Home Free: The Experience at Koele on Lanai in Hawaii
- Wes Gilbertson
- Mar 21, 2012 3:45 PM ET
LANAI, Hawaii -- Whoever says "there's no place like home" obviously hasn't teed it up here.
For golfers accustomed to bentgrass greens and tree-lined fairways, the Experience at Koele might feel eerily familiar.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"For a lot of people, it reminds them of where they're from," said Doug Daguay, assistant professional at the Experience at Koele. "It's not necessarily the whole golf course, but they'll say about certain hole, 'I've got a couple of holes where I come from that kind of remind me of that hole.' That's telling them they're comfortable here. I think that's what really touches them most."
During his seven-year stint in the pro shop, Daguay has been told the layout, landscape at even climate at the Experience at Koele reminds golfers of tracks in upstate New York, parts of the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Germany and countless other destinations.
One course it's never compared to, ironically, is the one just 8 miles down the road. Accessible by air from Honolulu or by passenger ferry from Maui, the tiny island of Lanai boasts two truly distinct tests for club-toting tourists.
If you want to see whales splashing in the water and hear the crashing surf, you'll find that at the Challenge at Manele, a sibling course complete with ocean views from every hole. If you're looking for slightly cooler conditions and other comforts of home, you'll find that at the Experience at Koele.
Designed by Greg Norman and Ted Robinson, the 7,000-yard setup features sweeping elevation changes and is one of only two tracks in Hawaii with bentgrass greens. Located about 2,000 feet above sea level, the clubhouse doubles as a trailhead for a rugged hike. And despite efforts to keep them off the short grass, you'll occasionally see axis deer and wild turkeys roaming the grounds amid the pine, kiawe and eucalyptus trees.
Although the front nine is cut out of old pineapple fields, the sweetest spot is the tee box at No. 17. The signature hole is a 444-yard beauty with a 200-foot drop to a fairway that's squished between dense brush on the left and a water hazard on the opposite side. Some folks might be tempted to hold their breath until their ball lands, although that's a long time to wait between batches of fresh air.
To put it in perspective, that's like hitting a drive from the roof of a 20-story office tower. Does your home course have an assignment like that?
"We've had every comment -- unbelievable, spectacular, one of the greatest holes I've ever played," Daguay said. "We'll have husbands that will come up and play by themselves, and they'll finish their rounds, call their wives and tell them to come up here and then ask us if they can take their wives to No. 17 to show them. It leaves an impression on people."
The Experience at Koele has a full driving range and practice facility. The course is currently closed on Monday and Tuesday, so plan your trip accordingly.
Experience at Koele: The verdict
Some golfers will wonder why'd you go to Hawaii -- especially an out-of-the-way island like Lanai -- just to tee it up on a golf course that reminds you of home.
Don't think of it that way. Instead, make the Challenge at Manele the centerpiece of your golf getaway and consider the Experience at Koele a big-time bonus.
The two courses are located about eight miles apart -- with shuttle service from one resort to the other -- and since the tee sheet is rarely packed, you'll have no trouble finishing both rounds long before sunset.
Good thing too, because your golf group will likely need extra time to argue which of the two tracks is better. Chances are, the vote will be split.
Where to stay
The good news is you can play both courses in one day. The bad news is you'll have to choose between two world-class resorts, unless you're staying multiple nights.
When Golf Digest unveiled its list of North America's finest golf resorts for 2011, both the Four Seasons Lodge at Koele (tied for 14th) and Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay (18th) were among the top 20.
Just a short walk from the clubhouse and first tee at the Experience, the Lodge at Koele is a quiet, upcountry-style hotel with a restaurant, pub, pool and all the other essentials.
If your match ends tied, you can settle your bets on the grass putting course, which plays to a par of 51 and includes water and sand hazards. Guests at the Lodge at Koele also have unlimited access to the amenities at Manele Bay, including the white-sand beach.
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