David heard about my quest to play the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Courses in America from a mutual friend, Kirk. He then reached out to me to let me know he thought he could help with some of the courses. He invited me to meet him for breakfast to discuss the list of courses that I still needed help with. After reviewing the courses, he said, “I think I can help with Riviera.” Because of his initiative to reach out and help, I was standing on the first tee at the iconic club of the stars set in ritzy Pacific Palisades.
David reached out to a friend who has a friend who is a member at Riviera. That friend, Michael, agreed to host me. David was able to join us for the round along with one of his work colleagues, Campbell. When they were in college, David and Campbell participated in an exchange program between Emory University and St. Andrews that honors the memory of Bobby Jones.
David and Campbell arrived at Riviera just as I finished parking my car. We then met our host Michael near the Pro Shop. Michael had been expecting that there was only one other person joining David. He had also invited Milton, another Riviera member to join us as the fourth. Fortunately, the staff was fine with us playing as a fivesome.
After warming up on the range, David, Campbell and I made our debut on the first tee. As each of us addressed the ball, one of the Assistant Pros, Burley Stamps announced our names and where we were from. “Now on the tee box from Cherokee Town & Country Club, Jimmie James.” As I addressed the ball, I look out over the first hole high above the fairway. The first hole at The Riviera Country Club is a 497 yard par five. We chose to play from the white tees which measure 6526 yards with a rating of 72.2 and a slope of 130. We were join by Exell. He went by “X.”
The tee box is elevated high atop the fairway. The fairway is wide and straight. A cart path bisects the fairway at about 200 yards from the middle of the green. There is a swath of rough on each side of the cart path. The fairway resumes at 125 yards from the middle of the green. I walloped my drive 265 yards down the right side of the fairway.
My drive left me 235 yards from the left back of middle flag on a kidney bean shaped green with a massive bunker in the front. There was also a bunker off the left side of the fairway at 90 yards from the green. I hit my second shot to what I thought was sixty yards short of the pin. I should have shot the distance with my scope.
I pitched my third shot to 40 feet past the hole. My distance out was 50 yards, not 60. I hit my first putt to three feet left of the cup. I made the next putt to open my round with a par. David opened his round with an easy two putt birdie after reaching the green in two.
That nice wind that helped me hit my drive 265 yards on the first hole was blowing into my face on the second hole. The second hole is a 438 yard par four that is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. The fairway starts out as wide as the first fairway but narrows as it approaches a fairway bunker on the right. It widens again slightly after the bunker but narrows again as it approaches the green.
I hit my drive 210 to the right rough. With a strong headwind and 230 yards to the middle of the green, I decided to lay up. I hit a five iron to 105 yards out. The green is protected by a bunker short and to the right and greenside bunkers on the left and right. My third shot land past the right greenside bunker and then rolled back in.
I hit my fourth shot on the green leaving 35 feet to the hole. My bogey putt missed the hole and rolled five feet past. I made the comeback putt for a double bogey.
The tee box on the 405 yard par four third hole is slightly elevated above a narrow fairway with a bunker that cuts deep into it from the right side at 200 yards out. I hit my drive into a two club wind. The ball traveled 215 yards and landed in the first cut of right rough.
The 190 yards between my ball and the flag was playing 210 yards into a two club wind. The pin was positioned behind a bunker that started on the right front of the green and wrapped around the right side. There is also a bunker off the left front of the green. I hit a slight fade across the front right bunker with a five wood. The ball landed on the green and rolled 40 feet past the flag to the back portion of the green.
My birdie putt looked good all the way but was moving a little to fast when it hit the cup. The ball spun out but stopped next to the cup. I tapped in for my second par on the front nine.
The fourth hole is a 223 yard par third which was playing 240 yards into the wind. The hole is lined with trees on the left and the right. The ones on the right are much closer to the hole. There is a small bunker between the trees and the fairway on the right and a very large bunker in front of the green. There is a bailout area to the right of the green. With the hole playing 240 yards, I hit a driver off the tee on a line to the right of the green to avoid the front bunker. The ball flew straight and landed pin high a few feet off the right side of the green.
I hit my downhill birdie putt to five feet below the hole and made the inside right putt for my third par in four holes. David continued his golf prowess. He hit his tee shot into the front bunker and sunk his bunker shot for another birdie. He’d made a long putt to birdie the second hole.
