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Lanai course to get Nicklaus touch; Maui's Makena reopening as private

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And now there's just one -- golf course, that is, on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. That's because The Experience at Koele shut down for renovations on Monday, leaving just The Challenge at Manele as the only remaining open course on the small island 45 minutes via ferry from Maui.

The Koele course, designed by Greg Norman and opened in 1990, sits on the side of a mountain, 1500 feet above sea level. Not only will it get new turf, new irrigation and new greens, but a dramatic redesign by Jack Nicklaus, who did the other Four Seasons course on Lanai, The Challenge at Manele, which opened in 1993.

The two courses couldn't be more different. While The Challenge, built on the lava cliffs overlooking the Pacific, has thrived, The Experience has struggled, much of it due to water restrictions imposed by the island of 3,200 residents. Not only have many of the water features on this once-stunning course dried up, but turf conditions over the past few years have also deteriorated.

Although details of the redesign were not currently available, the new course will address those water issues. Additionally, Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, who purchased the island in 2012, is currently constructing a desalination plant, which should help alleviate water concerns, especially when it comes to irrigating the golf courses. Plans also call for another hotel and additional development. 

Nicklaus' prints should be all over the new course. That means new bunkering, greens complexes and some completely new holes.

"I think the big thing with Koele is you have an amazing piece of land in the mountains," said Scott Ashworth, who came aboard a couple of weeks ago as the new director of golf for the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. "They're going to open up some incredible views.

"Aside from the design changes, what you will see is much better turf conditions," said Ashworth, the former pro at Kauai Lagoons. "It'll go from conditions that were a little tough to hopefully world-class playing conditions."

Officials are considering grassing the course with paspalum wall to wall, except for greens, which would remain bentgrass. The course can support bentgrass because temperatures are considerably cooler at Koele than at sea level. The course is expected to reopen in December.

In addition to the golf course renovation work, The Challenge Clubhouse has a completely renovated restaurant, now called "Views." As the name would suggest, the restaurant, which has new furnishings, and a new bar area, provides panoramic views of the golf course and Hulopo'e Bay.

Maui's Makena set to reopen, go private

Over on Maui another renovation is also underway. Last summer, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course at Makena Beach & Golf Resort was shut down for renovations. Offering some of the best views on the island, it too, had begun to deteriorate and needed a facelift.

Unfortunately, for visiting golfers, when the course opens, it will be fully private. Architect Dennis Wise, a former senior associate for Tom Fazio, is in charge of the redesign.

Jerry King, the new director of golf at Makena, couldn't offer up many details about the renovation, but you can be sure it will retain many of the features of the old course, including the par-3 fourth hole or downhill par-5 15th, which offer incredible vistas of the Pacific. King, formerly the director of instruction and guest relations at Kapalua, said a soft opening for members is expected in March or April.

The work is part of an ongoing commitment to change by the resort's owners, the Landmark Hotels Group, which has been making significant improvements to the 25-year-old property since it purchased it in 2010. Whether the new course ever opens to resort play remains to be seen. (Resort guests can currently play the other courses at Wailea.)

One possibility down the line could be limited outside play, similar to what goes on at King Kamehameha Country Club, which is laid out along the side of the West Maui Mountains. Offering panoramic views of the ocean below, it's billed as the island's only fully private course, but because it's looking to build membership still, visitors can play there once or twice.

King Kamehameha is currently offering a package that pairs the Ted Robinson-designed gem with its sister course, Kahili, which is open to the public. The two-course package runs $300, which sounds like a lot of money if you're used to paying green fees on most of the mainland, but on Maui, that's a bargain. And when you see King Kamehameha and experience its exclusive country club treatment, which includes one of the best locker rooms on the planet, you'll agree. The package is available through Kamehamehagolf.com.

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