1250 Capri Drive,
California (CA) 90272,
- +1 310 454 6591
2 miles NW of Santa Monica
Members and their guests only
The Riviera Country Club is undoubtedly an important course, not just because of its magnetic appeal to many famous members including Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, and Gregory Peck but because this is a masterpiece in architectural design.
George C. Thomas Jr. designed Riviera, or should we say manufactured Riviera. When the course opened for play in 1926, the construction bill was almost $250,000 and this was one of the first courses where literally the earth moved in mysterious ways. Thomas was perhaps the most underrated architect of his time and much of his work has been lost through the perennial remodelling programmes and the same is true to a greater extent here at Riviera. Fortunately some holes do still play in the strategic spirit that Thomas intended where he who dares and wins will be rewarded.
Riviera was one of Ben Hogan’s favourite courses and it’s sometimes referred to as “Hogan’s Alley”. Perhaps so named because Hogan took the tight but more rewarding driving line here at Riviera, just as he did on the 5th hole at Carnoustie during the 1953 Open. We suspect it may be because is was here that Hogan set his Open record of 276 or perhaps it was because he made his historic comeback at Riviera after his horrific car crash in 1950. Does anybody know?
Hogan declared that Riviera's one-shot 4th Redan is "The greatest Par 3 hole in America" and his statement is commemorated by a plaque stating: "In 1987, the 4th hole at Riviera Country Club was chosen by Mr. Hogan as the site for filming his club company's commercials. It was the only time his golf swing was ever seen in the Hogan commercials."
The Los Angeles Open was first played at Riviera Country Club in 1929, but the event began a long-term relationship with the club in 1973. Since 1973, The LA Open has been played here every year except 1983 and 1988 when Riviera played host to the PGA Championship and the U.S. Senior Open respectively. Jack Nicklaus pocketed his first pay packet here at Riviera in the 1962 LA Open. His 50th place banked him a modest $33 but the Riviera Country Club remained one of the few PGA Tour courses where the Golden Bear never claimed a victory.
There are few layouts with no weaknesses, but Riviera might be one. It’s undoubtedly a special course that's routed across less than ideal terrain. We therefore doff our caps to Mr Thomas.
Playing Riviera was a grail experience for me. I had been itching to play here forever but had not been out to LA with enough time to ever try and schedule it. Standing on the first tee, the whole wait and effort was worth it. Few tee boxes are setup to make you feel like a pro about to hit the first tee of a tournament like this, especially as the starter announces your name on the just like you would see on television. The first hole is a short par 5 that is in no way easy, but makes you feel confident as you can definitely reach the green in two with a good drive. The famous 4th hole is a wonderful Redan, guarded by a large bunker that forces you to use the slope of the green to work the ball towards the hole. I could probably drone on about how amazing every single hole on this course is as there is not a mistake among the 18 but will stick to the other two most notables, 10 and 18. The 10th is one of the most amazing risk reward short par 4's I've ever played. Reachable with a driver but also very well protected, it truly forces you to think about strategy and whether you are playing for eagle or looking to avoid an 8 (it's almost impossible to be on in regulation if you end up in any of the many bunkers around the green). The 18th is a really good representation of the course as a whole. It's a difficult hole that requires players to be able to execute on an exact strategy. There is no logical place to miss your 2nd shot as both the left and the right bring in different kinds of danger. If you are a golf history buff, make sure to visit the locker room area that has all the photos of the past tournament champions. It just adds to the mystique and feeling that you walked off one of the most hallowed courses stepping in the same places that all of the greats of the game have stepped.
This is a marvellous course I was fortunate enough to play As a guest on a number of occasions whilst working in LA. Challenging, in exquisite condition, perhaps somewhat “corporate”, it is a US country club not to be missed, and of course a championship course of major importance. In my view eclipsed as a course and club by LA country club North.
What do you mean by ‘corporate?’ And why do you think it’s deserving of 5 instead of 6 balls?
