Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Riviera Country Club - Part Three

The Riviera Country Club - READ PART ONE HERE
The Riviera Country Club - READ PART TWO HERE

THE TENTH HOLE: 315 YARDS - PAR 4


"I love option holes and this one has more than any short par 4 I know."
- Jack Nicklaus

Look at any list of the greatest holes in golf and you'll be sure to find the 10th at Riviera on every single one of them.

This may just be the best short par four in all of golf and it's truly incredible due to the myriad options available to the player from the tee.


Do you take an iron or hybrid and challenge the cross bunkers in the middle of the fairway that require a shot of about 200 yards to clear? Choosing that option gives you a short pitch into a very shallow green that's only about seven steps deep and will force the player to contend with a nasty bunker in front.



Or do you go left of the cross bunkers with the same club, leaving yourself a longer approach into the green but giving you the width of the green to hit into plus an open front so you can roll the ball up?

Or do you go for broke on the 300 yard hole and challenge the green from the tee with your driver?

Decisions, decisions!

Of course, I was salivating on the tee due to the fact the pin was front left. Green light territory!

Or so I thought...

"Here's the club", caddy Mike said, as he handed me the 4-iron.

"You don't think driver is the play?", I asked.

He smiled and said "Driver is NEVER the right play."

Spoken like a man who knows his business. So I took the decidedly less glamourous route and went well left like I was told.


The problem was that my ball ended up barely going into the rough and it took us almost three minutes to find the ball, which sunk well down into the kikuyu. It took all of my strength to advance the ball 30 yards into the fairway and from there it took three more shots to get in the hole, making a bogey in the process.

The little hole got me!

It didn't get my playing partner however. Pro hit nicely into the fairway and stopped his wedge approach about seven feet away. He rammed that home for his second birdie of the day to take a 2up lead in our little match.

THE ELEVENTH HOLE: 564 YARDS - PAR 5


"The spirit of golf is to dare a hazard, and by negotiating it reap a reward, while he who fears or declines the issue of carry, has a longer or harder shot for his second, or his second or third on long holes; yet the player who avoids the unwise effort gains advantage over one who tries for more than in him lies, or fails under the test."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This long par five is notable for the barranca which crosses the fairway about 360 yards away from the tee.

There is a bit of intimidation on the drive as well, with trees framing both sides of the fairway quite closely. I chose this time to block the ball well right off the tee. I had a bit of an opening but my caddy talked me into pitching back into the fairway to leave myself a 260 yard third shot into the green.

Pro was a bit upset with that choice and asked the caddy why he didn't instruct me to go down #12, which he said was a makeable shot and one that would allow me to reach the green in regulation.

But I told him it was no big deal - I figured I could get to the green anyway.

That wasn't the case but I made a good pass at my 2-iron rescue and came up just short. However, my chip shot landed just short in the fringe and of course, died right there, leaving me a twenty foot par putt from the collar. I'd miss and make bogey, matching the pro who missed a short putt for the first time all day.

THE TWELFTH HOLE: 460 YARDS - PAR 4


"Do not strive for length where you sacrifice character. Your yardage is the less valuable of the two considerations; but sufficient length, with type and strategy, is the ultimate."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This hole has evolved quite a bit over the years. There used to be a huge cross bunker that ran about 100 yards from the tee but that was filled in sometime in the 1940's.

The barranca is also much bigger now in front of the green than it used to be. The defining feature of the hole is a large sycamore tree that stands just to the left of the green. It is lovingly called 'Bogey's Tree' for actor Humphrey Bogart, who legend has it used to watch the LA Open from right underneath it with a thermos full of Jack Daniels.

The hole is also notable for the homes that run along the hillside overlooking the fairway. Mel Brooks and Julie Andrews own homes right beside each other on top of the 12th fairway.


This hole was the start of a great stretch of golf from yours truly. I ripped a great drive right down the middle here and only had a 9-iron approach to a middle pin. I hit a nice shot right over the stick and barely missed my birdie, instead tapping in for par and tying the pro.

