I always enjoy watching the PGA Tour return to Rivera Country Club each February. The golf course has always been among my favorites, and the tournament typically is made up of a very strong field of players. If you’ve ever been to Riviera, you will probably admit that there is not one particular thing that stands out to make it such a great golf course. There is no water, not a tremendous number of trees, and very few fairway bunkers to speak of. Yet, year after year, Riviera remains one of the most popular venues on tour. But why?
Let’s begin with the first tee. Seemingly perched in the middle of a crowded walkaway directly in front of the clubhouse is the first tee. It is a showcase spot, and one that everyone visiting the tournament should take time to enjoy. The tee is elevated well above the fairway, making the tee shots appear as though they stay in the air forever. For the players, it’s one of the easier opening holes they will play all season. For the spectators, it provides an opportunity to watch these great players tee off from what appears to be a launching pad high about the fairway. It’s a great spot.
Another great spot on Riviera is the tenth hole. Often thought of as one of the greatest ‘short’ par 4’s in the world, the tenth hole is the epitome of risk versus reward. Longer players are capable of driving the green. However, by missing the green in the wrong spot, they can find the approach shot offering a near impossible angle to get their ball anywhere near the hole. The green is tiny, as it should be, and is angled in such a manner that it can make even the best players appear hopeless. It’s fun to stand at this tee and watch the players contemplate their strategy for playing the hole. It may be the best hole on the golf course. As difficult as the tenth green is, there is another challenge at Riviera that surpasses them all.
One word you will hear repeated many times across your television during the tournament is, kikuyu. It’s the type of grass that surrounds Riviera. To the naked eye, kikuyu is beautiful. Lush and green, often times providing that seemingly perfect lie. Be careful, however, because as quickly as you admire that wonderful playing surface it can provide, it will then turn ugly and gobble your ball and club up in a web-like mess. The kikuyu grass surrounding the greens at Riviera, can make those somewhat ordinary pitch shots into an unbearable challenge that conquers even the best players in the world. Touring professionals appreciate this challenge, and those with the creativity to manufacture some touch from this grass are rewarded.
The long history of champions and celebrities that have walked the fairways of Riviera make it an unforgettable experience. If you have an opportunity to venture out this weekend to watch any of the tournament, you will surely have a great time. Riviera is a beautiful golf course.