1250 Capri Drive,
California (CA) 90272,
- +1 310 454 6591
2 miles NW of Santa Monica
Members and their guests only
The 18-hole layout at 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 it 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.
Although the trip to California was confirmed way in advance, getting here was not confirmed until very close to the date what at first step made me almost lose my faith for it to happen but if finally did again due to extreme good luck. And almost in the end of the trip, the day before flying home, I was able to enjoy a morning in one of USA’s very best experiences and demanding golf courses. It is well know it is one of Ben Hogan’s favorite places and in one of 3 putting greens around the Club House you can see a very nice statue of him as well as pictures and memorabilia inside the Club House.
The morning started with a walk inside Club House, a mandatory stop at the Pro Shop and then breakfast with very kind member Charlie who started to share some of the stories of the Club and his over 20yrs of Membership. Warm up was short at the putting green as after 13 consecutive days of golf I didn’t want to waste energy on what was going to be another very warm day in LA.
I was coming from the Pebble Area (mostly Rye and Poa) and LACC (Bermuda) so getting used to Kikuyu fairways and especially rough was not easy. It is a very different and tough animal, if you are with a bad lie it is usually a lay up only. After the presentation on the tee (which is very cool I have to say), I fired an ugly push to the right and the round began.
It is a course we see every year on TV so I will try to explain the feel on some of the shots. 1st hole plays the easiest on the PGA Tour but you need to get the fairway which is not tough, but as I missed the chances of the “mandatory” birdie disappeared. 2nd is a monster up the hill, from a good lie off the kikuyu rough I could not get home in 2 and this is mainly by the elevation and toughness of the shot. Riviera and LACC have 2 very pieces of land and share the same opening pattern: easy 5, very tough 4, mid-range 4 and a very tough par 3 as starters.
4th hole is the second beast of the Course, we were let through on that hole so had little time to analyze it but for us played 225yds and there are 20-30 more available for the Pros.
6th and the center bunker is quite cool, the TV doesn’t show the severe slope of the green from left to right. We played a short right pin and was lucky to hit a good shot, but we putted from the left side and it is interesting how many alternatives the green has. Charlie shared with me that firstly the bunker was not there but it was added after the hole was pointed as the most boring on the Course.
There is a plan to bring back water to the ditch on the right of 7th which comes in play in many more holes but this one and 8th will be the ones more affected as the tee shot will turn to be a lot more tight, today you can miss there and found a very playable lie to the green.
9th has a very cool view of the hole and Club House, it is a very sloped green and with a short right pin played extremely demanding for the approach shot.
10th … I was really looking forward to it and was 100% certain of using the Driver, not because it is the best choice but my philosophy is “When will I be back here?” … playing into the wind made it a little bit longer and my very decent tee shot ended 30yd from the pin on the right rough … absolutely NO CHANCE!!! I made a disappointing 6, but truly it could have only been a 5. It is that tough and the green is very small and sloped, landing spots are very small to it.
14th has a feel to be shorter due to the very wide green, huge bunkers and trees on the back usually not seen on the Genesis Open due to stands. It is a good part of an excellent set of one shooters.
15th plays longer than it shows as the huge lip of the right cross bunker makes it feel you can carry it but no chance for most of us.
18th with the natural tribune like Olympic is an nice final touch on a green with no bunkers which slopes back to front but looks like flat.
Members here are very proud of their course and are trying to get a Major Event which I feel is very possible as for Golf Course standards and they can use Tennis Club (which is a separate entity) for Hospitality and Tents.
My final stand is this one will play tough for a guy like me playing it once but with a couple of rounds you will get some secrets to avoid bad numbers and it is quite scorable with almost no chances of lost balls. If you have the chance go get video of 1995 PGA championship and see how different it plays from February in look and feel. Riviera you have my heart and 10th this is not over, there will be a rematch!
I arrived at Riviera slightly before my host. Standing on the putting green at the top of the hill in front of the clubhouse, the morning sun illuminated the course spectacularly. I was so engrossed in the view I didn’t hear my host shouting on me as he arrived!
Riviera is a special place. From the first tee, to the 6th green with the bunker on it, the split fairway on 8, to the majestic short 10th and the walk up 18, there is moment after moment of sheer brilliance.
Other reviewers have commented on how there is not a weak hole on the course and I completely agree. There is a great mix in hole lengths and shapes. I particularly liked how all the par 3s are very different.
Favourite hole for me was the 8th. Deciding what fairway to hit, then having an approach shot into a slightly elevated green that slopes off viciously to the front and right was very cool.
It’s quite interesting that despite being somewhat of a local lad, Tiger never won here. According to my host and caddy, he could never get to grips with the greens. Neither could I with putt after putt burning the edges!
