Appreciating The Riviera Country Club

It was a good sports day yesterday. The Whatever They’re Calling It Now at the Riviera is a favorite tournament of mine, and the Super Bowl is always a big event.

The Riviera’s Tournament doesn’t always attract the biggest names, but I love to watch because I love the course. It looks terrific on television, and the camera shots of the finishing hole, in particular have left a great impression on me. You also can’t beat that clubhouse.

Looks aside, the Riviera attracts my attention because of the strategic thinking it requires. The announcers never tire of pointing out how architect George Thomas created a course with lots of strategic options, and opportunities for risk and reward. And they’re right. Thomas himself once wrote:

The spirit of golf is to dare a hazard, and by negotiating it, reap a reward.

The 315 yard par 4 tenth at Riviera is a great example. It’s drivable by many—if not most—tour players, and an Eagle is a real possibility. But so is a double bogey. Put the ball on the wrong side, and you’re toast. Rocco Mediate said:

“If you miss anywhere to the right, you can’t put the ball anywhere on the green from 50 yards. If you hit it in the right greenside bunker, it’s hard to keep it on the green. Even with a sand wedge in your hand you are going, ‘Man, where do I hit this?’ And if you hit it off line, it’s over. Remember, the green is maybe six to eight steps deep.”

Nicklaus has called this one of the best par fours in golf.

The short par 5 first is another fine example. Starting on a tee that’s 75 feet above the fairway, it seems easy but for an out of bounds left and a gully crossing the fairway. Those design elements are what makes a player think twice before pulling out the driver. As with the fourth, an eagle is possible, but so is a nine.

Both of these punish aggressive play and make recovery difficult. Whereas lesser designers try to protect their courses with additional yardage, Thomas made the space between the ears the most important distance at Riviera.

imageWith a bunker in the middle of the green, the par 3 sixth is as famous as any hole in golf. It’s humorous, but also a great strategic element. Hit to the wrong side, and you’re facing a very difficult putt – or even a chip from the green. In this, it reminds me of the whimsical, but deadly design of the University of Michigan’s Alistair MacKenzie design sixth.

It’s these sort of design elements that makes Riviera such a refreshing change from so many of the PGA Tour venues.

The Riviera Country Club is one of two or three courses on my bucket list. All I need is an invite and I’m there.

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3 thoughts on “Appreciating The Riviera Country Club”

  1. I need a learning lession on this one.

    The par3 sixth has a bunker on the green, can you mark and pick up your ball whether your in the bunker or on the fringe of the bunker?

    The reason for asking is, I thought I saw Justin Rose reach down to mark his ball when he putted to the right side of the bunker trying to catch the slop going left to the pin, but the ball didn’t catch the top and it rolled back to the fringe of the bunker.


  2. One is only allowed to mark and lift a ball when it is on the “putting green”.  A ball partially on the green is considered to be on the green.  If may be that Justin Rose’s ball was partly on the green so he was allowed to mark his ball.  A ball on the fringe or the grassy area adjacent to the bunker can not be lifted except under some set circumstances (i.e. casual water, ball interfering with another’s line, etc…).  Similarly, one can not lift a ball in the bunker.

    This all assumes that the club’s “committee” has not put into play a “local rule” for the bunker on the 6th green.  It is not uncommon for a club to prohibit chipping a ball that is on a green.  This type of local rule can often be found where a green’s odd shape will leave one with no putt to a distant hole location.  Rather than have people create divot holes’s in their attempts to chip the ball, one is allowed to drop the ball off the green in a manner similar to taking relief from ground under repair or when one’s ball ends up on the wrong green(e.g. full relief for stance and swing, one club length from point of nearest relief, no nearer the hole).  There is no penalty for taking this drop and once off the green, one can safely take a divot without incurring the wrath of the superintendant.

  3. I was fortunate enough to be there this past week, and I have to agree with your assessment of the 10th hole.  I think even though it’s only 315 yards, it’s still a difficult hole.

    I also enjoyed watching Chris Couch and Justin Rose try to negotiate the bunker on the 6th green, having hit their tee shots front right when the pin was back left.


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