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.
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.