The fifth hole is a 408 yard par four with a two tiered fairway. The first part of the fairway slopes and bends right to left. It ends at about 120 yards from the green. The second part of the fairway is at a lower elevation and curves across steep slopes off the right side. There is a bunker off to the left just short of the green. I popped my drive up to the right rough leaving 240 yards to the pin.
I hit my driver from the rough on a line along the right side of the left bunker in front of the green. The ball flew straight. I’d expected a slight fade to the middle of the green. The ball rolled along the right edge of the bunker then dropped in.
I left my bunker shot a little short of the green, putted to just below the hole, and then made bogey. David looked like he was going to make his first bogey. He sunk a 20 foot putt to save par and remain three under after five holes.
Campbell was striking the ball well but struggling with direction. Michael and Milton appeared to be locked in a high stakes match. This seemed to be putting a little tension in the air as we approached the 150 yard par three sixth hole. With pin a few yards pass the middle of the green, the hole was playing more like 155 yards.
The green is well bunkered including a small round one outlined in rough in the middle of the green as if it had been cut into a pitcher’s mound. There is also a large bunker in front of the green, one behind the green and one off the left side of the green. I hit my tee shot to 30 feet left of the hole.
My birdie putt stayed just above the hole. I made the second putt for my fourth par.
The 370 yard par four seventh hole has a shallow ravine that cuts across between the tee box and the fairway. The ravine then runs along the right side of the fairway. There are bunkers along the left side of the fairway to about 90 yards from the middle of the green. Just past the bunkers the fairway makes a jog to the left and with a bunker off the right side and heads toward the green.
I couldn’t get my head around which club to hit nor which line to take for my drive. A club and line that cut off too little of the ravine could end up in the bunkers off the left side of the fairway. A line that cut off too much of the ravine might not carry it. I chose to hit my driver on an aggressive line. The ball barely cleared the ravine. It hit in the first cut of rough on the right side of the fairway and kicked to the right. The ball landed and sunk into the deeper rough on the slope of the ravine.
I pitched out to the fairway. I almost pitched to far and into the bunker on the left side of the fairway. I had 125 yards remaining to the pin.
My third shot landed just short of the green. I putted from off the green. My putt missed the hole by a couple of inches and stop just past the hole. I tapped in for a bogey. David struggled on a hole for the first time during the round and recorded his first bogey.
The eighth hole presented a similar dilemma to me as the seventh. The 375 yard par four has a split fairway with sand at the bottom of a shallow ravine in between the two fairways. The left fairway is the longer of the two and is connected to the green. The right fairway ends at about 90 yards from the green. To reach the left fairway, you must carry the ravine on your drive. Reaching the right fairway requires no carry on the drive but does require a carry on the approach shot to the green.
I decided to hit to the left fairway but tried to carry too much of the ravine without truly committing to the shot. My ball landed in the ravine leaving 160 yards to the pin.
I duffed my third shot, hit my fourth shot onto the green and one putted for a bogey.
The tee box on the treacherous ninth hole provides an excellent view of the iconic Riviera Clubhouse. It’s a view that I’ve seen many times during what was the L.A. Open and is now the Genesis Open. The hole plays uphill all the way with a fairway that zigs and zags through a large fairway bunker off to the left and one off to the right. Both are in the landing zone. I hit my drive to the left rough just short of the left fairway bunker.
I got under the ball on my approach shot and popped the ball up to 40 yards from the pin.
The pin was set on the back middle of the green. The fairway narrows significantly at the green where it zigs and zags again through bunkers on the left and the right. There is also a bunker just off the front of the green and one along the left side of the green.
With the pin on the back of the green, I had to pitch over the left bunker to reach it. I barely cleared the bunker leaving a 40 foot putt. I left my par putt 12 feet short of the cup but sank the next putt to finish the front nine with a bogey and a 41 on the scorecard.
The back nine starts with the most famous hole at Riviera. Jack Nicklaus called the tenth hole the greatest short par four in the world. The hole measures just 301 yards from the white tees. The hole has a lot of options off the tee and gives even the professional golfers fits. I was told that there are a lot more sixes made on this hole than birdies. The challenge on the hole is the strategically placed bunkers. There are a couple that cut into the fairway from the right narrowing the fairway at about 200 yards out to about 20 to 25 yards. There is another bunker on the left about fifty yards past that one.