THE THIRTEENTH HOLE: 459 YARDS - PAR 4


"It is up to the architect to present us with a thinking contest as well as a physical one."
- Ben Crenshaw
In The Anatomy of a Golf Course by Tom Doak


What a great hole this is! Big dogleg left with the barranca running all the way down the left side and framed by trees right. The fairway also slopes toward the barranca, making things even tougher.

It's a very difficult driving hole and that's putting it lightly!

That's the pro in the shot above snap hooking his tee ball into the barranca. It wasn't exactly the mental picture I needed to see before stepping to the tee myself! With the caddy waiting up in the fairway, I nailed another great drive that drew around the corner right down the middle!

Whew!



I only had 145 yards left to the hole and hit a little draw 8-iron into the wind that hit about two feet from the stick and rolled 10 feet past. I had the putt dead to rights but left it on the lip of the cup. Bah! Another par though, a great score on this hole and one that beat the pro, bringing me back to within one in our match!

THE FOURTEENTH HOLE: 176 YARDS - PAR 3


"One shotters are most important. In these holes one gets a keener interest on the tee shot than on others because it may be placed on the green by most men."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This hole would likely qualify as the least intimidating on the entire golf course, even with a couple very deep bunkers in front of the green.

A very straighforward hole but one that can still jump up and grab you. I stepped up to the tee and thought there was nothing to this shot but ended up making a lazy swing and ended up right in the deep bunker front left.

Great...

I hit a decent blast shot out but still was 15 feet short of the cup and would two-putt that for bogey. Pro went into the right front bunker and also made bogey.

That was one opportunity missed.

THE FIFTEENTH HOLE: 443 YARDS - PAR 4


"The essence of golf strategy is diversity. Greens must be of great variety."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This is another great par four. It's a long dogleg right with a very large bunker on the inner elbow of the dogleg. It demands a cut shot off the tee and a precise approach to one of the more diabolical greens on the entire course. The back right portion of the green is pushed up well above the rest of the green, as you can tell in the picture above.


I hit a fantastic drive here, right down the middle once again. You can see my caddy checking out my yardage in the picture above. Unfortunately, I hit a very poor 6-iron approach left of the green, shortsiding myself. My chip shot again landed in the collar and stopped dead in its tracks and I ended up having to make a six footer just to save bogey here.


Pro hit into the greenside bunker and also made bogey, keeping me within a hole in our match.

THE SIXTEENTH HOLE: 166 YARDS - PAR 3


"In golf construction, art and utility meet; both are absolutely vital; one is utterly ruined without the other."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

Who says you can't have a short par three among the closing holes?

What a fantastic one shotter! Bunkers abound on this 166 yard par three and I believe the green here is the tiniest on the entire course, making a precise shot a must. Words can't describe how gorgeous the bunkers are on this hole.

It's interesting how things have changed here over time. Thomas built three different men's tee decks to account for the changing seasons and the effect of the sunlight, with shorter tee decks left and right of the main deck.

Now, the hole is notable for the sycamore grove around the green and the need for stilts or supports for a few of the trees to keep them from falling over.

I hit an awesome 8-iron right at the stick and landed just 8 feet short. However, my putt must have broke about a foot and a half and I would barely miss once again, settling for par. Pro also hit a lovely shot in there and would also barely miss his birdie effort.

I was still one down with two to go!

THE SEVENTEENTH HOLE: 576 YARDS - PAR 5


"The strategy of golf is the thing which gives the short accurate player a chance with the longer hitter who cannot control his direction or distance."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

The finishing two holes at Riviera are brutes. First up is the uphill par five 17th, a true three shotter for all but the longest hitters in the world. Bunkers are well placed off the tee of this gentle dogleg left and really start to challenge the player on the layup second shot.

Again, the scale of the bunkering out here is incredible and you can probably understand by looking at the pictures below of both the layup area and greenside.



In these pictures, you really can see the brown grass around the edges of the bunkers. It's a fescue grass that is trimmed down to the same size as the kikuyu and if the superintendent decided to make some changes, he could always let the edges grow to bring a little more definition to the bunkering.

This is a taxing hole both physically and mentally and I played it to near perfection. Drive right down the pipe; a 4-iron layup that left me about 100 yards for my third and a wedge that landed just left of the pin.

However, upon getting up to the green, I noticed my ball had spun back down the slope and I was left with about a 12 footer instead of a tap-in.

