Designed by George C. Thomas in 1927, Riviera Country Club is one of the greatest classic golf courses in the world. Coming it at #22 in Golf Digest’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses rankings, the course features classic design elements such as the boomerang green on the first hole, the Redan fourth hole, the Biaritzz type green at the fifth, and a hog’s back fairway on the seventh. In addition to these classic design elements, Thomas provides a variety of different strategy options throughout the course with split fairways at the eighth and strategically placed bunkers and revenues that make you have to think your way around the golf course in order to score effectively. Riviera has hosted the LA Open on the PGA Tour every year since 1973, making it the longest running professional golf tournament venue.
We arrived at The Riv’ around 8:45 a.m. last Friday for our 10:15 tee time and were immediately impressed with the beauty of the clubhouse as we drove in and dropped off our golf clubs. We proceeded to the locker room and then to the range to warm up. The views of the course from the clubhouse are breathtaking. As you probably have seen on TV, the clubhouse is elevated from the rest of the course making for unbelievable views from around the clubhouse. The course was in perfect shape due to the fact that they are gearing up for the Northern Trust Open next week and as you’ll see, the grandstands were already up.
On the first tee, the starter announced our names as we teed off, which made for a very special and unique way to start the round. Members and employees stopped to watch and gave a friendly golf clap after our names were announced – does it get any better than that?
There is no doubt that in order to score well, you have to really be thinking your way around the course. Luckily, I had the help of a veteran Riv’ caddy by the name of “Hammer” who knew the course very well and had some local knowledge to share with me. I played decent but was certainly challenged by the championship layout that George Thomas created. After playing Los Angeles Country Club in 2005, I felt as though it had a very similar feel to it, but did not possess as much championship golf flare as Riviera did. We had such a great host that knew a lot about the golf course and history of the club making for a one of a kind, first-class experience.
The opening hole is a short par 5 and is a great hole to start on because it gives you a chance to make a good score early on and jump start your round. My favorite holes were 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 17, and 18. I’ll highlight these holes and provide some pictures and a description.
The 4th hole is a redan style par three that slopes right to left which played about 230 yards. Any shot a little right of the green rolls right onto the putting surface that slops right to left away from you, making it difficult to hit the green on the fly. Due to the fact that I was grinding pretty hard to start the round, I failed to capture a picture.
The 6th hole is the par three that features a bunker in the center of the green. I’ve always seen it on TV, and didn’t realize how cool of a green it is with drastic undulation from back to front making the bank shot effective if you hit it long. The pin was in the back left which was difficult to get to as its well guarded by a back left pot bunker as well as the bunker in the center of the green. I hit it short right and nearly made par, despite having a very difficult chip.
The par four 7th hole swings from left to right with bunkers down the left side and has a very small, well protected green. A good drive sets up a short approach and a chance at making birdie, but as you can see, a tee shot down the right side can easily roll into the hazard that closely lines the fairway. This is a great short par four, and probably my favorite of all the holes.
The 9th hole is known by most as being the home of “Hogan’s Alley.” This hole is very straightforward but can become difficult if you don’t avoid the deep fairway bunkers off the tee. The green is well protected and requires a precise second shot to have a chance at birdie. I missed the green right after a great drive which put me way out of position for the back left hole location. The view of the clubhouse from the tee is unbelievable, making it one of the signature holes at Riviera.
The 10th hole is a short drivable par four that makes you think about your options before bombing it at the green. Anything that goes right makes it very hard to get on the green in regulation because it is lined with bunkers and is a bad angle into the green that is well protected on the right side and slopes away from you. A shot up the left side of the fairway makes for an easy approach and a good chance at birdie. George Thomas is at his best here presenting a hole with many different options making it difficult for all types of golfers. For me, I had to take a go at the green after traveling all the way from Pennsylvania and I actually ended up on the 11th tee box which was a great angle to come in from and I was able to put it to about ten feet on my approach. I really enjoyed playing this hole and seeing how a bad tee shot will really make it hard to make a par on the hole. I also learned that this is Jack Nicklaus’ favorite hole.
The par four 13th hole is a very difficult dogleg left. It is a pretty long hole which makes for a challenging approach shot into a green that slopes away from you. I hit a great drive down the right side of the fairway and was left with about 190 yards into a back right pin position. Any shot coming in on the right side has a chance to roll back to the pin, but my shot came up short making for a long putt to the back of the green. This hole puts a premium on the drive (as you can see above) because the right side is tree lined and the left is hazard. The stretch of holes 12-15 were a very tough stretch of championship holes. If you’re leading heading into the back 9 on Sunday, no lead is safe because these holes are a challenge.
The seventeenth hole is a long, straightforward par 5 that goes uphill toward the clubhouse. I found this to be a such a great hole because it was right in front of you but yet still demands three great shots if you want a chance at birdie. The green is situated at the top of the hill in a way that makes the approach shot difficult. I’d imagine a back right pin would be a good Sunday pin because it would be heavily guarded by the right green-side bunker.
The famous 18th hole is very well known. It is a long par four with a blind uphill tee shot with a tree line down the right side. Anything down the right side puts you at risk of being blocked out from having a clear approach. I can proudly say that I had 150 yards in and made par, capping off an unbelievable experience at one of the world’s greatest golf courses. Pictures of my approach shot can be found on the Riviera Country Club Photo Gallery Page.
There is no wonder why Riviera Country Club is so highly regarded by professional golfers and is one their favorite venues to play. The location is great, the clubhouse is luxurious and the golf course is challenging and very fun to play. The views of the surrounding houses on the hillside above the golf course are immaculate, making it a natural amphitheater for tournament golf.