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 also 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 remodeling programs 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.
Riviera is a special place. It starts off with the setting: a golf course fit into a valley which eliminates visual and audible distractions. You’ll occasionally hear hammering or weed whacking as workers build and maintain the $15M+ houses on the rim, but primarily you’re treated to the calls of the local parakeet population. The 284 days of sunshine, most of them warm, add an additional level of enjoyment, and then the aesthetic of the towering eucalyptus and sycamore trees, whose trunks contrast with the kikuya fairways and poa greens provide a cohesive and beautiful environment. Every time I walk past the first tee at Riviera, soon after arriving and on my way to the driving range, I take a deep breath of that fresh Riviera air as I pause to recognize the gratitude I feel for having the opportunity to experience such a treat.
The true treat, of course, is the course itself. A masterpiece. As many previous reviewers have stated, there are no weak holes. Each hole offers multiple options of approach, requiring strategic analysis and self awareness if one wants to score well. The course is highly playable as there are few locations where a player can lose his ball, but penalties abound if the player is out of position and makes either a poor decision or effort for the recovery shot. Personally, I appreciate the kikuya, with its unmatched (incredible) fairway lies and tough-to-predict (not quite unpredictable) influence on short game shots. I think the greens are exceptional, but punishing. It is almost impossible to die a putt into the hole at Riv as the cups are always set just the tiniest bit above the green surface. Many a putt of mine has been rejected at the rim because I did not imbue enough speed. The greens require confident, uninhibited putts, if the intention is not to lag.
The best compliment I can offer Riviera is that it’s the most enjoyable, best designed obstacle course I’ve experienced in golf. Every tee box has the player consider ‘what will I do here?’ If you succeed with your intended approach, the sense of accomplishment is significant. There are few places in golf that can match the fulfillment one feels when playing well at Riv, or the desire to return, whether having scored well or not.
Riviera is unique in so many ways, but the kukuya grass is what allows the course to stand out so much among its other top courses in the world. There is so much to like about the course, starting with the incredible green complexes. The shaved edges and strategic slopes make chip shots around the green very creative but extremely challenging. The course length or width doesn't particularly stand out, but it still finds a way to force you to commit and hopefully execute every shot in your bag. Both Par 3's on the front nine are extremely cool, the 6th being my favorite hole on the course. The other great holes on this course are extremely challenging but vary in length. Where Riviera tests you best is the long approach shots requiring a long iron, wood, or driver, and Holes #1, #10, #12, and #18 are all great examples. While many believe the stickiness of the grass takes away from the course, I believe it creates a level of patience and thought that add to the challenge of figuring out the subtle but sloped greens.
It's an interesting comment on the stickiness, Owen. Does it complicate your argument at all to point out that George Thomas designed it with bentgrass in mind (and indeed, its original turf was bent)? This isn't intended to be a trap question, just starting a conversation.
A masterful design, extremely long, somewhat difficult and no matter how many times played, it's just as challenging as the first time. Very few courses can match the quality of Riviera.
I was never excited to see Riviera on TV. Then I played it. Now I watch every shot every year. Surprisingly I get sick every year on a Thurs/Fri in February. Who knew that was a thing?
To start your day, the Starter announces you on the first tee regardless of whether there is anybody more than your foursome around. Heart rate accelerates. Don't top it into the hill. While every par 3 is fantastic, as expected the 6th hole is all world. I have had the pleasure of having to putt around the bunker (I wasn't allowed to chip while on the green). I had the pleasure of letting Johnny Mathis play through on the same hole (my mother was giddy about that). He said it was the best golf shot he ever hit. I am one of 6 people who got to see that.
Yes, the 10th is all world. 11 through 15 can eat your lunch. 18 is tougher than it looks. At the end of the day you will have loved the experience regardless of the price tag. When you die nobody will remember what you paid to play it.
It is one of the three greatest golf experiences I have had in my golfing life.
After over 3 weeks on the road , including a fairly demanding trek in Alaska, we were weary to the bone when we landed at Riviera on Sunday night. Michael R. had again thought ahead and booked us in to stay at Riviera , which is always a pleasure...
We again scored the Ben Hogan room (217) overlooking the first hole, and all was well with the world! The next morning I had a really strange start to the day
First I found that Riviera sort of shuts down in many respects on Mondays, and no breakfast was available. Damn!
And my back, which had been getting increasingly sore in days prior, decided this morning that turning just wasn't an option- so golf was going to be a challenge...
Michael had set us up to play with Dick Z, Chairman of the Greens Committee at Riviera, and font of all knowledge regarding the history of the course. He was delightful company, and we basically talked golf architecture for four hours.
Dick told me how George Thomas liked to start his courses with back to back par 5's, and that Riviera had later made the 2nd into a long 4, which they have been making longer to cater for the professionals .
After cruising down the first hole, I found the green-side kikuyu on hole 2 and made a meal of it! I took a couple of flop shots too many to move the small distance required to the green surface.
The greens were perfect. Although they are poa annua, they are remarkably true and quick.
On hole 3, I again found the kike, and things became farcical when the caddie lost my sand wedge! Given that I had opted to travel with less than a full set, it became quite a challenge to flop the ball out of the kike, or play a delicate bunker shot with a pitching wedge. Seve I ain't!
Dick explained that when George Thomas originally designed Riviera that the course was hard'n'fast- and had a reputation for being so. However the polo club next door in the valley brought in kikuyu, and it gradually spread from next door all over the course. I must say that although I am not a great fan of kike, the better player should be able to adapt.. And it is kinda fun to play the short game with all the different types of shots required
Riviera has gained a reputation of being one of the better courses in the world. It is an outstanding example of 'golden age' golf architecture with a number of quite unique holes- some which are particularly strategic.
Each year the LA Open is held at Riviera, but it sounds like it is unlikely to host a major again anytime soon. It seems the ever growing demand for corporate space, and parking etc has outgrown this wonderful site, near Hollywood in LA. But it certainly is a super championship course.
The only US Open held there (in 1948) was won by Ben Hogan, and the last major- the 1995 US PGA- was won by another great ball striker- Steve Elkington.
The course has undergone some change in recent decades. I particularly liked the restoration work out the back of the course, bringing the water course into play and bringing decision making to the fore.
Riviera is known to have some classic holes- the short par 4 10th is as good as it gets strategically, and the par 3 6th with the bunker in the middle of the green is also well known.
But there are no weak holes, and I like both the routing and the tempo of the course- the way the round ebbs and flows, and moves between hard par 4's and potential birdie holes
Riviera is a classic course and one any serious student of the game should aspire to take in. If you do get the chance to play Riviera take all of your wedges, practice your flop shot, and don't turn up on Monday. You won't get breakfast, and some holes will be out of play. Holes 6 and 10 have alternate greens which are played on Mondays...
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
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