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In-Depth Review: Titleist Vokey SM6 Wedges

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Pros: A new, progressive CG design helps the low-lofted wedges fly a few yards farther, and improves the feel of the high-lofted wedges while boosting consistency. With lofts from 46-62 degrees and five distinct grinds, most golfers will be able to find an SM6 wedge that works for them.

Cons: At $149, they’re $20 more expensive than SM5 models.

Who they’re for: All golfers.

The Review

  • Price: $149 (MAP)
  • Lofts: 46, 48, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62
  • Grinds: F (46-56), S (54-60), M (54-62), L (58-60), K (58-60)
  • Finishes: Tour Chrome (plated), Steel Gray (plated) and Jet Black (QPQ)
  • Stock Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold S200
  • Construction: Cast (8620 carbon steel)

A glance at Vokey’s new SM6 wedges reveals that something is different. Some golfers will understand the science of why the wedges look like they do, but many won’t. Unlike a lot of new golf club technologies, however, golfers won’t need to be in the know to be impressed. I don’t talk about the “cool factor” in many of my reviews, but the SM6 wedges certainly have it.

Vokey_SM6_Featured_2

Those curves on the back of the SM6 wedges? They create what’s called a progressive center of gravity (CG), which means the weighting of the SM6 wedges varies based on loft. The lowest-lofted SM6 wedges (46-52 degrees) have the lowest CG, the mid-lofted wedges (54, 56 degrees) have a higher CG and the highest-lofted wedges (58-62 degrees) have the highest CG. The three different CG positions match the desired impact area on each wedge’s club face — lower-lofted wedges are generally contacted lower on the face, while higher-lofted wedges are generally contacted higher on the face — to improve trajectory, feel and consistency.

Low-Lofted SM6 Wedges 

If you’ve ever wished your Vokey 46-, 48-, 50- or 52-degree wedge flew a little farther, SM6 models will. Vokey says the low-lofted SM6 wedges create about 1.5 mph more ball speed and 3-4 yards more distance, and I buy their claim after testing SM6 wedges that were built to the same specs as my SM5 models on Foresight GC2.

“Distance doesn’t matter with wedges,” you might be saying, and you’re correct in theory. Who cares if your gap wedge goes 110 or 113 yards, as long as you hit it a consistent distance. That’s not the issue, though. Improvements in golf equipment technology have irons flying farther than they ever have, which means more golfers need a club — and maybe even two clubs — between 46-and-52 degrees to bridge the gap between their shortest iron and mid-or-high-lofted wedge.

I’m one of those golfers who needs two wedges to fill the gap. I use a 9 iron that measures 41 degrees and carries about 150 yards. I also use a 54-degree wedge (bent to 55 degrees) that carries about 105 yards. I fill the gap with a 46-degree wedge (bent to 45 degrees) that carries about 135 yards. I prefer its look and feel to the pitching wedge from my iron set because I can vary trajectory more easily with it. I also carry a 50-degree wedge that carries about 120 yards.

An issue I had with the SM5 wedges (46-08 F Grind, 50-08 F Grind) is the same one I’ve always had with other low-lofted wedges. Many times when I tried to hit them a little harder to make them go a few yards farther, they didn’t. Shots often just went higher due to excess spin. I’ve seen countless golfers experience this problem, especially better players.

The biggest improvement to the low-lofted SM6 wedges is that they create a more iron-like ball flight. It’s slight, but their faster trajectory is a little bit less likely to balloon. To me, they also feel slightly softer than the SM5’s at impact.

Probably just as important as the new progressive CG design of the low-lofted SM6 wedges is something that isn’t new — the different bounce options Vokey offers in its 50- and 52-degree wedges. Both the 50- and 52-degree models are offered in F Grinds with effective bounce angles of 8 and 12 degrees. Most manufacturers offer multiple bounce options in their mid- and high-lofted models, but it’s rare to see two different options in low-lofted models.

In July 2015, I traveled to Titleist’s Oceanside, California Test Facility to learn more about the company’s 716 iron line. During the downtime, Titleist offered me an opportunity to be fit for SM5 wedges by the man himself, Bob Vokey. My steeper angle of attack theoretically made me a better fit for the 50-12 F Grind (a 50-degree wedge with 12 degrees of effective bounce), but my results were better with the 50-08 F Grind.

Vokey explained that the reduced bounce helped me contact the ball slightly higher on the face, and that improved my ball flight. That moment cemented how important it is for golfers to be fit for not just their lob wedge, but for as many of their wedges as possible.