The options are to lay up short of the bunkers, leaving a 130 to 140 yard shot to the green. Hit left of bunkers leaving 100 yard approach shot, but the area between the left edge of the bunkers and the left edge of the fairway is very narrow. Lay up between the first bunkers and the one short of the green on the left. Finally, just drive the green. The green is very narrow and has bunkers along the left and right sides. It also has one off the back.
I chose to try to drive the green but hit a shot on a low trajectory. The ball caught the top of the left most bunker in the series of bunkers that cut into the fairway from the right. Another foot and the ball would have cleared the bunker. The ball rolled partially, but not all the way down the steep face leaving a tough 100 yards bunker shot to the hole.
I pulled my sand shot, the ball flew over the bunker on the left, landed and rolled back toward the center of the fairway.
The pin was positioned on the front of the green. I misunderstood X and hit my chip shot to the wrong side of the flag. The ball rolled off the left side of the green. I two putted from off the green to start the back nine with a bogey.
The short par four tenth with lots of options is followed by the 509 yard par five eleventh with few options. This is a hole where you drive the ball down the middle then either go for the green in two or lay up to your favor distance. The fairway is fairly wide but with thick trees encroaching on both sides, there is an illusion of a very narrow fairway. There is very little room between the edges of the fairway and the trees. With that, there are now fairway bunkers on the hole. I hit a 250 yard drive down the left side of the fairway.
The fairway ends at about 210 yards from the green and picks up again at about 135 yards from the middle of the green. There is rough between where the fairway ends and picks back up. X told me to just hit my favorite club down the middle for my second shot. I hit my 5 hybrid down the middle to 70 yards from a back right pin.
The green is a little over 20 yards wide and about 30 yards deep. The pin was just a couple of paces short of the back of the green. That’s why my 190 yard shot still left me 70 yards to the hole on a green with a bunker off the front right. After watching everyone else hit their approach shot over the back of the green, I pitched mine to 30 feet below the hole.
Fortunately, I managed a two putt to save par.
The twelfth hole is a par four. It is the hardest hole during the Genesis Open when they play it all the way back. It’s a little easier for us at 367 yards. The hole is somewhat like the 12th hole with close trees off both sides of the fairway providing the elusion of narrower fairway. The fairway does bend slightly to the right and has no bunkers. I hit a drive down the left side of the fairway that faded perfectly to the middle leaving 130 yards to a flag that was playing 145 yards into the wind.
The fairway ends at a ravine, 70 yards from the front of the green. There is a tree off the left front of the green that is referred to as the Bogart tree. Apparently during the LA Open, Humphrey Bogart would sit under the tree sipping whiskey and watch the tournament. I hit my approach shot to 20 feet below and to the right of the flag. I didn’t get the slight draw that I had expected.
My birdie putt was never on line. I missed the putt below the hole, but made the second putt for a par.
The narrowness on the 406 yard thirteenth hole is not just an illusion. The fairway is offset slightly to the right of the tee box and has tall trees serving as sentries right as it begins. It then doglegs to the right where there is a little more space between the right edge and the trees. The trees off the left edge continue to hug the fairway to just past the landing zone.
The shape of the hole clearly called for a draw. I decided to abandon my comfortable fade and hit a draw. The ball curved beautiful with the contour of the fairway. It landed on the left side of the fairway but unfortunately with the fairway sloping from right to left, it rolled just into the first cut of rough.
My tee shot left me with about 150 yards to the middle of the green. The fairway narrows as it approaches the green. There is a bunker off the right side about 50 yards from the front of the green. This leaves a very narrow strip for the remaining fairway to the green. There is a single tree on the left side of the fairway about 15 yards from the front of the green. I hit my approach shot fat and pulled it to just left of that tree.
I pitched to just off the front left of the green. The pin was positioned on the back right.
I putted from off the green to 5 feet below the hole and made the putt for a bogey.
It takes five holes to get to the first par three on the back nine. It is 159 yard wide open hole with nothing to torment you between the tee box and the wide but shallow green excepted the bunkers on the front of the green that are prevented from merging by a very narrow strip of fairway on its front. There is a second bunker on the left behind the first bunker.
