In honor of the playing of the Genesis Open this past week, I decided to write about my experience at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA. My experience at Riviera is just a little bit different than most… as I was a caddie there for a year. I was able to play the course in Genesis Open conditions and setup, the U.S. Amateur setup, the 3-alternate greens, meet the membership, and get up close and personal with some of the famous stars of the Los Angeles area. Nothing has beat it to me yet.
During the Genesis Open this past week I read a quote on Twitter from Graham DeLaet that read, “In comparison to other Tour stops, Riviera Country Club is the hottest girl in high school.” I laughed a little when I read it, but it really hit home. Riviera has all the amenities of being one of the hottest stops on Tour. A world class golf course with a storied history, famous membership while just miles away from Hollywood, home to Tiger’s tournament, one of the most recognizable clubhouses in the world, and of course we can’t forget the Ben Hogan statue that stands next to one of three putting greens overlooking the property that is dubbed, “Hogan’s Alley.” Riviera is ALL THAT.
The Riviera Country Club was built in 1926 and designed by George C. Thomas, who also is famous for his designs of other LA gems, Bel-Air Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club.To the naked eye, maybe Riviera isn’t exactly the most aesthetically pleasing. A big fancy clubhouse and million dollar homes overlooking the property, but with no water on the course, where does the beauty come from? The beauty doesn’t come from ocean holes or island greens, but it lays in architectural genius of George C. Thomas, who designed each hole with subtle and simple delicacy. If you look at the layout in your mind, no two holes on Riviera are the same. Every hole has a different feature, or different layout that separates it from the others.
One of my favorite features of Riviera is that if you stand on each green and look back at the hole, you can’t see one bunker. Each bunker is designed with big protected lips, and designed in such a way that you can’t see them from behind. So, it appears that looking from the green that each fairway is flat. Just another subtle architectural characteristic of Riviera.
Another distinct feature of Riviera is the par 3’s. Each par 3 at Riviera is different and has a distinct feature that makes it different from the others:
The first par 3 is Hole 4, and this is also the hole that Ben Hogan called the “best par 3 in golf.” Hole 4 is a redan hole, and if played correctly, allows your ball to contour along the slope and feed right down to the hole. I’ve seen Hole 4 play 250 yards into the breeze, and I’ve also seen people putt from 50 yards off the green from the fairway. There’s no perfect way to play the hole, which make it both difficult and intriguing.
Hole 6 is the most famous of the par 3’s at Riviera because of the bunker in the middle of the green. Playing just under 200 yards, Hole 6 requires the utmost of accuracy off the tee. Placing the ball on the proper side of the bunker is what makes the hole. Putting the ball on the wrong side means you may have to chip (for pros only) to get it back around the bunker. It’s hard to describe how great the green is shaped. On both sides of the green, there is a backstop behind each side of the bunker, which when used correctly will bring your ball right back to the pin. My favorite memory of this was when my ball stopped 6 inches short of coming back down the hill that leads to 7 tee, down to the hole.
Hole 14 is the next par 3 is on the course and is guarded by big deep bunkers. Hole 14 faces right back at the ocean and, like Hole 4, can play nearly 30 yards longer into the wind. A green that is nearly 30 yards wide, it’s still incredibly difficult to hit and play for the conditions.
Hole 16 is the last par 3 and is the island green, except it’s surrounded by bunkers, not water. The green is certainly one of the smallest greens on the course, and being surrounded by bunkers, makes it difficult to hit and get up and down. Typically playing into the wind like Hole 14, accuracy is a must here.
The par 3’s at Riviera are great, but we can’t forget about Hole 10. One of the shortest par 4’s on Tour, but also can be one of the hardest holes if you’re not careful. At its tightest, the back part of the green is only about 5 paces wide and this can be a major inconvenience for missing the green short right, or missing into one of the deep, steeply banked bunkers. Over the years, we’ve seen this hole make even the best players look silly.
Riviera is one of the few places that have stood the test of time through the years. There are so many memorable holes that are just designed perfectly. It just goes to show that proper architecture trumps length of course any day. After being out on Riviera on a daily basis for a year, I completely understand why pros struggle. Riviera will test every club on in your bag on the tee, and will drive you crazy on the greens. The Riviera greens are incredibly difficult to read. The Poa Annua greens are not “grainy”, but have so much pull from the ocean that putts tend to break ways opposite of what it feels. Not only that, but putts going toward the ocean can be extremely fast. Everything at Riviera pulls toward Hole 6 on the greens and rolls down-hill. Everything back towards the clubhouse is uphill and slower. I’ve always thought that pros would be better off for the week taking a local caddie at Riviera, but with the greens books that are out now, pros think they can do it on their own.
Having gotten to play Riviera, LACC North, and Bel-Air (prior to recent remodel), I truly believe that “Riv” is George C. Thomas’ best work. The course is right in front of you and has so many different options and angles to attack each hole. The layout of the course is second to none, and it boggles my mind each year that Riviera isn’t ranked higher (currently 23rdin Golf Digest rankings). If you’re truly a fan of golf and great architecture, then Riviera is a must play.
I hope to continue my writing with some stories of Riviera over time called “The Caddie Diaries.” I would love to depict my experiences working as a caddie, life in the caddyshack, and my experiences with some Hollywood elites. It was an experience that I will never forget and will always be grateful for.