riviera1Riviera is known as Hogan’s Alley, one of seemingly 30 courses given a similar moniker.  A historic gem in Los Angeles, and longtime home of the LA Open, Riviera is a classically designed course that puts a premium on the integrity of each shot.  The variety of hole designs are wonderful and you’ll pretty much run the gamut of different ways you can set up a course…there’s a green with a bunker in it, holes with multiple fairways, drastic elevation changes, and perhaps the most famous drivable par-4 in golf.

The history at Riviera is rich.  As the host for the first US Open held on the west coast in 1948, Riviera was only slightly altered as the course was already in tournament condition, and after Ben Hogan won there three times in 18 months, it was given the nickname “Hogan’s Alley.”  Since then, it’s always been a favorite of the top pros (except for Tiger who only likes courses that are extremely long and force you to hit a high, spinny approach shot…yea, that’s right Tiger, suck it) and has a list of champions that includes Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson as well as Charlie Sifford, the first African American golfer inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame, and who has a special exemption for the tournament named in his honor.

But enough about the history, what about the course?

Riviera starts off with a short par 5 with your tee shot hit from an elevated tee box and a cart path running through the fairway in the landing zone.  An approach to a boomerang shamed green with bunkers defending it usually can lead to scoring opportunities, especially when the pin position is on the left side of the green, but regardless of where the pin is, you almost have to hit a fade.riviera2

The 6th hole, a medium length par 3, features one of the coolest…um…features in golf course design…a bunker sitting smack, dab in the middle of the green, made much more difficult by a large ridge running through the middle.  The Sunday pin position is usually on the left side of the green and on the top of said ridge, meaning anything right of the bunker is dead, and anything left short requires some serious skill to get up and down.  It’s kind of funny that every new course steals Pebble Beach’s pathetic attempts at bunkerage when almost no new course designer looks at this feature.  Without that bunker, this hole would be an automatic birdie, but with the bunker there, the landing zones are quartered, and mistakes severely penalized.  Island greens are cute and everything, but you don’t need water or trees to make a par 3 tough…one of the coolest holes in golf, if you ask me.

Which brings us to 10, the greatest par 4 in golf.  Sitting only 315 yards, it’s essentially a long par 3, but even with today’s technology, it remains far from easy.  The smart play is to lay up, wedge it close and walk away with a birdie, but when you see 315, you almost have to go for it.  And that’s the beauty of the hole…it takes great restraint to play it “correctly” but if you decide to go for it, it’s a big gamble.  Sure you can have an easy bunker shot if you find the one directly in front of the green, but ANYTHING long is dead, leaving you with some work for a par.  Think about it…why would ANYONE go for this green when you can get a birdie with a long iron tee shot?  And I’m sure every pro has put that in the game plan, but whenever you see the TV action, 99.9% of pros go for it.  The only guy I can vividly remember playing the hole “correctly” is Jim Furyk, which should surprise no one.  But, unless you’re confident you can hit the green and get an eagle, there’s really no point in bringing out the big stick here, which makes this hole a mindf*ck of epic proportions.

The closing hole is as tough a test as you can get.  For all the mental challenges 10 produces, 18 is where the physical part comes into play.  At 475 yards, it’s not short by any means, though the advancements in technology have removed some of the teeth.  A blind tee shot that gets dramatically shortened by the increase in elevation leaves you an approach to a green that not only slopes, but is guarded like Fort Knox, sitting in an ampitheater with trees on the right and a very narrow strip of fairway leading into the green.  The green is elevated and undulating, and any approach shot that isn’t straight is going to lead to a bogey.  Simple as that.  For a course that challenges your strategy and forces you to work the ball, this finishing hole is, in a word, brutal.  While you’ll remember Charles Howell III hitting driver-wedge to get a birdie in 2007, the new tee boxes will make sure this kind of junk doesn’t happen often, and makes for a fantastic closing hole.

I’m a big fan of these styles of courses, a nice variety of holes that force you to work the ball.  The length is manageable for all players and every hole can be played differently.  You don’t need 325 yard drives just to keep up (which is probably why Tiger doesn’t like playing here) like you do at Doral, but, as I said in the opening, if your shots have integrity, they’ll be rewarded, and the history of champions here proves that point.