Mid-Lofted SM6 Wedges 

The mid-lofted SM6 wedges (54 and 56 degrees) are most similar to the SM5 models, as they do not have the weight pads used in the low-lofted and high-lofted wedges. That’s because, according to Vokey representatives, the CG of the mid-lofted wedges was pretty much where it needed to be.

For that reason, the biggest change golfers will notice if they switch to an SM6 from an SM5 is the shaping. Unlike the low-lofted SM6 wedges, which are significantly smaller than SM5 models and have shorter hosels, the mid-lofted SM6 wedges are roughly the same size. There’s no denying, however, that the shaping of the SM6 wedges gives them a more streamlined look. Their toes are more rounded, their top lines are thinner and their par area, the part of a wedge’s top line that conjoins with the hosel, blends more seamlessly.

I’ve given my SM5 and SM6 54-14 F Grind wedges (bent to 55 degrees) to several golfers and had them hit shots with each one to see if they could notice a different in feel. Some told me the SM6 felt softer, while others told me the SM5 felt softer. For that reason, its hard to make an absolute statement about a change in feel in the mid-lofted wedges. I’ve had a few golfers tell me the SM5 wedges look better at address, but many more have preferred the look of the SM6.

Before moving on to the high-lofted wedges, I want to point out two more things; one is specific to the mid-lofted models, one that is not.

IMG_9609

SM6 wedges use Vokey’s new TX4 grooves that feature a parallel face texture to increase spin and consistency.

  • Like SM5 models, both the 54 and 56 are available in three different grinds (F, S and M). For the SM6 line, however, the popular M Grind has 2 degrees less effective bounce to make it more versatile from a wider variety of lies.
  • All SM6 wedges also feature Vokey’s new TX4 grooves, which use a machine-milled, parallel face texture that Titleist says can increase consistency and sharpens groove edges to add as much as 200 rpm of spin. The SM6 wedges also use the same progressive groove design as the SM5 wedges. The lower-lofted wedges (46-54) use narrower, deeper grooves to displace more debris on square-face shots, while higher-lofted wedges (56-62) use shallower grooves that create more friction on open-face shots.

High-Lofted SM6 Wedges 

With a slightly higher CG, the high-lofted SM6 wedges do seem to launch shots slightly lower and with a little more spin than SM5 models, and that’s exactly what most better players want their high-lofted wedges to do. But the change likely won’t be noticed by the majority of golfers. What they will notice, however, is how much better the high-lofted SM6 wedges feel at impact. Every golfer has experienced the “clank” that occurs when a wedge shot is hit too high on the face, or toward the heel or toe at impact. With the high-lofted SM6 wedges, those shots felt softer and more solid.

Due to their higher CG, the high-lofted wedges also seemed to be a little more consistent in my testing on Foresight. Especially when hitting 50-yard shots, I saw that the 60-degree SM6 M Grind wedge seemed to land a little closer my target on mishits. Sometimes it flew 1-2 yards farther than I expected when I contacted a shot slightly on the toe or the heel; sometimes shots just held their line just a little bit better. The difference is small, but can make an difference. We’re all better at making 6-foot putts than we are 9-footers, aren’t we?

As for shaping, the new wedges don’t look the same as the SM5’s at address. They appear slightly larger, and have the same general appearance as the other wedges in the new line.

IMG_9639

At Address: A Vokey SM6 lob wedge (60-08 M Grind)

No discussion of a Vokey high-lofted wedge is complete without mentioning their four distinct sole grinds, which Team Vokey continues to tweak based on its work with Tour players, as well as average golfers. Despite the several improvements to the new wedges, the grinds continue to be one of their main selling points. That’s how powerful using the proper sole grind can be.

Again, it’s best to get fitted, but if you can’t, the chart and list below offers a few starting points.

Vokey_SM6_Specifications

full-chart

  • If you struggle from the sand, try the K Grind (available in 58, 60). It has the widest sole of any Vokey wedge, and can work well for golfers with steep attack angles. Compared to SM5 K Grind wedges, it has 1-degree more effective bounce to help the wedge better resist digging on square-face shots.
  • If you play courses with extremely firm turf conditions, try the L Grind (available in 58, 60). It has the lowest effective bounce (4 degrees), and slightly more camber than SM5 models to goflers resist digging.
  • The M Grind (available in 54, 56, 58, 60, 62) will work best for golfers who like to manipulate the face open or closed, while the S Grind (available in 54, 56, 58, 60, 62) is better for golfers who tend to play more square-faced shots. The 58 and 60-degree S Grind wedges have 3-degrees more bounce than SM5 models.

