My favorite golf hole: The island of Lanai can be life-changing in more ways than one

May 2, 2019

Here’s the thing: golf media gigs have perks. We schmooze Tour pros. We hit new drivers right out of the box. We get swing tips from the world’s best instructors. And the food in the press center is gratis. Sometimes it’s even warm.

But with all due respect to fajita day at the Farmers Insurance Open, those aren’t the real benefits. The biggest privilege in golf media is the travel, the discovery of exotic locales you might not be able to reach without a little assistance from the golf beat. This job is the reason I can safely drive on the left side of the road in Scotland, recommend several nice hotels along Copacabana Beach and also steer you to a few little-known tracks outside Bangkok. It’s a job wrapped in an adventure.

And that’s essentially how I was able to play two rounds, four years apart, at Manele Golf Course, on the Island of Lanai, the smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited isles.

Back in 2011 I was still new to the beat, and when I pitched the idea of a season-ending “working vacation” in the Aloha state, my editor said something like, “If you think there’s value in it, you can go.” Today I realize he was trying to guilt me out of it, but all I heard was a resounding endorsement. I invited my then-girlfriend, Fernanda, along for the trip, and in our final stop of a whirlwind Island tour, we stayed at the absurdly swank Four Seasons Lanai. The night we checked in, we took a beach walk, and your humble author got down on a knee, pulled out a ring, popped the question and got the coveted ‘yes.’ The next day we played the happiest round of our lives at Manele GC, a quick shuttle from the hotel. The sun sparkled. Spinner dolphins splashed around in the sea below. We started plans for the wedding. What a time.

The best hole on a course filled with best holes is the par-3 12th. In 1994 Bill Gates married his wife, Melinda, on that tee box, and — as I always say — if it’s good enough for Bill Gates it’s good enough for me.

The hole plays 200 yards straight over the cliff, and I probably hit some kind of hybrid or fairway wood. I don’t recall reaching the green in regulation. I don’t know what score I made. I do remember the ocean roared below. The wind kicked a little saltwater into our faces. The view, as you can see, is absurd. Outrageous. Ridiculous. (Pick an adjective — I’ll wait.) Squinting through the sunbeams, we could see the scene of the proposal less than 24 hours earlier, maybe a mile down the beach below. That round has stayed with me forever. I typed it up for this website, but omitted details about the ring and the wedding. Felt too personal back then. I guess times change.

Four years later we returned to Lanai and played Manele GC a second time. It was just as incredible as we remembered, even without a wedding to plan. I don’t know what I made on 12 on that visit, either. But it remains my favorite hole because of how it feels to stand atop that tee box: a combination of awe, inner peace and total exhilaration that can only be achieved at a spot that is both beautiful and bursting with special, personal history. I bet Bill Gates feels similarly. Someday I’d like to ask him.

Earlier this year Fer and I welcomed our first child, a boy, into the world. One of these days we’ll bring Leo to Lanai and tell him about the adventures his mom and dad had there. I imagine the 12th tee will be more thrilling than ever. I think the kid will like it.