Pro was in with a par five so I really took a good look at this one from both behind the hole and behind the ball as I looked to tie the match.

"Birdie here and birdie 18 and you'll break 80!", he said.

"If I birdie 18", I answered, "I'll have a smile on my face for weeks!"

Obviously looking ahead instead of concentrating on the task at hand, I left the putt right on the lip for the upteenth time, making par.

THE EIGHTEENTH HOLE: 451 YARDS - PAR 4



"The last three holes should be of exceptional character, and the last hole should, undoubtedly, be a fine two shotter."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

The 18th at Riviera is one of the elite closing holes in all of golf, a very demanding uphill 451 yarder with a green set in a natural amphitheatre below the grand clubhouse.

Just an incredible setting.


You can't really see from the picture just how elevated the fairway is from the teeing ground. You REALLY have to connect here to get the ball over the knob into the middle of the fairway.

I'd love to tell you I nailed my tee shot right down the pipe then heroically hit a great long iron stiff beside the flag, just like in the picture below.


Well I did but unfortunately, it was my SECOND BALL off the tee. My real ball was weakly pushed into the eucalyptus trees right of the fairway.


"There's no way I'm letting you finish off on that note", the pro said.

"Hit another one!"

So I played two balls on the famous 18th, hitting a 4-iron second from the middle of the fairway onto the green and two putting with the second ball, which of course doesn't count.

The ball that counted was in the trees and I hit a great punch out to exactly 80 yards, with the pin cut back right. I don't know if I was pumped up (probably) or if it was a poor yardage (I doubt it) but I spanked my lob wedge over the green onto the hillside, leaving an almost impossible chip to the pin cut tight to the back. I'd run that by ten feet and miss my bogey putt, making a VERY disappointing double to shoot 83 and lose my match 2 down.

No matter. You still couldn't wipe the smile off my face as the round came to a close.


What a golf course and what an experience! We walked the whole way and I can tell you I was able to soak up everything as the morning passed, never feeling rushed.

Yet I looked at the clock when we got to the clubhouse and noticed the time...

We played 18 holes in 3 hours and 5 minutes! Now THAT is golf the way it is meant to be played!

I can't speak highly enough about my experience at Riviera and my thoughts about this great George Thomas Jr. design. It goes without saying that I used every club in my bag out here. You are forced to shape all of your shots if you want to get closer to the pins and in some cases, you are forced to shape the ball two different ways ON THE SAME HOLE.

It may be a tough test for the lower handicappers from the back tee deck but it's still a gorgeous walk in the park for higher handicappers. You can't necessarily run the ball in on the kikuyu but you still have openings on most holes to avoid bunkers and other hazards. This is a fair design and if you are hitting the ball with precision, you can score out here. I figure the kikuyu cost me three shots so I would have been right on 80 in my first attempt. The pro told me that you need about three rounds or so to learn some of the subtleties around the greens. I'd have to agree. This course isn't relentless like Princeville - it's truly fun to play and you CAN score out here.

No two hole are even remotely alike out here. There are an equal amount of holes that dogleg left versus holes that dogleg right. He uses the flow of the land to dictate play and his associate Billy Bell's bunkering is absolutely spectacular. You can go right down the list from one to eighteen - Thomas' routing is just incredible and it's a testament to his genius that he was able to take a basically flat site and make it into the strategic wonder that it is today. This is a course that all aspiring architects should study.

The course is very memorable due to the previously stated fact that no two holes are alike. It may not come across as well on television during the Nissan Open but I'm here to tell you that once you play this track, you will be able to describe, in detail, every nuance of this course from top to bottom. The bunkers are easily the prettiest and most predominant feature.

Conditioning was uniformly above average. I was amazed at how the ball stood up in the fairways on the kikuyu grass, almost like it was on a tee. Bunkers were in immaculate condition and the greens rolled pretty true but a bit slower than I expected. Two of the greens were aerated but both rolled fine.

Topping it off, Riviera is a wonderful walking golf course. It doesn't get a tremendous amount of weekday play, from what the pro indicated and it really felt at times like we were the only group out there. I don't remember enjoying myself on a golf course more than the night I walked around, camera in hand, the night before I played. Pure bliss. And only hree hours and five minutes to play 18 holes? Awesome!