Vokey Custom Options

As noted above, I don’t use a standard SM5 wedge. At Oceanside, Vokey fit me for a V-Grind that’s offered through the company’s Hand Ground Program. According to Titleist representatives, Hand Ground SM6 wedges, which make available Tour-only grinds and enhanced customization options — will be released to the public at a later date.

Do I really need a V-Grind wedge? I must admit, with a little practice I could probably use the SM6 M Grind and hit all the shots I need to hit. But I liked the performance V Grind enough to pay the extra money for it (Hand Ground wedges start at $350 each).

For golfers not willing to pay that much for a completely custom wedge, Vokey offers more affordable custom options to standard SM6 wedges through its WedgeWorks Services. Through the program, golfers can customize the shafts, grips, shaft bands, ferrules, stampings and paintfill of their wedges. I’ve had several wedges customized through WedgeWorks, and the work is always A++.

Should you Upgrade?

Vokey_SM6_Featured_3

If you’re currently using a set of properly fit SM5 wedges, your transition from them to the SM6 models should be an easy one. Many golfers will see certain benefits from the newer wedges, as I did, but they may or may not warrant an immediate upgrade, especially if their grooves are still fresh.

An aside about buying wedges: Many tournament players purchase two sets of wedges at a time. They practice with one set and use another on the golf course, which keeps their grooves as fresh as possible for tournaments. While it doubles cost, it helps their gamer wedges last longer and adds peace of mind that they’re getting the best possible performance from their wedges on the course.

More questions?

Vokey_SM6_Featued_1

What else do you want to know? I’ll do my best to answer your questions in the comments section.

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. SirBigSpur

    Jun 1, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Ok so two questions for the Author:

    (1) I’m a 14hcp and I’m looking to replace my 60 degree. I currently have a 52 and 56 Titleist SM5 and SM4, respectively, and my 60 is an older Nike VR Pro Dual-sole (which I really like). I see value in having wedges all be from the same manufacturer, so I’m looking at switching to Titleist. I really like my SM5 52 and was thinking of getting that as a 60 (on sale for $110), but reading this article is making me consider the SM6, even though it’s $40 more. Do you REALLY think I’ll see enough additional benefit from the SM6 to justify the extra $?

    (2) As I noted, my current 60 is of the dual-sole variety and has only 4 deg bounce, which looks to be a lot like the M grind. I rarely use my 60 out of sand or manipulate the face for chips/pitches. I’d say I hit about 40% full shots with it and it’s pretty much the only club I use around the green, regardless of the shot. I have a bit of a steep/digging swing so I’ve found that the low bounce is great if I hit is clean, but is devastating if I hit it even an few millimeters fat. I’m thinking about going with the K grind as it has the most bounce but still allows you to open the face if you need to for a particular shot. What are your thoughts on the bounce options and what should work best?

    Thank you!

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Jun 1, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      K Grind sounds like a great option for you. It’s hard to value the SM5 v. the SM6 for everyone. For some, $40 is a small price to pay for the latest technology. For others, it’s a lot of money. I’m still using the SM5’s, and will until the grooves wear out.

      • SirBigSpur

        Jun 2, 2016 at 9:14 am

        Thanks for the quick response Zak! One other thing I like about the SM5s is the gold finish… I REALLY wish the SM6s had that option.

  2. Mark

    Mar 29, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Bit the bullet. Our local store is selling them as same price as SM5s so not sure they have got the invoice yet…..58.10. S Grind. Plenty of grip and easy to knock down. Sole works well off wet soil and in sand. However the feel is the same as the SM5 and SM4. Harsh. Not a patch on my 588s or old MacDaddy 2…..absolutely no reason for the massive price hike. 7/10.

  3. (KCCO) is this.....

    Mar 20, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Is this not one of his old designs (curve cut on back) he did in a limited release I have in indigo blue? I know they’re weren’t as many grind options, but the actually cast appears the same, so kinda just seems like a print dug up from fairly recent past. If I could post a pic, I would…I’m sure someone else on here has them as well.

    As for a forged wedge, may just be me….but having one jdm forged wedge in mix sometimes, after hitting thousands of balls, I’ve found (and may just be the material, and can’t say they were hit exactly the same amount of times, but literally a few thousand balls practicing around green) but wore a little faster than a cast wedge. And also agree, why no raw? Or even somehow allow groove/face to rust.
    ***i go through a wedge every 2 seasons, before its grooves look melted/dent in face, just to give an idea of wear per my wedges

  4. jgpl001

    Mar 14, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    WHY WHY WHY no RAW option???????