The pin was position just over the right edge of the right front bunker and was playing 175 yards into the wind. I started a five iron shot just to the right of the left front bunker. The ball faded a tad too much and caught the top corner of the bunker and rolled back in.
My first bunker shot caught the lip and rolled back in. My second bunker shot was perfect and rolled to 12 feet past the hole. Unfortunately, I missed my bogey putt and made my first double bogey since the second hole.
The fifteenth hole has the most sweeping and arguably the most narrow fairway on the course. The hole is lined with trees on both sides and bends from left to right around a large bunker off the right side. It narrows considerably as it passes the bunker at about 250 to 260 yards from the white tees. The hole measure 430 yards. The shape of the hole fit my normal ball flight perfectly, but I faded it a little too much. The ball landed in the way left in the right rough well short of the fairway bunker and behind a tree.
I was left with 220 yards from a middle pin on a green that is angled left to right with a bunker along the right side. From my angle in the rough I had to carry both the fairway bunker and the greenside bunker to reach a flag that was position behind the greenside bunker.
I didn’t think I could carry the green side bunker and still stop the ball on the green from 220 yards out. I decided to hit over the fairway bunker toward the left front corner of the green and fade the ball to the flag with my driver out of the rough. And by golly I did almost just that. The ball hit just short of the green and rolled to pin high just 50 feet left of the hole.
The golf gods giveth and the golf gods taketh. My birdie putt was not only long but it was fast. The pin was on the right side of the green. The left side of the green was much higher than the right side. I breathe a sigh of relief when I was able to stop the ball just five feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for par. I’ve occasionally made some great shots during my quest and but the approach shot on this hole has to rank in the top five.
The longest par four from the white tees is followed by the shortest par three. The sixteenth hole measures just 148 yards, but it’s 148 yards of pure terror. The very small green is surrounded by bunkers. There is a long irregular shaped bunker along the entire front. There is another irregularly shaped bunker off the left side and a long narrow bunker along the back of the green that wraps around what little left side of the green there is.
The pin was positioned in the small piece of left green in between the bunkers. I tried to fade an 8 iron to the flag but got double crossed and hit the ball to the left of the green.
I pitched on and two putted for my bogey.
The seventeenth hole is a 512 yard bunker laden par five. This is another one of those Riviera Country Club holes that look wide but is deceptively narrow. The trees are set a little farther back from the edges of the fairway than most of the other holes, but there is more rough than and more bunker than any other hole.
The bunkers start with a large one off the right side of the fairway at about 230 yards from the tee. Then there are four large ones along the left side of the fairway from about 200 out from the green all the way to just short of the green.
I tried to hit my drive along the left side of the fairway but hit a hard fade that landed in the bunker off the right side of the fairway. Leaving about 290 yards to the green.
X gave me a little coaching on the shot. He told me to position the ball just off my right foot and hit a 9 iron to the middle of the fairway. It was perfect. I was left with 142 yards to the pin.
I hit too much club on my approach shot and flew the ball right over the flag to 45 feet past it.
My birdie putt had way too much speed and almost rolled off the green. I missed the 10 foot comeback putt for par and made a three putt bogey on the hole.
The 18th hole at Riviera Country Club is a tough hole. It measures 422 yards from the white tees. The fairway is elevated and requires a tee shot that carries at least 200 yards to get beyond a ridge and reach it. The tee box lines you up toward the trees on the right. I hit my drive down the right side. The ball faded slightly and landed in the rough about six feet off the fairway, leaving almost 250 yards to the green.
I hit my driver out of the rough and put the ball in the middle of the fairway, 70 yards from the green.
I hit a pitch shot to 15 right past and right of the flag. I sunk the putt to save par and finish the back nine with a 42 for a total score of 83 for the round.
Following my round, I spent some time in the pro shop talking with Burley Stamps. Burley and Norman Blanco at Pebble Beach Golf Links are the only two African American assistant PGA Professionals that I’ve met during my one year quest. After spending time with Burley, I took a tour of the iconic and historical Riviera Clubhouse. The walls are covered with historic photographs of the Hollywood Stars and PGA Golfers who’ve won championships at the club. The halls are called the Walk or Champions. There is also a trophy room with replica trophies of the Professional Championships and Tournaments that have been contested at Riviera Country Club.
I’d like to thank David for the introduction to Michael and Michael for hosting David, Campbell and me on the 70th course of my quest.