At the time of this writing, I can honestly say this is the best golf course I have ever played, bar none. I can't speak more highly of my Riviera experience and staying onsite made the trip even sweeter. It's just that good and that's to say nothing about the people I met at the club, who treated me like a member the entire time I was there. If you EVER get the chance to play this great course, you owe it to yourself to stay at least one night at the club.

You'll thank me later!

If you want to learn more about Riviera, its designer and its great history, I implore you to check out Geoff Shackleford's wonderful book "The Riviera Country Club - A Definitive History".

I purchased it at the club while I was there and it truly is a great read.

I can only sum up my experience by saying the three nights spent at Riviera and my day on the course will be memories I'll cherish for the rest of my life.



Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Riviera Country Club - Part Two

The Riviera Country Club - READ PART ONE HERE

FROM THE RIVIERA COURSE GUIDE -
Riviera Country Club's legendary 18 holes represents the essence of what the game of golf is all about; a seamless blend of natural and man-made beauty and shot-making challenges that are at once fair and inspiring. No two golf holes at Riviera are alike, with each hole standing as a design gem unique to all of golf course architecture. It is no wonder that since it opened for play on June 24th 1927, both golf's elite players and writers continue to unanimously group this George C. Thomas, Jr. designed classic amongst the best golf courses in all the world.

Recently modified to restore Thomas' original intent, Riviera's greatest virtue continues to be its fairness. With every shot clearly laid out before competitive and recreational players alike, the course likewise yields the satisfaction of experiencing the best the game of golf has to offer equally to one and all.


I actually slept decently all things considered the night before playing Riviera. I had an 8:30am tee time and set the alarm for 7am, which gave me plenty of time to get showered, shine my shoes, iron my slacks and even hit some balls before the round.

It was a dreary, overcast morning and actually quite cool, the first dud of a morning weather-wise since we hit the west coast. No matter - there was NOTHING that was going to keep me from playing on this day!

I signed off on the green fee in the pro shop and was told that I'd be playing with Mike, one of the assistant pros at Riviera. I was asked if I wanted a cart for the round.

Hell no. I'm going to walk, thank you very much!

He told me Mike was going to meet me outside in just a second and that my caddy would join me on the first tee after I hit some balls and stroked some putts.

So I headed to the practice green to get a couple putts in but I ran into Mike on the way there. He introduced himself and after some small talk, we piled into a cart and headed to the range, which is located between the second and tenth holes.



It's a smallish range but setup quite nicely, with multiple targets all over the range and a neat little shack where you can pick up your balls, grab a snack or just relax and watch others practice. Very cool.

I got the feeling Mike was sizing me up a bit while I hit balls, as was the head pro, who was giving a lesson on the other side of the range. Funny enough, I wasn't nervous at all and was basically striping every shot.

Would the swing hold up was the question...

We headed back up and I hit a couple quick putts before getting whisked to the first tee 20 minutes early. I finally got to meet my caddy, another Mike, and I'll tell you something...

Look up the word caddy in the dictionary and I'd bet the accompanying picture looked just like this:


Just perfect! Mike has looped for 17 years at Riviera, with only one year off in between. He spent 2006 at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort if you can believe it.

Boy, this guy sure knows how to pick the good ones! Bandon is right near the top of my vacation wish list...one day I'll get there!

Funny enough, Mike told me "one year was good enough out there" and while he expressed appreciation for the architecture of the courses on the site, he wasn't as complimentary of the players he looped for.

I didn't press him for details.

But enough about Bandon! I'm playing Riviera for goodness sakes!

THE FIRST HOLE: 503 YARDS - PAR 5


"Such a hole gives the long man a chance to get near the green in two, with the possibility of reaching it, and the short man can always attain the distance with three reasonable strokes."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

The starter came over and introduced himself while asking where I was from and how to pronounce my last name. Man, everyone is so friendly here!

But there was method to his madness...

He stepped to the side and said, "On the tee, from St. Catharines, Canada...Matt Bosela."

I just about wet myself!

The first tee is two steps from the clubhouse and there were a few people mingling about but it wasn't exactly packed. We were playing the back deck and from there it's a straightaway short par five off an elevated tee.