    Do we have to get to the SM10 before Titleist listen??????

  5. matt_bear

    Mar 13, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Question for the author- what is your relationship with Titleis? I feel like some disclosure is needed. It’s the same exact author reviewing every Titleist product. Every review is 5 stars and go buy….now it’s go buy 2 sets. I’m a full bag Titleist user, but even I can read thru this a bit. It’s a nice comparison picture collection though. I do appreciate that.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

      Matt,

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed our in-hand comparison photos, as well.

      I am the reviewer of the SM6 wedges, and the editor of GolfWRX. I have no affiliation with Titleist or any other equipment brand. Our readers have made it clear through the years that they want detailed Titleist equipment reviews, and in-depth reviews are my specialty. That’s why you’ve seen my name on so many Titleist review stories.

      No GolfWRX reviewer, whether it be an editor, staff writer or contributor, solely determines the score a product receives. All of our equipment editors meet to decide if a product receives a 5-star rating, and it has to be unanimous for a product to earn the rating. If you visit our review page — http://www.golfwrx.com/category/equipment/reviews/ — you’ll see that the distinction is only awarded to the top-performing products we test.

      You’re not the only one who has expressed confusion over our reviews, however, and we’re going to do a better job of explaining the process going forward. That’s why I appreciate feedback such as yours. It helps us get better.

  6. Bogeypro

    Mar 12, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Is Vokey taking lessons from Scotty on how to market products? 150 for a cast wedge that is already at the limit of the groove rule is stupid.

  7. DTrump

    Mar 12, 2016 at 6:03 pm

    $149 for non-forged wedges with a design ripped off from somebody else. You can get a Mizzy forged wedge for $129. I don’t see the justification by Titleist.

    • Marcus Rogers

      Mar 13, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Who wants a forged wedge?

    • SirBigSpur

      Jun 1, 2016 at 10:44 am

      No one wants a forged wedge unless you plan to replace them twice a season. Forged metal, by its nature, is softer, and of course may feel better to some people. But that same softness is what makes it not a great choice for a wedge… the grooves will wear out much quicker, which when talking wedges, is a big deal. I would definitely recommend forged irons if you can find a set that fits your skill level (i.e. don’t go buy Mizzy blades if you’re a 20hcp, just b/c they FEEL good), but for wedges, I’d stick to cast for durability. This is especially true if you’re going to be dropping $150 for a brand new one! There’s a reason Titleist always has one of if not the best performing wedges out there… if being cast was a bad thing, that wouldn’t be the case.

  8. Double Mocha Man

    Mar 12, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    Only the price of gas goes down.

  9. Other Paul

    Mar 11, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    “We would rather have a 6′ then a 9′ putt”… What if instead of landing 6′ past you know landed 9′ past. Your logic.

  10. Marcus Rogers

    Mar 11, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Ripoff. Thanks PXG. Titleist charges this much because they know they can. Titleist fans are loyal…just check the witb section of the forum. And now with spieth’s and Scott’s success…they are back on the map. I’m playing PING wedges now and have no plans of changing for a couple years. However if I were to get new wedges id go with the poor man’s titleist….Nike, or mizuno if I found a deal.

    • John doe

      Mar 11, 2016 at 8:45 pm

      “Back on the map”?

      When was Titleist off the map?

      • Marcus Rogers

        Mar 12, 2016 at 3:59 pm

        You are right they were never off the map, however for a brief stretch the lacked some presence with the top players in the world, especially after Rory switched to Nike.

  11. Joshuaplaysgolf

    Mar 11, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I highly appreciated this review…the detail about spin rate differences is valuable to me, and is what I found during my fitting last week between the 6’s and 5’s. I appreciate the attention to detail that is put in. A lot of people get upset because it isn’t tailored to the ‘average golfer’, but as it clearly states, the differences are somewhat minimal between models, and good players who are playing/practicing daily and competing regularly are looking for these minimal improvements that help them take their game just a little further. If you only hit your wedges 5 times on the range before you play your once a week round, you can probably stick to the 5, get similar results, save some money, and stop complaining to all of us about how expensive golf clubs are.

  12. SB

    Mar 11, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    S or F for my 56… That is a though question

  13. M

    Mar 11, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Zak,

    Any word on when Raw SM6 will be available on WedgeWorks and will they have all of the lofts and grinds this year unlike the SM5 only starting at 54*
    and any further info into what hand grind options there will be?
    Thanks

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 11, 2016 at 6:08 pm

      No update on this, M. We’ll post a story when we know more.

