There are few things in golf finer than a double header featuring two great golf courses. There are several classic 36 hole day combos here in America that would have just about any golfer trembling in anticipation. You have Shinnecock & National Golf Links, Winged Foot West & East, Pebble Beach & Cypress Point Club, Merion & Pine Valley and San Francisco Golf Club & Olympic to name a few. I’m sure there are several others that would come to mind if I really stopped and thought about it, but those are the ones that pop into my head immediately.
I had just spent the morning playing at Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course and was in my rental car on the way to Riviera Country Club for a second 18 holes. LACC and Riviera is one of those incredible 36 hole combos and I’d been getting psyched up about it for weeks. My good friend Jay from New York who I have mentioned on this website numerous times was with me and we were still giddy with delight from LACC when we pulled our car onto the property at Riviera CC. As we navigated the rather large, but virtually empty, parking lot we pulled into to a circular drive where we dropped off our clubs before going back out to the lot where we left the car.
Several weeks prior, after I had arranged our morning game at LACC, Jay called his work associate, Ben, who is a member of Riviera CC. He explained my Top 100 Golf Odyssey and asked Ben if he would be willing to host us at Riviera after we played at LACC. Fortunately Ben was available to play and graciously agreed to help.
Riviera Country Club began in 1922 when a group began to search for land suitable for a golf course. After 3 years of legal posturing the deal was finally closed and the course ready to be built. George C. Thomas was approached to design the course and eventually agreed to do so after initially believing that that property was not well suited for golf. Thomas hired his right hand man William Bell to execute the construction and the course was ready for play in June 1927. Since the course opened in 1927 it has hosted a string of professional events including the L.A. Open (aka Northern Trust Open), 1948 U.S. Open, the 1983 and 1995 PGA Championship and the 1998 U.S. Senior Open. There have been a list of champions at Riviera that read like a who’s who of golf . . . Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Watson, Couples, Faldo, Els and Mickelson to name a few. The history here is simply amazing.
So here we were walking through the front doors of the iconic Riviera clubhouse. No matter how many of these clubs I visit, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of amazement I get walking through the clubhouse doors. The receptionist directed us to the locker room where we changed our shoes, admired the memorabilia and then made our way out to the pro shop where we were to meet up with Ben.
As we exited the door of the clubhouse on our way to the pro shop Jay and I heard a distinctly familiar voice. Although the person speaking had his back was to us, we looked at each other in disbelief and exchanged “is that who I think it is” looks. Our suspicions were confirmed when the tall bespectacled golfer turned around and it was Larry David – creator of the hit TV shows Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, the inspiration for the Seinfeld character George Costanza and an avid golfer. Larry did the voice for George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld so it was hard not to recognize it after watching the reruns hundreds of times. It’s widely known that Larry is a golf nut and plays at Riviera, but it was still a cool surprise.
Outside the pro shop we bumped into Ben and loaded our clubs onto carts to drive down to the practice tee. The driving range at Riviera is very tiny with maybe a dozen spots for hitting balls. As we warmed up on the range it was nearly impossible not to overhear the conversation going on amongst Mr. David and his two friends just one spot away from where I was hitting balls. If there was ever any question if Larry David’s “character” on Curb Your Enthusiasm is a reflection of his real personality, I can tell you it would surely seem so. I found myself quietly chuckling at the spirited banter being exchanged among the three golfers. It was like watching outtakes from Curb Your Enthusiasm! Coincidentally, just a few weeks later, New Yorker Magazine published an editorial piece on golf written by Larry David himself. You can read it if you click here. It is of course a riot as well as pretty true for most of us amateur golfers.
So after we warmed up we went to the first tee where we met our fourth player, Blair, and waited for our turn to tee off behind Larry’s group which appeared to be the only other foursome on the course. The blue tees play 7,032 yards to a par of 71 and the whites are 6,532 yards and also to a par of 71. The 1st hole at Riviera has a great tee shot from an elevated tee box so we decided to play the blues for the first hole. After that we would switch to the whites for a little more manageable course. Below is a photo taken from the 1st tee which is a par 5 that plays 503 yards from the blue tees. The white tees say 497 yards, but I didn’t see them so they must have had them playing forward for today’s setup.