I was just hoping for solid contact.

I took a couple quick practice swings, took a deep breath and stepped up to the ball. I then took one look down the fairway and pulled the trigger.

I smashed it center cut! Whew!

Mike the caddy smiled and gave me a 'thumbs up' as Mike the pro teed up and also hit it down the middle.

We were off!


The dreaded barranca wouldn't be in play for me here, as I only had 218 to the flag for my second shot according to my caddy. I told him I wanted to play a draw from the right edge of the green to the pin, which was cut in the middle of the green behind the bunker.

"Perfect", he said.

I hit a 4-iron right on my intended line but it was here that I got my first taste of what kikuyu grass does to a golf ball.

It just swallows it whole!

Well, not really but I found out right away that you get absolutely no bounce or roll around the greens. I had a simple pitch shot to the flag and my caddy reminded me to "land the ball on the green...if you land it short in the fringe, it will just die there."

I hit a decent shot to about 8 feet and barely missed the putt, tapping in for my par five. Pro matched me and we were tied through one.

THE SECOND HOLE: 463 YARDS - PAR 4


"If possible, it is well to have the second hole come back to the club, so that tie matches may for the first three holes never be over the distance of one fairway from home. Also, if one is late in arriving, one may pick up friends at the third tee."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

Long par four is next as we head back to the clubhouse. I stroked a decent drive down the left side but ended up in the rough. Thankfully, I had a ridiculously good lie and had the EXACT same yardage that I had on the first hole: 218 yards.

For whatever reason, I picked a 4-iron again, likely due to the fact I didn't have a lot of confidence in my rescue club at the time. Of course, 218 yards uphill and into a slight breeze meant I ended up short. But I missed the mammoth bunker that fronts the green and had another easy pitch shot to the pin that was cut near the front of the green.

Unfortunately, I got a bit quick with it and my ball rolled 15 feet past. My first putt was right on line but a bit too frisky, ending up about four feet by. I'd miss the comebacker for an ugly double bogey six. Pro made a bomb from 30 feet to save an unlikely bogey after he got into trouble off the tee, so he's one up in our straight up match.

THE THIRD HOLE: 434 YARDS - PAR 4


"The strategy of the golf course is the soul of the game."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This is an interesting hole. It's a relatively straightaway par four with a center line cross bunker about 180 yards off the tee. However, the hillside to the right of the fairway offers a little visual deception and the way the bunker is angled gives the player the impression that the hole is a dogleg right.

I ended up cutting my drive slightly and while I thought I was in good shape, my caddy said it would be a tough shot into the green from there. Hmm.

By playing down the right, I brought the front bunker into play and I learned my second lesson about playing Riviera: placement off the tee is of paramount importance.

I hit a bit of a double-cross with my 9-iron approach and ended up in the rough to the left of the green. It wasn't an overly difficult chip shot but the kikuyu got the best of me for the first time on the day. I hit what normally would be a great shot in Canada, a little chip into the collar, but it just died right on impact, even though it was shortly-trimmed fringe.

Crazy.

From there, I hit another horrible putt way past the hole and again missed the comebacker, making my second double in a row. At this point, I really haven't made a poor swing but I'm four over through three. Pro made another nice up and down for par and was two up.

THE FOURTH HOLE: 236 YARDS - PAR 3


"The greatest par-3 hole in America."
- Ben Hogan

This hole is an absolute animal. 236 yards into the breeze with bunkers surrounding the entire front of the green.

In the old days, players were able to play to the right and get the old 'member's bounce' back toward the green. However, that stategy became obsolete with the planting of the kikuyu grass, which just doesn't allow for any release off the hillside.

So that meant I'd have to hit the ball over those bunkers and try to softly land it on the putting surface.

Yeah, right.



I'd have to get over my fear of the hybrid club, something this shot absolutely demanded. I pulled my 3-iron rescue from the bag and made a perfect pass at the ball.

I looked up and watched it soar right at the flagstick, hit about five feet short of the pin and roll about 15 feet past. Awesome!

I hit a great putt and left it right on the bloody lip, tapping in for a VERY satisfying par. Pro made an incredible up and down here after snapping his tee shot way left. He pitched to about 15 feet and made it, something that was becoming quite common through the early goings.

