The Hawaiian island of Lanai may be small in size, but is big on relaxation — especially when it comes to golf. The Four Seasons Resort's Jack Nicklaus-designed Manele course is the center piece, but there are other unique golf and amenity options
LANAI, Hawaii — The Four Seasons Resort on the southern shore of sparsely populated Lanai ranks high among the world’s most elegant and serene places to play golf. Views from its Manele course stop you in your tracks. Adding to the enjoyment factor is Jack Nicklaus’ gift of perhaps the most docile layout his design firm has ever produced.
Something else sets this place apart. Upon request, a Four Seasons driver will load your clubs aboard one of the resort’s Tesla shuttle vehicles and whisk you up to Lanai City for a round at the public, nine-hole Cavendish Golf Course.
The juxtaposition is stark, yet refreshing. Play at Manele is limited to Four Seasons guests. The 18-hole green fee is about $350 ($100 for a same-day replay). Anyone can play Cavendish, for free. Neither course books starting times; just show up and tee up when the first hole opens up.
Lanai, with roughly 3,200 residents on 140 square miles of volcanic rock, is the second least populated of the seven inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Nearly every full-time resident lives in Lanai City, about 20 minutes by car from the Four Seasons.
Visitors to Lanai usually arrive via ferry from Maui, which doubles as a 45-minute opportunity for whale spotting. Lanai Airport services interisland commercial flights, as well as private planes for Four Seasons guests.
Early inhabitants of Hawaii steered clear of Lanai, believing it to be populated by man-eating spirits. Europeans first laid eyes on the island in 1779. A Mormon colony occupied Lanai for the second half of the 19th century, ranching and producing sugar. Pineapples were introduced in 1921, and a year later James Dole bought the island and converted its arable land into the world’s largest pineapple plantation.
International competition began taking a toll on Hawaii’s pineapple industry in the 1980s. Food conglomerate Castle & Cooke bought Dole Food Co. in 1985, and seven years later it ended pineapple production on Lanai. By then, C & C owner David Murdock had acquired 98 percent of Lanai, with the rest belonging to the state or private homeowners. In 2012, Larry Ellison, founder and executive chairman of Oracle, the software giant, bought Murdock’s entire stake in Lanai for $300 million, reportedly paid in cash.
Cavendish is the island’s first golf course. It was designed and built in 1947 by a Dole employee, Edwin B. Cavendish, to provide recreation for plantation workers. Cavendish isn’t a muni owned by Lanai City, but rather by Ellison. “Uncle Larry” pays for the facility’s upkeep.
The par-36 Cavendish measures 3,071 yards. Five holes have second tees positioned to create a marginally different experience when golfers want to play 18 holes. The modified “back nine” is 43 yards shorter. Tall, spindly Cook Pines line most fairways. There are only nine bunkers on the course, all greenside. Three holes are uphill, but overall the walk isn’t difficult.
Depending on whom you ask, there are 35-50 members of the Lanai Golf Association, who pay annual dues of $35. The money is used for tournament prizes and keeping the members’ fridge stocked with beer. The clubhouse is a simple pavilion with picnic tables, overlooking the 9th hole. Tournament plaques and faded, framed photos and newspaper clippings adorn the walls. A large chalkboard is used to record competition results.
If Cavendish is a throwback, created for the working man, then Manele occupies the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s an immaculate playground for the well-heeled, yet surprisingly devoid of pretension. Scott Ashworth, Manele’s director of golf, and his staff appreciate what they have, and they’re eager for guests to enjoy it, too.
You’ll be offered libations and encouraged to grab a muffin or cookie in the golf shop before heading out to Manele’s expansive practice range. There you can loosen up with an Orange Whip training aid and use alignment sticks provided at each hitting station.
Being loose and confident on the first tee is imperative if you expect to score well at Manele. The outward nine features three par 5s and three par 3s; the first, third and fifth handicap holes are on this side. It’s a test of concentration over the entire 18 not to get swept up by the ocean views, instead of focusing on shot-making tasks ahead.
Manele isn’t difficult to navigate, providing you take conservative lines and steer clear of ravines that extend into several fairways. Natural areas that border most holes are played as lateral hazards, even when you lose a ball. Opportunities to advance from hazards are rare, since those areas are carpeted by lava cinders. Thankfully, Manele’s fairways are generous.
Expect to pay at least $1,000 a night for accommodations at the Four Seasons. Contact the resort regarding golf specials, including a Member for a Week option that includes unlimited play and a club-fitting session. The late afternoon Sunset Nine ($195, including cart and specialty cocktails) on Manele’s back nine is a pleasant way to ease into your Four Seasons stay.
The resort has all the amenities and diversions one would expect at a Four Seasons – guided hikes to view sunrise over the mystical Pu’upehe Islet (Sweetheart Rock); snorkeling in Pu’upehe Bay; sporting clays; archery; tennis; horseback riding. As for dining, the aptly named View at the Manele clubhouse, the Nobu and One Forty restaurants at the hotel, and the poolside Malibu Farm are each superb.
Past visitors to Lanai likely remember the Experience at Koele, a highly-regarded Ted Robinson-Greg Norman collaboration near Lanai City. Ellison closed the course in 2017. Lanai Adventure Park now occupies the property, featuring zip-lines, aerial challenges (obstacle courses suspended from trees) and biking trails. The Four Seasons at Koele (formerly The Lodge) is a Sensei wellness retreat, embracing a philosophy that “focuses on three practices – move, nourish and rest, that help you get familiar and maintain a conversation with your body and mind.”
To rejuvenate your golfing soul, just add Manele and Cavendish to the mix.