It went sideways long ago. It probably would have been easier to retire it in some arbitrary arboretum for iconic foliage, but thankfully the greens keepers at this country club have stayed classy and kept it as one of the true relics left in Rustic Canyon.
Four 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 reminder that we don’t need to discard things so quickly just because they seem to be in the way.
Maybe it provides no shade. The base is hollowed out, allowing the marshal at this par-3 hole to store his jacket and lunch for the Saturday afternoon.
But then, 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.
There’s another famous sycamore way over near the 12th green, where Humphrey Bogart used to sit and watch others scratch their heads in frustration. But why this one at 16 is closer to our heart is part of the reason why Riviera has withstood the test of time, an irrepressible element in the annual array of PGA Tour stops.
“I like everything about this golf course,” says defending Northern Trust Open champ and current leader, Bill Haas, after shooting 7-under 64 in the third round. “The grass. Just how it’s old-school style. Walking in the locker room, seeing the pictures of all those champions on the wall.”
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 saying that of all the things he’s missed about being on the PGA loop, it’s the annual stop off Sunset Blvd., a short drive from O.J. Simpson’s old driveway.
Of course, memories become fonder when you’re a two-time winner of this L.A. event. But the beauty is that if Wadkins someday decided to get a sponsor to sign off on him coming back, it wouldn’t be all that crazy for him to shoot his age and put himself in contention on the first day.
Riviera, obsolete? Absolutely not.
It 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 gadget-proof, no-excuse par-71 was designed more than 90 years ago by George Thomas, who believed that “length is secondary to character.” That still holds moreso today than ever before.
A place that neither Tiger Woods nor Jack Nicklaus have ever mastered is an 18-chapter, open yardage-book ego test. Year after year, it resists 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. It’s an adventure ride 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 straight at the bunker, which has such an elevated lip that it could launch the ball like it was going up a ski ramp. That takes the nerves of Evel Knievel.
Another option was to putt high left and hope it circled around like a velodrome track and got into the neighborhood. That’s like a game they play on the Santa Monica pier.
Rollins took option three: He used his wedge and picked the ball off the putting surface, cleared the bunker about 20 feet away top right, 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.
Fact is, it should be back in the U.S. Open rotation.
The first hole is a possible double-eagle 2, or double-bogey 7, depending on your depth perception 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 almost 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 as he did Saturday, and it’s like witnessing a natural art exhibit.
Especially when Couples lumbers up to the 16th tee, and you’re trying to figure out which has more rings around its trunk.
Not to ignore any other palms, magnolias or fabled eucalyptus trees that add to fragrance of the Riviera layout. But we’re sweet on that sycamore.
Stop by and pay your respects if you happen to be out today.
It’s a natural.