I absolutely loved my day at Riv and can’t wait to return some day
Often times when I play a golf course, I base my opinion off of the entire experience and not so much of the golf course. In the case with Riviera, both were excellent.
What I love about Riviera is the routing and how Thomas & Bell paid so many attention to the prevailing winds when laying out the holes. Both nines extend all the way across the property, with the front nine working its way counter-clockwise and the back nine clockwise.
Every par 5 plays uphill and with the prevailing wind, while the longer par 4's all play downhill and into the prevailing wind. And the beauty of this is... there is a 9-hole stretch (#2 to #10) without a par 5 yet you hardly realize it because of the greatness of the routing.
The 1st & 2nd hole pair so well together as both essentially play as half par holes, often seeing a birdie-bogey start to a round.
Holes 3, 4, 5, and 6 head straight down property to the lowest part of the golf course at 6 green with the famous bunker in the middle of it. Basically the bunker creates four different greens.
The 7th & 8th head back up property and feature the barranca as a non-penalizing natural hazard. The 7th hole features a hogback fairway that pretty much eliminates any sort of depth perception from the tee as you're completely unaware of how much fairway beyond the hogback there is.
The barranca on the 8th splits the fairway, with the wider option being left, but the flatter option being right. (I thankfully hit it right in the middle of the barranca).
The most famous hole on the property is clearly the 10th hole and typical for TV viewership, you just don't realize how canted the green is until you're staring it down from 40 yards away. The logical shot would be to hit your ball in the left rough for the best approach angle, but when is purposely missing the fairway logical? Only at Riv...
The 11th & 12th holes bring back the barranca that forces you to lay up if you miss the fairway. The twelveth in particular, with the barranca running just in front of the green, and a menacing bunker guarding the front, and a turtle shell, might be the most difficult hole on property.
Lastly, the 18th hole for a first timer is impossible to figure out. Without any advice, the golfer would have no indication what the line is and likely would end up in a play that warrants a lay up to the green.
The most confounding part of Riviera is the Kikuyu grass. It's not super long, but it's spongy, and acts like velcro. This makes it increasingly difficult to run shots up to the green or figure out how to approach the short game shots around the green.
My playing partner said the course plays easiest at tournament time in February. Considering the tournament usually yields a winner in the low teens under par, it's enough to say that this golf course would be a great option for a future US Open or PGA Championship played later in the calendar year.
The great courses of the world have one thing in common: all of the holes are memorable even if some of them are lesser or perhaps not as distinctive. At Riviera, while there are a few “weaker” holes it is only because so many of the other holes reach exalted heights. But even these weaker holes are memorable including the opening hole which many feel to be an easiest hole on the course as a shorter par 5. Yet it is certainly one of the more distinctive holes on the course due to the elevation change from the first tee to the fairway. Perhaps the other weaker hole on the course is the second of the three par 5’s. The eleventh has one of the easier greens on the course although from the back tee this tree-lined hole with a crossing barranca after the tee shot.
Other than the tee shot from the first tee and the raised fairway and uphill green on the eighteenth, the course sits on flat ground at the bottom of a large canyon overlooked on three sides by large homes and the large clubhouse. This creates a sense of serenity as one hears nearly no noise other than from other golfers or the occasional lawn maintenance worker. The quiet, relaxing atmosphere certainly adds to the reputation of the club.
While there are many outstanding holes at Riviera, I very much liked the collection of par 3’s, among the best set in the world on a golf course. All of them are distinctive and reach heights that few other courses can reach. In the USA, they certainly are among the top twenty.
The routing by George Thomas wonderfully incorporates the barranca thoughout the course, coming into play on seven holes. In addition, the use of trees nearer the greens, particularly on the back nine adds to the strategy of the course.
The green surfaces are very good here. Other than the fourth hole, a par 3 redan, none of the greens have overly done contours. Instead, they have very good use of smaller rises and fall-offs, that when combined with the green speed, can lead to some very quick putts as well as putts that break quite a bit more than the eye often ascertains. The greens incorporate sometimes smaller and larger-sized mounds. Due to the sharp edges of the fall-offs of the greens, my advice for one’s approach shots no matter the position of the cup is to always go for the middle of the green and rely on one’s putter.
The green surrounds are not overly done because of the kikuyu grass which creates stickier lies as well as more difficult recovery shots.
The bunkering is superb. This visit was my second to Riviera and I found myself in a few of the bunkers whereas in my first visit I remember only landing in one. As I walked the course a second time, I decided to focus on the bunker placement as well as their depth, size and shape. Perhaps Riviera updated the bunkers since my first visit on August 1, 2004, but in particular I did not adequately recall the depth of many of them. There is also a very good use of longer fairway bunkers on several holes because the barranca acts as deep, waste bunker. The shorter par 3’s all feature a cluster of bunkers that seem to surround the greens even if they do not always do so.