THE FIFTH HOLE: 434 YARDS - PAR 4


"Combinations of the direction of wind and the slope of the ground provide a great diversity of shots and add tremendous interest to the play of the holes."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

What a great golf hole! A tree-lined dogleg left with out of bounds to the right, helped somewhat by the fact that the fairway slopes severely from the right to left as well. From there, you have a mid-to-short iron shot downhill over a huge grassy knoll and over the barranca to a green that is pitched in similar fashion to the fairway: right to left.

The visual deception at play here is incredible. You really have to trust your swing on the approach, playing from the sidehill lie to a green that is running away from you to the left.

I hit my drive thin to the right but got the generous hop back into the fairway. From there, I had 186 yards into the wind and decided on the 6-iron. I aimed at the right side of the green and hit a draw that started off exactly like I wanted it.

It moved a bit more than I planned but ended up landing softly on the green and rolling just into the fringe, about 15 feet away.

I'll take it!

Pro just bombed his drive here right to the end of the fairway, perilously close to the barranca. He knocked his approach stiff to four feet, hitting only his second green in regulation.

The caddy had been reading my putts for me but I kept my normal routine of reading them myself, only to find that his reads were perfect. So when he told me "one cup left", I just walked up to the ball and stroked it right into the hole for a birdie three.

Funny moment as he extended his hand and I slapped it, thinking he wanted a high five.

Turns out he just wanted to clean my ball. Ha!

Pro wasn't frazzled by my make, as he calmly stepped up and knocked his home as well. Nice!

THE SIXTH HOLE: 199 YARDS - PAR 3



"When you play a course and remember each hole, it has individuality and change. If your mind cannot recall the exact sequence of the holes, that course lacks the great assets of originality and diversity."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

This is one of the most famous par threes in all of golf, notable mostly for the bunker in the middle of the green.

In my opinion, it's the bunker in FRONT of the green that's most memorable - first of all, the scale of the bunkers at Riviera is beyond description. But you get an idea of what they're about in the picture below.


The beauty of this bunker is the fact that it's set well in front of the green, something that you just can't comprehend from the tee on first inspection. You get a better idea once you reach the green that there is more room than you think. However, you then have to worry about the dreaded bunker on the green.


Just a wonderful hole with pin positions galore! I hit a solid six iron just left of the green, chipped on to about four feet and made the putt for a very good par. Pro ended up making bogey so I was back to only one down.

THE SEVENTH HOLE: 408 YARDS - PAR 4


"Wise is the man who knows how to play each hole as he should play it, and skillful the golfer who can place his shots after he knows where they should go. Such a player is exceedingly hard to defeat on a course with proper strategy."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

I felt a little lost at Riviera for the first time once we got to the 7th tee. It's a long walk back to the end of the property behind the 6th green to get to the back deck so my caddy gave me my driver and walked up the fairway to watch our drives.

The hole looked much shorter than it's 408 yards and I questioned whether driver was the right choice. Hitting first didn't help matters.

I ended up making a wishy washy, anti-left swing to avoid the huge bunkers and hit it into the barranca right of the fairway. Pro followed suit, hitting it into the exact same spot as me. You can see why I avoided going left by looking at the picture below.


Luckily enough, my caddy found my ball and I actually had a relatively decent lie in the hazard. However, there was a tree obscuring my approach so I'd have to aim left of the green. I hit a great shot but it ended up squirting out a bit further right than I wanted, ending up in a huge trap about 40 yards short of the green.

My caddy let out a bit of a groan after that one...he wanted me to play WELL out to the left and I disobeyed him. Ha!

I hit a nice long bunker shot but got unlucky when my ball didn't spin off the large slope near the back of the green, leaving me with a treacherous downhill 15 footer for par. Three putts later and I'm in with my third double of the day.

Pro couldn't find his original ball and did well to make a double, matching my score on the hole.

THE EIGHTH HOLE: 433 YARDS - PAR 4


"Holes with double or triple, or even more fairways or landing places present unlimited possibilities to our golf course development. Such are feasible, but can only be considered where each hole is separate and apart from the rest of the course."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

Options upon options abound on this interesting hole that has been restored to its former glory. Floods in the 1930's washed out the double fairway but it was brought back a few years ago and once again gives the player many different choices from the tee.


