Highlight Hole: No. 12 at Manele Bay (Lanai/Hawaii)

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If there’s ever a hole where you won’t mind a little slow play, it’s No. 12 at Manele Bay. I can’t think of a better compliment for a golf hole.

No. 12 is a one of two signatures holes (the par-4 17th is the other) on the breath-taking back nine at Manele (pronounced like Liza) Bay Course in Hawaii on the island of Lanai. The course and the island are in the midst of a makeover after being purchased by billionaire Oracle owner Larry Ellison.

I will be writing more about this in a future post, but the island’s makeover is a giant construction project while the course’s makeover is more in the marketing. The course is no long being referred to as the Challenge at Manele and instead is now simply Lanai Golf Manele as part of a plan to market the island as a however.

While challenge has been removed from the name, it has not been removed from the course, which isn’t slated for many, if any, changes. Jack Nicklaus recently reaffirmed his faith in the original design.

Some of Nicklaus’ best work appears on the par 3 12th. The target is a green positioned atop a dramatic cliff coastline framed by a giant expanse of the Pacific Ocean (note: every hole has an ocean view at Manele). The “challenge” between you and the hole is either a little or a lot of carry, depending on what tees you choose. It’s 202 yards (a carry of nearly 185) from the back tees, but a more manageable 153 from the blues.

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You either make it or you don’t here, although there’s a significant bailout area right and room long.

The second time we played it, we hit our shots and allowed a two-some to pass through. With the extra five minutes on the tee, I snapped of a series of waves while stepping close (but not too close) to the dramatic cliff drop. The view is as cool as the photos. It represents very well and is now the new art on my phone.

The winds were benign the days we were played, make it ideal. Perhaps the only thing the hole lacked that day was a pod of migrating whales passing by. One of the more awesome course details I’ve heard ever is you can hear the whales from the course during migration season (February). Part of that is the volume of whale traffic and their powerful tales slapping the water. Another part is the tranquility of the course. It really is the ideally serene ocean golf experience.

But back to the tee shot … My first ended up finding the bailout area to the right. My rusty short game skipped the ball past the hole and left a ridiculous par putt that I can nowhere near holing.

The second round, however, I deposited an 8 iron dead in the middle of the green. Putting to a left-side pin, I went for birdie broke and watched my putt slide below the hole for a sneaky 5 footer coming back. I missed, exhausting my par chances at No. 12 for the trip.

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An aside about putting at Manele: My only previous Hawaii golf experience was at Kapalua. If you’ve played either course there, you know it’s like putting in a fun house. Putts away from the ocean fly, putts toward the ocean are like you’re putting through Super Glue. You have to hammer them. And the breaks are mind-bending. And that’s without the winds moving your putts like crazy.

The greens at Manele had none of this. Nicklaus did something with the green design to neutralize the ocean effect. Head pro Scott Ashworth advises to figure the break and then only play half. After four holes of playing breaks that weren’t there, I simply chose to charge the hole.

One more thing about the greens at Manele. They’ve been designed as “infinity greens” (think infinity pool) giving them a design where they seem to flow into the ocean. It is a truly awesome look to experience, particular through a camera. I’ve never seen a course that photographs better than Manele.

Anyway, No. 12 is most definitely in the conversation of the greatest par 3s of ever played. That’s a possible future post simply because it’s awfully fun to think about and very pretty to look at.

If you make the six-hour trip to Lanai and play Manele, I guarantee you’ll feel it was all worth while when you walk off the green on No. 12 – birdie, par or with just a lot of pretty pictures and great memories.

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