It went sideways long ago. It probably would have been easier to retire it long ago in some arbitrary arboretum for iconic foliage, but thankfully the greens keepers at this classic golf course have stayed classy and kept it as one of the true relics left in Rustic Canyon.
Instead, four medal posts in various stages of height and rustiness keep what’s left of it propped up. Not as a Hollywood prop, but as a symbol of useful history.
Well, even that’s subject to interpretation. It provides no shade. The base is hollowed out, allowing the marshal at this par-3 hole to store his jacket and lunch for later this afternoon.
Suddenly, a large black-and-orange butterfly came fluttering out of one of the trunk’s knots. Too quick to capture with any Shutterfly account, too daring considering another morning group was about to tee off, disrupting all other nature in the nearby surroundings.
There’s another famous sycamore way over at the 12th green named after Humphrey Bogart, marking the spot where the actor used to sit and watch everyone else scratch their heads in frustration. But why this sycamore at 16 remains more relevant is part of the story why Riviera has stayed irrepressible in the annual PGA Tour stops.
We’re listening to Lanny Wadkins, sitting in a TV booth in Florida the other day while doing the Champions Tour event. The 64-year-old is talking about of all the things he’s missed about being on the PGA loop, it’s the annual stop off Sunset Blvd.
Of course, memories become fonder when you’re a two-time winner of this L.A. event. But the beauty of his words is that if he someday decided to get a sponsor to sign off on him returning, it wouldn’t be all that crazy for him to shoot his age and put himself in contention on the first day.
Riviera has outlasted all the high-tech hybrids, jet-fueled Pro V1s and portable GPS systems that often force course general managers to rethink the layout ever year to keep up with the so-called improvements to the game.
This humble par-71 was designed more than 90 years ago by George Thomas, who believed that “length is secondary to character.” Of course, it more than holds up today.
What do Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have in common? Neither have ever triumphed at Riviera. Perhaps it’s that 18-chapter, open yardage-book ego test that neither has ever been able to master because . . . You fill in the blank stares.
Riviera won’t resort to adding any Donald Trumped-up lakes or rivers to navigate, only demanding ice water flow through the participants’ veins. That’s whether it’s pouring rain as often happens here in February or a sun-kissed weekend arrives out of the blue and shines a whole new light on things.
It’s not going to favor pin-point putting accuracy, no matter what stick used. It’s an adventure that maybe John Rollins can describe best after he found himself Friday afternoon on the wrong side of things at the sixth green.
A pot bunker stood between him and the cup. One option was to actually putt at the bunker, with such an elevated lip that it could launch the ball like it was going up a ski ramp and land on the other side. Another option was to putt high left and hope it circled around like a velodrome track and got into the neighborhood.
Rollins took option three: He used his wedge on the putting surface, cleared the bunker about 20 feet away from the cup, then watched the ball trickle back, stopping within a few paces of its intended final destination.
As Nick Faldo, a former Riviera champion, said during the Golf Channel coverage: “A central part of your equipment in your golf bag here is a protractor.”
Every angle is covered here.
Riviera, obsolete? Absolutely not. Fact is, it should be back into the rotation for a U.S. Open stop. Give the sport the prime-time coverage it deserves.
The first hole is a possible double-eagle 3, or double-bogey 7, depending on your depth perseption off such a huge cliff.
You can spy the 10th hole and think of seven different ways to Sunday on how to approach it, and eight of them will be wrong.
The real cliff-hanger comes when you close your eyes and take the blind shot up the 18th fairway, hoping you’ve sliced it well enough so that there’s a credible chip left toward an ultimate payoff.
To watch someone like 53-year-old Fred Couples maneuver his way around partners Jim Furyk and Jimmy Walker is like witnessing a natural art exhibit.
Not to ignore any other palm, magnolia or fabled eucalyptus trees that add to fragrance of the Riviera layout, but we’re sweet on that sycamore.
When the marine layer provides a beach blanket over everything here like dry ice in a stage play, we still know where to find it.
It’s in its proper place. Never too old to be appreciated. And something that should be visited if you’re making the journey out for Sunday’s final round. Stop by and pay your respects. It’s a natural.