The photo below is the first green which is fairly straight forward and protected by a bunker in the middle.
The 4th hole is a pretty serious par 3 that we played 223 yards from the white tees. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
And here is an alternative view of the front bunker which is pretty nasty.
I was a big fan of the 5th hole which is a par 4 that played 408 yards from the white tees. The ideal shot is a draw that stays in the fairway and doesn’t run down the hill and into the long rough that separates the top fairway and the lower fairway. The photo below was taken from the tee box. Note the house high up on the cliff. All the way around Riviera there are incredible homes that overlook the golf course.
Below is a photo of the approach shot at the 5th hole.
I think its safe to say that the 6th hole at Riviera is the most famous at the course. This hole is a par 3 that we played from 144 yards. The reason for its infamy is visible in the photo below – a bunker in the middle of the green. Not only can this cause problems if you hit into it, but being on the wrong side of it will require a player to putt around the bunker. I had fun testing a few of those putts out once we finished the hole.
The 7th hole is a par 4 that we played from the 375 yard white tees. As shown in the photo below taken from the tee box there is bunker trouble for players who drive the ball to far to the left.
In the photo below of the 7th green there is quite a bit more bunker trouble for approach shots that come up short.
The 10th hole is one of the famous holes at Riviera as well. From the white tees it is a 301 yard hole that plays to a par 4. During the PGA Tour stop here the pros often play this as a drivable par 4. The photo below was taken from the tee and as can be seen there are numerous bunkers protecting the green to make the player consider the consequences of attempting to drive the green.
The photo below is Blair hitting his second shot on the 10th hole. I’m including this photo because if you look just to the left of Blair in the shade you can just make out what looks like a dog laying on the ground. Interestingly, it’s not a dog at all, but a coyote. I found this pretty shocking considering that we were in what appears to be the middle of L.A. If you can’t see the coyote click the picture below to enlarge it for a better view.
Below is a photo of where I hit my second shot from. Note the width of the green here. This is what makes trying to drive this green so difficult. The putting surface is incredibly narrow.
The photo below is a much closer look at the green and shows a better perspective of how narrow the green is. It’s practically a bowling alley!
The 13th hole is a nice par 4 that we played from 406 yards. As can be seen in the photo below the ideal shot from the tee is a draw.
And below is the 13th green which is only protected by a single large and deep bunker.
The 14th hole is a 159 yard par 3 from the white tees. The green has a significant slant from the right to left, so missing to the right means a downhill putt or chip that can be difficult to get close to the hole . . . especially if there is a right hole location.
The 16th hole is another great par 3 at Riviera CC. Unfortunately the green was closed and the hole played to a very small temporary green visible in the photo below. I also have to mention that we found Larry David’s wedge on this green. He never came back for it so I guess he must have been hitting the greens on 17 and 18!
The 18th hole at Riviera is one of the iconic par 4 closing holes in golf. We played this one from the blue tees to get the full flavor of the hole which amounted to 451 yards of serious golf. The photo below was taken from the tee. The ideal drive will carry the hill and land on the plateau.
Below is a photo of the green complex which sits in a little valley formed by the surrounding hills. Its a long shot into this green and great finishing hole.
After we wrapped up and left the caddies we went into the clubhouse to relax with a beer and some popcorn while we rehashed our walk around Riviera. My immediate reaction at the end of the round was that I was quite surprised in a most pleasant way. I had fully expected to like the course, but I was surprised by how much I loved it. I was smitten! I had watched the PGA tournament there numerous times over the years and thought I had a pretty good feel for the course. I arrived thinking that I knew exactly what to expect and left with a strong confirmation that the difference in seeing a course on TV and in person was akin to the difference between having someone explain a book to you and reading it for yourself. There is simply no replacement for first hand experience and I’m glad I got a chance to experience Riviera first hand. It exceeded my expectations and was part two of what was a perfect 36 hole day of golf.