Golfers can escape the crowds at The Challenge at Manele on Lanai


LANAI, Hawaii -- There's only one way to guarantee that you'll have this place all to yourself -- start a software company, earn a gazillion dollars and essentially rent out the entire island.

Even if you don't have access to Bill Gates' bank account, you likely won't have to worry about distractions on the tee box of the signature hole at The Challenge at Manele.

Except for the eye-popping scenery, of course.

'People come all the time and say, 'Is this where Bill Gates got married?' It seems to still be a big deal to a lot of people,' said Emmett Markulis, the head professional at The Challenge at Manele. 'Several people have been married on the 12th tee box, but I think the way Bill Gates did it was a little different. For all intents and purposes, he closed off the island to anybody and everybody. He kind of went to the extreme.'

The Microsoft co-founder, who tied the knot at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in 1994, can afford that luxury.

Not wanting any uninvited guests to spoil his special day, Gates reportedly booked every bed on this quiet island, which has a permanent population of approximately 3,000 and only about 350 hotel rooms. He also bought up all the seats on the incoming passenger ferry from Maui's Lahaina Harbor and chartered every helicopter and plane in the area, effectively closing the airspace.

These days, you might feel like your Titleist Pro V1 is the only airborne object for miles around, too.

'For the most part, people come out here and feel like they've got the course all to themselves,' Markulis said. 'And they love that. People come back for it.'

During the short trip from the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay to the golf course, the shuttle driver warns that 'they call it 'The Challenge' for a reason.' Although he later confesses he doesn't swing a club very often, he says all of his good golf balls are now swimming between the tee and green on No. 12, which stretches to 202 yards from the tips.

He's certainly not alone. If you allow yourself a mulligan, maybe save it for this all-carry oceanside stunner, which is perched about 150 feet above the crashing waves. Just be sure to keep a couple of extra balls for the final stretch, which includes two more cliff-top tests.

The Challenge at Manele was ranked No. 37 on Golf Digest's latest listing of America's top public tracks, proof the signature hole isn't the only attraction at the 7,039-yard layout.

While you might be tempted to spin another lap, especially on a quiet day, an appealing alternative is to hop a shuttle to The Experience at Koele. Designed by Greg Norman, the 7,000-yard sibling course is carved out of the forest about eight miles away, although you'll feel like you're in a different world.

The Challenge at Manele: The verdict

Whatever you do, don't drain your camera batteries on the front nine.

In addition to three beauties that trace the cliffs above Hulopoe Bay, golfers are treated to ocean views from almost every inch of the course, plus the clubhouse, range and practice area.

In fact, the most challenging aspect of The Challenge at Manele might be keeping your eyes on the fairways and greens, especially if there are humpback whales or spinner dolphins hanging out in the water.

'I'm trying to think of a spot that you can be on the golf course and not see the ocean. I don't think there is one,' Markulis said. 'It sits up above the ocean, but once you get down to the holes that are beside it, there's nothing between you and the ocean.

'Literally, you can kick your shoe off or toss your club over your shoulder and it would fall 200 feet into the ocean. That's how it close it is. That's a very neat thing.'

Where to stay

You'll need to hit your own golf shots, but the resort staff will handle just about everything else.

Overlooking the ocean and just steps away from a stretch of white-sand beach, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay features all the amenities you'd expect at a luxury getaway.

It's the service, though, that really sets it apart.

The over-the-top poolside perks include comfort station set-up, hand massages for tireless text-messagers and even 'urgent sunglass care' for scratches and smudges on your shades.

The Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay has several dining options, a spa and a kids' club. Plus, every room is complete with an outdoor patio, a great spot to enjoy the colorful sunset.