“Life is an adventure. You do the best you can to plan, but you never know what’s going to happen. It’s kind of nice to not know what is around the corner. That’s the adventure.”
~Jack Nicklaus, during a press conference for his 70th birthday.
He may have been talking introspectively about his milestone birthday, but Jack Nicklaus might just have well been waxing poetically about The Challenge at Manele, the awe-inspiring masterpiece of a golf course on Lanai that he designed and which opened on Christmas Day in 1993, twenty years ago. Golf lovers from around the world have come to appreciate this most generous gift to the sport.
A Challenge in More than Name
The naming of this course could not possibly been more apt, as every hole presents a formidable challenge, with some holes manifesting as white-knuckled tests of faith. After all, when you are trying to place an accurate shot between two cliffs that rise majestically more than two hundred feet above the waves of the Pacific Ocean, faith and prayer may be your tools of last resort. Like all signature Jack Nicklaus courses, the Challenge was designed to be a shot-maker’s dream, where those who play a precision game can often rule supreme.
From its farthest tee, the “Nicklaus”, the Challenge at Manele is a long 72 stroke course at 7,039 yards, and is rated a stiff 73.8 with a slope of 135. For scratch golfers who aren’t quite so ambitious or foolhardy, there are four other tees, the shortest being the red, which measures 5,024 yards. This five-tee system should be familiar to anyone with experience playing on a Jack Nicklaus course.
Whichever tee you play, any difficulties you face due to distance will pale in comparison with the obstacles and challenges that you will face from the very topography and design of the course. There are wide ravines, deep bunkers, and even flags that are placed within a few yards of steep cliffs. This is a course where par is its own reward.
The course was built with specific care to disturb the natural topography as little as possible, and that philosophy, combined with the strong prevailing winds, shaped the course by necessity. The course zigzags, turns, and meanders, resulting in an 18-hole course with nine doglegs.
The signature hole at the Challenge is the 12th, a 202 yard par-3. While it may or may not be the toughest hole on the course, it is the one that will take the breath from first-timers, leaving an indelible image etched into their psyche. The hole may only be 202 yards, but there is no margin for error, because the shot is from cliff to cliff, and the ball must carry over the crashing surf below.
Unparalleled Views on Every Hole
Oh yes, there is the ocean…and it is always there. On every hole, you can see the ocean, sometimes far closer than your golfing nerves would prefer. The views are nothing short of spectacular, and nature has painted the land and seascapes in vibrant kaleidoscopic hues unimagined on the palette of any artist.
The golf course was built atop ancient black lava rock which shears vertically, exposing imposing and dramatic red cliffs to an expanse of deep blue ocean in a panoramic view that dominates your line of sight. On a clear day, you can even see the Big Island.
The course itself was designed to mimic, and ultimately complement, Nature’s display with displays of its own. There are bunkers filled with snow-white sand, admittedly a humorous choice for a region that never sees snow, and the Bermuda fairways are wide and emerald-colored, lightening to a regal viridescent shade on the Tifton greens themselves.
Truly a Must-Play Course
The Challenge has a sister course, the Experience at Koele, but that course is more of a forest-covered mountain offering. The Challenge is a seaside course, and as such, often draws comparisons to Pebble Beach. Although many enthusiasts try to double up and play the 36-hole circuit of both the Challenge and the Experience on the same day, some find that their nerves and endurance aren’t quite up to that herculean task. The general consensus is that if you are pressed for time and can only play one course, the Challenge would have to be that one.
The Challenge at Manele is a resort course, offered by Four Seasons, and as might be expected, the service is consistently upper-shelf. From prompt beverage and snack carts to delivery of refreshing peppermint-scented face towels, the Challenge spares no effort to provide to its players and guests a luxurious and unforgettable experience.
The Challenge is rated by many authorities on the subject to be one of the top golf courses in the world, and the large numbers of players who return again and again attest to that fact. For those who have never played here, it should rank high on their “play-before-I-die” bucket lists. For those who have already been lucky enough to play here, they are most likely counting the days until they can return.