Higher handicappers can hit to the left fairway and keep it short of the bunker. However they will have a very difficult second shot. Better players will likely aim right to the larger, more accessible fairway (shown above) but will be forced to carry a mid-to-short iron over the barranca to reach a green that is pitched away from them.


Big hitters have a chance to blow a shot past the trees that separate the two fairways and give themselves a wedge approach with no forced carry, as you can see above.

Unreal.

However, from the back tees, I see no reason why anyone would WANT to test the left side: there just doesn't seem to be enough 'reward' for the risk involved. I asked the pro what his thoughts were and he said that when he plays with members from the middle tees, he goes to the left fairway more often than not. However, he agreed that there wasn't much sense going left from the tips and the pros evidently feel the same way, as they almost all went down the right side during the 2007 Nissan Open.

I drove perfectly down the right fairway and had only 175 yards into the green. Playing downwind, that meant a 7-iron and I hit it just left of the green. My chip shot was decent but I would miss the putt and make bogey. Pro continued to amaze with his short game and made another lengthy putt to save a par and go two up once again.

THE NINTH HOLE: 458 YARDS - PAR 4



"On a trap which I recently constructed, one player objected to it because he said: 'If I make a bad drive, I cannot get on the green on my second shot.' When everybody roared with laughter, it was realized that this very feature was the one which made the trap necessary and valuable."
- George C. Thomas, Jr.

The last hole on the outgoing side is a very strong uphill par four that brings you back to the clubhouse. The positioning of the bunkers is particularly brilliant and deception is key once again.

It looks as if the left and right fairway bunkers are equal distances from the tee but that isn't the case. The 'fade' bunker on the right is about 30 yards behind the 'draw' bunker on the left, causing fits for players regardless of the way they shape their shots.

If you successfully navigate the tee shot, you still have an uphill second to a green with some heavy undulations and one that is particularly well protected by traps.

I hit likely my best drive of the day here right down the pipe and only had an 8-iron approach to a tough front right pin placement. I wanted to be conservative and hit the middle of the green but I pushed my shot ever so slightly and it went right at the pin, stopping ten feet short. I hit a horrible putt here but tapped in for my par and a front nine of 41 (+6), not bad considering the three doubles.

Pro got into some trouble off the tee and made bogey so I was back to one down as we approached the back nine.

The Riviera Country Club - READ PART THREE HERE



Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Riviera Country Club

The Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, California, USA


7178 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 75.6/137
COURSE ARCHITECT: George C. Thomas Jr. (1927)
ACCESSIBILITY: Private
COURSE WEBSITE: http://therivieracountryclub.com/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: August 23, 2007.
LOW SCORE: 83 (+12)

ACCOLADES -
- Golf Digest World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2016: #57
- Golf Digest Top 100 in America 2015: #24
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the World 2015: #29
- Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the United States 2015: #19
- Golfweek Best Classic Courses 2016: #20


FROM THE RIVIERA COURSE GUIDE -
As a country club, Riviera enjoys a history second to none. It has been known throughout the years as the golfing home of Hollywood's most glamorous stars, the venue for the Nissan (formerly L.A.) Open and the host of several major championships. Called "Hogan's Alley" after the Texan captured the 1947 and '48 L.A. Opens as well as the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera, the course's artfully undulating fairways and greens, its wiry rough and cavernous bunkers have supported the cleats of golf royalty from every era.

Jacky and I rented a car on Tuesday August 21st and made the lovely drive up the #1 Pacific Coast Highway through Los Angeles and into Pacific Palisades, a tiny community nestled inbetween Santa Monica, Bel Air and Brentwood.

Funny enough, I completely forgot to get directions or even a street address to Riviera so we were forced to wing it. We drove up the meandering Sunset Boulevard and eventually came up on a brick wall marked with the words "Riviera Tennis Club".

"That's got to be it!", I exclaimed.

Indeed it was. There was a manned electronic security gate down the road and I told the guard I was a guest at the club for a few nights. He smiled, opened the gate and said "you can drop your bags off at the clubhouse and bring your car back here once you're finished", as he pointed out the guest parking lot just off to the side.