It would simply be redundant on my part to repeat what others have said about this magnificent course in the greater LA area. Set in a canyon the layout is marvelously routed -- a constant change of strategic calculations need to be made. The roster of events and the champions crowned at Riviera over the many years is a testament to the genius of architect George C. Thomas, Jr.
The variety of green sites is truly wondrous. Players need to get to certain positions at all times in order to maximize their scoring opportunities. Being out of position at Riviera will certainly put additional pressure on players. A classic case study is the all-world short par-4 10th. Arguably, there is no finer short par-4 in all the game.
The collection of the par-3's is no less stellar. Each asks for different shotmaking elements from the player.
If I had to cite a slight weakness it's the collective nature of the par-5 holes. They are good -- but not equal to what you see with the other holes at the course.
My only personal pet peeve with the overall course is the involvement of kikuyu grass found there. The grass is literally "sticky" and it does have an impact on the ground game dimension. Over the years Riviera has had issues with the turf quality of the greens but that seems to be an issue more and more in the past than in current times.
This year the US Amateur will come to the storied layout and it's great to see the best of amateur golf will test themselves on the Thomas design.
Riviera last hosted a major when serving as site for the 1995 PGA Championship. The one and only time the US Open was played there was in 1948 when Ben Hogan claimed the title. Each year the PGA Tour does play there and it's clearly a venue both the players relish and the television viewers cannot wait to see again.
Interesting little fact few might realize when Riviera hosted the '48 Open, Babe Didrikson Zaharias because the first women to attempt to qualify for the event, but her application was rejected by the USGA. The organization stated the championship was intended to be open to men only. That policy has since been changed and Michelle Wie became the first, and, thus far, only women to get to the sectional qualifying stage when she did so in 2006 at Canoe Brook CC in Summit, NJ.
Anyone who relishes architectural grandeur needs to have Riviera on their bucket list. The time spent there will long be remembered.
by M. James Ward
Many people are familiar with Riviera from the PGA Tour’s annual stop here. Admittedly there is always something special about playing a course for the first time that you have seen on TV many times. That anticipation is all the greater when that course happens to also have some of the world’s best architecture.
Riviera is most certainly a special place, from its location in the middle of Beverely Hills and Santa Monica Pier to its iconic first tee shot right in the front of the club house. Indeed the first tee shot is a doozy. The tee is highly elevated and lends itself to going for the biggest swing of your life. A solid drive will afford a go at this green in two. The deep front bunker makes for an all too easy target and as I learned a very challenging up and down.
On the second hole, you better hope to be warmed up because both the drive and the approach to the elevated and well guarded green are exacting. The gentle handshake is a thing of the past.
What follows is a wonderfully challenging and near perfectly routed course utilizing all available natural features to perfection. Riviera requires every bit of your “A” game. The ability to shape drives is also very helpful in setting up the best angles of approach to many of the 2 shot holes.
The iconic par 3 6th hole with the bunker in the middle of the green felt different than I initially expected. We played to a right pin position and it felt like the hole basically had a left and right green. Nonetheless a very interesting feature that also left me wondering how much impact sand splash has on the green over time.
The 10th is one of the most (in) famous short par 4’s in the world. I played it totally wrong and left myself with a 40 yard shot from right in front of the green with the flag right in front me. For those that don’t know this hole it may have one of the smallest and most narrow greens on the PGA Tour. I guess from the angle I was coming in it may have been 10 paces wide with a ridge in front and sloping away from me. One of the best 60 degree wedges of my life allowed me a rare shot at birdie from this out of position drive, don’t try this at home or in a medal round as it could of just as easily been a 6 or 7 instead of a 3. Luckily the scorecard doesn’t show foolishness except in high numbers.
The back 9 is every bit as strong as the front and finishing with a mighty blow in the dogleg right, uphill and long par 4. A strong drive on this hole leaves a hybrid or long iron approach for all but the longest hitters. The green is two tiered and quite long making judging the distance correctly one of the toughest challenges.
Riviera is indeed a great experience and one hardly needs to recommend it. Still jump at any chance to play, it would be worth a long flight for the opportunity. It’s that good.