In essence I do not know what is the best feature of Riviera as it is impossible to pick one. It could be the setting, the incorporation of trees and barrancas, the green surfaces or the bunkering. But it could also be the several “among the best in the world” holes that I will try to describe.
1. A short par 5 of just over 500 yards playing sharply downhill with a wide barranca crossing the fairway about 200 yards from the green. The fairway is wide with more trees down the right side. There are two bunkers on the hole, one set off to the left side about 70 yards from the green and then a center front bunker that eats into the front of the green. The green has a raised back middle and is fairly large despite that front middle bunker.
2. Built originally as a short par 5, this hole is one of the more difficult ones on the front nine due to its length at 471 yards into a raised green. The hole is tree lined on both sides as well as having the driving range off its left side. The barranca should be easily carried with the tee shot. There is a bunker on the right about 100 yards from the green while the green itself has three surrounding bunkers, the first short of the green on the left corner, a smaller one on the right corner and a large one on the left middle. The green is raised in its middle with a sharp slope towards the front of the first half.
3. I liked the third hole, a medium length par 4 with a central bunker that needs to be carried from the tee. Farther up is another bunker on the left about 10 yards from the tee. The green is angled to the right with a bunker on the right that can become a fronting bunker. The green is filled with slope as well as subtle movement.
4. The long par 3 of 236 yards dares one to play as far right as possible, but not too far right to miss the slope that will propel a ball onto the green given the slope to the left. There is a bunker well short on the right that serves as a aim point inside of it while the green has one of the larger bunkers on the course fronting it. While Ben Hogan called it the finest par 3 in the USA, I would not agree but I would say it is one of the best golf holes in the world.
5. I suppose some will say this is the third hole on the course with elevation change as it goes up from the tee then down a bit to the green but I do not consider it to be enough of a rise. The most interesting feature of the hole is the tall mound off the right side about 50 yards from the green. The hole has only one bunker on the front left corner of the green which also features fall-offs of the back and left. It has a wonderfully contoured green which some might say has a second tier but I saw only as a slightly raised mound.
6. This par 3 is famous for the inner bunker on the green. This bunker divides the holes into potentially four sections depending on cup location and tee shot result. The “U” shaped bunker fronting the green adds to the difficulty. Another bunker is off the left middle but the one bunker to avoid is the back central bunker. You do not want to over-club here nor under-club here. The back half of the green is only a second tier so one can use that tier as a backstop to a front cup location. It is a brilliant hole.
7. As much as I liked four and six, my favorite hole on the front nine is the seventh, a mid-length par 4 with the barranca going down the entirety of the right side. There is a long bunker down the left side of perhaps 60 yards in length, very much in play for hitters of all length from the tee. A central bunker comes next about 60 yards from the green followed by a long bunker on the left side of the green. The green is peanut shaped to the left. This is the first of several holes where a single tree is near the green blocking shots this time from the right side of the fairway.
8. Most people might call out the eight as one of the more memorable and best holes on the front nine. This mid-length par 4 has a wide central barranca dividing the fairway in half. The right side is narrower and for longer hitters they might run through it. Complicating a decision to go down the right side is a long bunker off the right side. As bad as it often is to land in the barranca due to the possibility of not even finding one’s ball or being in tall, wire-like grass, there is a long thin bunker going throughout the length of the barranca. For those choosing the left side of the fairway, there is a bunker off the left for the longer hitters. The green itself has no bunkers. I assumed Mr. Thomas thought if one could get to the green after all that is presented from the tee or later shots, then one should either be rewarded or now longer punished. The green is slightly raised with edges of this green leading to fall-offs. One should always hit to the middle.
9. Probably the most under-rated hole on the course, the ninth plays to an uphill green. This hole is superbly bunkered with a first early bunker on the right and a second one about 255 yards from the back tee to the left. From the tee this presents a narrow opening for most players to get between these bunkers. As you near the green there are four fronting bunkers, with the first on the left about 40 yards from the green. Mr. Thomas uses double bunkers on the right side. The green is thinner as it is angled to the left with a final bunker on the left front. This is a green with two tiers. It is an excellent hole leading to the question, what is the best hole on the front nine? It is the second, the fourth, the sixth, the seventh, eighth, or ninth?
