack a few extra balls in your bag, as playing from out of bounds on this course would involve a wet suit and some scuba gear.

Four Seasons Manele Bay golf course on the cliffs of Lana‘i's shore.

Golfing at the Four Seasons Manele Bay. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels.

Whereas the Challenge at Manele can take your breath away with its panoramic vistas, the Experience at Koele (1 Keomuku Hwy., 808/565-4000, $125 resort guest, $185 day guest) course might literally take your breath away with its 2,000-foot elevation. Set among ironwood trees and Cook pines, this 7,014-yard, Greg Norman-designed masterpiece weaves its way through Lana‘i’s cool and forested uplands, and the signature 17th hole drops 250 feet from tee to green in the heart of a wooded ravine. On a morning when low-hanging clouds usher in a mist, this is truly a course where your competitive spirit is dampened by relaxation.

While the two courses mentioned above have been the recipients of international fame, there’s actually a third course on the island of Lana‘i, which comes with a price tag much easier to stomach. More of the no-shirt, no-shoes, beer-a-hole type of course, the nine-hole Cavendish Golf Course is better suited for recreational golfers who either want a quick practice round or haven’t quite figured out how to break 100. Best of all, the course is free. Constructed in 1947 as a recreational option for island pineapple workers, the Cavendish still operates as a place for island locals to practice their game and casually unwind. Although the fairways and tee boxes can be speckled with crabgrass and patches of dirt, the greens are still properly maintained. As there are no carts or cart paths, you also get a good workout walking the course’s moderate elevation changes. To reach the first tee box for the Cavendish course, make a right as if going to the Koele golf clubhouse off Keomuku Highway. Just after the turn you will notice an open field on the right side of the road with a small flag fluttering in the distance. Welcome to the Cavendish, although you’re going to have to supply your own clubs, balls, tees, and beer.

Map of Lana‘i, Hawaii


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.