The first tee at Riviera is memorable, a 503-yard par five that plays from an elevation of about 100 feet down into Santa Monica Canyon below. The course is defined on both sides by the canyon and The Most Expensive Real Estate in The World. The first tee gives a hint that Riviera will be much more about strategy than anything else. The tee box lines you up away from the line of play so you have to aim left to hit the straight fairway. Get used to this here, as there are many little deceptions that make Riviera a great course that forces you to think your way around it.
During my second time around the course, three holes in particular struck me as truly one-of-a-kind, and among the best in the world. The first among them is the 419-yard par four fifth; the seventh and the tenth are the two others. The fifth hole is a tree lined dog-leg left where a tee shot should favor the right side to give a better view of the green, which is located down on a lower tier of land than the fairway. The challenge on the seventh, similar to another great hole with a ravine, the eleventh at Shoreacres, is to decide how aggressive you want to be. Shots played to the left are safer, but leave you further from the green. Shots played aggressively and further to the right will be rewarded with a shorter shot to the green.
I won't belabor the virtues of the tenth hole since most people are probably familiar with it from the annual coverage the hole receives when the PGA tour plays at Riviera. It may be the best example of how a hole does not have to be long to be great. It is a par four of 315 yards. It is visually intimidating, with great risk/reward options and a small and treacherous green that all add up to make it a standout. When you stand on the tee, it looks like there is no room to hit the ball on the left. However, the reality is that there is plenty of room on the left side, which only becomes obvious when you walk toward the green.
Riviera is made even more interesting by virtue of the majestic houses sitting on the commanding promontory above the course, with views of the Pacific Ocean. Scold me for being shallow and easily impressed, but it is pretty cool.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
My playing partner and I came around the corner to Number 6, the most famous hole on the course. It’s a par 3 of 142 yards with a sand bunker right in the middle of the green – that’s right, in the middle of the green! Pros have been known to chip over the trap when necessary, but the sign by the green makes clear that this is not acceptable. I made bogey here, landing my tee shot on the wrong side of the sand trap and 3-putting around the trap. Oh well! As we left the green, my playing partner pointed to a house high above the 6th green. “That’s where I live.”
Riviera is not a club of celebrities like Bel-Air, but there are a few. O.J. was a member until his trial. And there’s the story about Dean Martin and two of his pals getting ready to tee off when Buddy Hackett spotted them and hurried over to join them. “Sorry, Buddy,” Dean said, “We already have a full threesome.” Larry Berle.
Captain George Thomas designed Riviera Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club (North) and Bel-Air Country Club within a few years of each other and practically all within a 5 mile radius. Among the many aspects that separate “The Riv” from the rest of the pack is the mind-blowing, yet impressive, growth of kikuyu grass throughout the property. When the country club and course opened in 1926, it was known as the Los Angeles Athletic Club Golf Course. Alister MacKenzie and William Bell helped Thomas in the design and planning of the course. They were in charge of assembling a labour force to build the course from scratch in the Santa Monica Canyon. The course has been modified a few times, most notably in 1992 when Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore redesigned the bunkers to look as they did when the course opened. Although the course has 3 alternate greens in play (6th, 10th & 16th) and an unusual aeration schedule (they punch much later in the year in order to have the greens perfect for when the PGA Tour arrives in February), I still think that The Riv is the most enjoyable and impressive layout in the Los Angeles area. The routing is wonderful and the positioning of the bunkers frame the visuals so well. The stunning par four 9th hole bringing you back towards the magnificent clubhouse is always my favourite hole and represents the brilliance of Thomas’ imagination. All of the holes at The Riv has a unique story to them, each so well designed and fitting perfectly into the flow of the landscape. The par four 10th hole may well be amongst the most famous on earth for its devilishly small putting surface running away from the approaching play. The club is moving towards a smaller membership, facilitated by tougher membership criteria and higher initiation fees ($250k). The conditioning is world class, as is expected from a facility of this nature. Watch out for the Hollywood celebrities and famous sports stars, this is where they play golf.