10. Nearly everyone in golf has heard golf architect writers and fans write about the tenth being the best short par 4 in the world, certainly in the USA. The hole plays from a slightly raised tee over perhaps the largest bunker on the course, even if the right side is actually a separate center-line bunker. Nearer the green is another central bunker. The hole has a final bunker on the right about 40 yards short of the green. Off to the left of the green is a collection of trees that can present problems. The green is quite thin or shallow depending on one’s angle coming in. It has three bunkers that basically encircle all but the left side of the green. The green slants to the rear/left side with a slope from the left to the right of the green. This hole is only 315 yards from the back tee. When presented with a par 4 of this length one is often thinking birdie or certain par. Yet on the tenth, there are a lot of double bogies. It is a brilliant golf hole.
11. The second par 5 plays to a barranca crossing diagonally right to left with left being the longer carry. There is only a single bunker on the front right of the green which has higher back half. This is likely considered one of the weaker holes on the course along with the first and third even if the back tees stretch to 583 yards and it having scattered trees on both sides of the fairway.
12. From here to the finish, the course gets stronger and stronger. The twelfth has trees, bushes and out-of-bounds down the left side. For the first time, the barranca is near the green, angling diagonally right to left. Another single tree looms over the left side of the green. The green has a false front due to the stickiness of the grass as well as a rise in the middle. There is a front right corner bunker. It is a very good golf hole.
13. As good as the twelfth is, the thirteenth is better. This is the rare dogleg on the course, moving to the left. The barranca goes down the left side but should not be in play other than at the point where it returns to the green. Off the tee, a long line of trees go down both sides of the fairway before they disappear off the left. I suppose the longest hitters can carry all of these trees down the left side but it is at high risk. Near the green is a deep bunker about thirty yards short of this triangular green with the bulge on the right middle. The left side is protected once again by a single tree. It is a fabulous golf hole.
14. Fourteen is a medium length par 3 with some of the deepest greenside bunkers on the course fronting the right front and two on the left front/side. The green is very wide but somewhat thin. On many courses this would be the best par 3 yet at Riviera it is the weakest.
15. Fifteen is a longer par 4 that doglegs to the right. Trees go down the left side with a deep bunker on the inner right turn. The green is angled to the right with a long, deep bunker down the right side. Much like the fourteenth, on many courses this might be the finest par 4 but here it is perhaps the second weakest hole on the back nine.
16. Sixteen is the shortest par 3 on the course but there are four deep bunkers surrounding the hole, the most difficult likely is the smallest one on the right middle. The green is the smallest on the course. I loved the hole.
17. Seventeen is a par 5 playing ever so-slightly uphill. The tee shot has to carry two bunkers that are placed well short of the beginning of the fairway. The more important bunker is the deep one off the right shaped like a “W.” The second shot for most needs to avoid the two bunkers on the left but stay short of the two bunkers about 60 yards short of the green off the left. All of the bunkers are deep with raised faces. The green is triangular again with the bulge in the middle left. A long and deep bunker covers most of the left front and side. This green has a spine on the right middle. It is easily the best par 5 on the course.
18. The finishing hole is famous for playing up a rise of about 30 feet in height leading to a blind tee shot. This is a dogleg right with a line of trees down the right side stopping about 100 yards from the green. One stands on the tee knowing they need to hit a fade. If they stay left despite the left side being the side of the hill sloping back to the fairway, if one finds the rough it will stay there. After the trees end on the left there are two bunkers. The green sits inside a sizeable hill on the left and behind the hole. The green tilts a bit to the right as well as back to front. Any ball left on the side of the hill will result in an uneven lie in thick grass. It is one of the better finishing holes in all of golf.
I have played Los Angeles Country Club North five times. I was convinced it was the best course in the area (Bel-Air is the most fun with the best routing). But after playing Riviera a second time I am not as convinced. LA North has more movement in the land and as many memorable holes, yet Riviera has good hole after good hole and good hole. Both courses have a weaker opening hole but Riviera finishes on a much stronger hole. LA North has the better par 5’s but Riviera has the better collection of par 5’s. I can see why the locals in the area debate this so heavily. This might be the best "beauty contest" to consider in all of golf.
I was fortunate to play on green monster day in the morning in advance of that competition a couple of years ago (length was as long as they could make it , greens as fast as they could and in the most tricky positions) . The course was largely empty with my host and caddy and I and I don’t think we saw more than one other flight on the course. Beautifully conditioned . Just as on the TV but better. The club has a corporate feel about it and membership is around the 200 mark but around a thousand lockers in the changing rooms. A very memorable experience. Only wish I could play here on a regular basis .
As most of us have heard, Riviera is one of the favorite golf courses of many PGA touring pros. It has a fantastic routing which crosses over after the 8th/13th and again after 3/17 which makes it a wonderful walk. The interaction with other golfers, getting a glimpse of holes to come is a subtle hints of George Thomas’ genius. The distance from Green to tee may be one of the shortest of all Top 100 courses.
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.