We were in!

And boy oh boy, what a beautiful site it was.



The security guard in the clubhouse welcomed us and checked us in, giving us room 232.

We took the elevator up to the second floor and made the long walk down the expansive corridor to our room. The walls were decorated with fantastic old shots of the course and the clubhouse, with most originating from an old newsletter from the '20s called "Mercury", the Los Angeles Athletic Club's main publication.



There were a number of rooms that had nameplates on them right below the room number, signifying the famous guest that usually stayed there back in the day. We passed by three such rooms on the way to our own: the Bobby Jones suite, the Dean Martin suite and the Walt Disney suite.

Crazy.

After opening the door to our room, it took all of five seconds for me to say the following:

"This is SO worth the money."

This was the view outside of our room.



The first shot is of the uphill par four 18th hole, which was directly underneath our room while the second shot is of the famous short par four 10th hole.

What a panoramic!

The room itself was charming in an old school way. No real frills in our modest room, just a queen-sized bed, a modestly-sized television and an empty bar fridge.



We got unpacked and then got dressed for dinner, as it was approaching 6pm. Before heading out, I had to take a bit of a tour around the clubhouse first.

The lobby in the clubhouse is absolutely stunning, with a grand piano, large fireplace, couches and trophy cases everywhere.




We then made our way out from the lobby to the gorgeous balcony-top patio overlooking the 18th hole.



The balcony goes all the way around the building and offers great panoramics of the entire golf course. Just amazingly beautiful.


From there, I couldn't resist getting a few staged shots in on the famous downhill opener with driver in hand and some decidedly non-golfing attire.





I LOVE that clock on the first tee. Just gives the course even more of a classic feel.

What made this whole experience surreal was that we seemed to be the ONLY ONES OUT THERE. Not a person to be found! The pro shop was closed so my attempts at talking to someone about possibly walking the golf course with my camera would have to wait until the next day.

We left the club and went out to dinner that night in Brentwood, a quaint community just east of Pacific Palisades. We dined at Amici Brentwood and I had one of the best Chicken Parm dishes of my life. Just a tremendous night...we almost went back to the same place two nights later but resisted...barely!

I woke up relatively early on Wednesday morning and made my way to the pro shop to introduce myself to the pro, who I had exchanged a couple emails with the week before arriving in California.

He mentioned that he'd be willing to get me on another course if I was in the area more than a day but I didn't want to impose too much during my time there. Plus, I didn't want to tick off the wife by playing golf the entire time in the LA area.

So I went down with intentions of seeing whether I could walk the course in the early evening when things calmed down a bit. I guess it's not something they traditionally allow but he smiled and gave me the go-ahead, as long as I didn't get in the way of any members.

Oh my...I could barely wait!

Jacky and I spent the day shopping in Santa Monica and driving around Bel Air and Beverly Hills, looking at the larger-than-life houses. I can't even fathom what some of these places are worth but it was a fun day.

We finished our afternoon in the Malibu area and took a quick tour of 'Surfer U', or Pepperdine University. I don't know how any of them can concentrate on studies when they have this view...


We got back to Riviera around 6:30pm. Jacky retreated to the room to watch television while I grabbed my camera and headed for the course!

If you can believe it, I had the entire golf course to myself! Little ole me walking Hogan's Alley in my slacks, dress shirt and shoes, a camera and a huge grin.

There wasn't a single golfer on the course!

I basically walked the course in reverse order, starting on the 18th and working my way west towards the back end of the property, where you find the fifth green and the famous par three sixth with the bunker in the middle of the green.

I hate waxing poetic but I have to do it here - the hour or so I spent walking around and taking pictures was as thrilling as almost anything I can remember doing in my life. It would only have been topped if my wife had come out for the walk - something she definitely regrets missing.

I somehow was able to compose myself enough to get a little sleep that night. I had an 8:15am tee time the next morning at the Riv!

I'll be back tomorrow with an extensive course review and pictorial of Riviera, along with a shot-by-shot recap of my round on one of the world's greatest tracks.

The Riviera Country Club - READ PART TWO HERE
The Riviera Country Club - READ PART THREE HERE