  14. Shawn

    Mar 11, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    Elaborate on different finish options.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 11, 2016 at 6:10 pm

      Both the Tour Chrome and Steel Grey are plated, so they’ll look new the longest. The Jet Black finish is a QPQ, so it will wear the fastest. The finish will fade to silver on the club face and sole, and those areas will rust over time. Some people strip the finish to get a raw, rusty look.

  15. Golfinggal

    Mar 11, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I believe the SM5 brochure recommend players change their wedges every 70 rounds. I would like to think they figured you would practice a bit between and before rounds . I play 70 rounds in about 3 1/2 months. I think your suggestion of two sets and theirs of changing them so often is just to sell more wedges. Maybe they need to come up with a more durable metal that keeps it’s groves sharp for many more rounds especially as the price keeps increasing.

  16. RL(Nihonsei)

    Mar 11, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Great review! I didn’t hear a single thing about loft, lie, CG, or who pays for them in last night’s GOP debate? Oh, ask Bernie? I’ll get right on that, 2 wedge sets for All!!!

  17. Sam

    Mar 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I wonder why they didn’t have oil can finish as an option? Miss those wedges that rust.

  18. RG

    Mar 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Everything reviewed on this site gets 5 stars.

  19. Bryan K

    Mar 11, 2016 at 11:28 am

    149 for cast wedges is pretty high. Forged feel way better. Vokey has forged wedges for the Japanese market.

  20. Weekend Duffer

    Mar 11, 2016 at 11:04 am

    $450 drivers, $300 3 wood…now $150 for a wedge cmon. Guess us poor folk will have to stick to the used rack.

    • scott

      Mar 11, 2016 at 4:19 pm

      As long as it is the used wedge rack under 70 rounds.

  21. Leon

    Mar 11, 2016 at 10:15 am

    I have several Vokey SM4 and SM5. They are OK wedges. Perform as expected but feel just so so. I am bagging a few bridgestone J33 wedges (11 years old…) which perform extremely well with much softer feel. They are forged wedges with a more affordable price ($30 each). But if you are looking for some new wedges, give Mizuno and Bridgestone a shot. Their wedges are forged and feel way better, plus a more reasonable price. Vokey and Scotty Cameron are over priced for sure. But it is your call

  22. Ryan

    Mar 11, 2016 at 10:03 am

    I thought that I heard, from our Titleist Rep, that SM6 was not going to be available through wedge works. He said that SM5 was still available but that the SM6 was not going to be offered. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 11, 2016 at 6:13 pm

      SM6 wedges are available through WedgeWorks. At this time, they are not available through Vokey’s Hand Ground Program, but they will be. We will post an update as soon as we hear when.

  23. LB

    Mar 11, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Great job Zak. Best reviewer in the industry.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 11, 2016 at 9:26 am

      Thanks so much, LB. This was a fun review to tackle, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  24. killerbgolfer

    Mar 11, 2016 at 9:04 am

    These look like great wedges. I doubt the accuracy of one of your last statements though, regarding “many” tournament players that but two sets of wedges, one for the bag and one for practice. I’ve played in tournaments from local clubs up to state ams for 20 years and have never heard of a player purchasing a separate set of wedges just to practice with. That might work for the pros who don’t pay for them, but it erodes the authenticity of the review and makes it read more like an elaborate advertisement. Appreciate what you do though I know many of us look to this site regularly for more information on all the new equipment.

    • Zak Kozuchowski

      Mar 11, 2016 at 9:25 am

      killerb,

      I was also put off the first time a fitter recommended I buy two sets of wedges, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense to me. And I’ve gotten the same advice from several fitters and top instructors since. If you’re really serious about short-game performance and practice a lot, why would you beat up your gamer wedge week after week in the practice bunker?

      I went back and forth about adding this into the review, but decided that it could be valuable for someone out there who may not hear it otherwise. The key is making sure you’re properly fit for your wedges and comfortable with them on the course before you splurge on on back-up set.

  25. Tom

    Mar 11, 2016 at 8:59 am

    Which wedge is the one that rusts this year?

  26. 2Short

    Mar 11, 2016 at 8:46 am

    Gee another 5 star review, go figure.

  27. Dj

    Mar 11, 2016 at 8:35 am

    149? It’s a wedge. They’ve increased their prices on everything this year

    • David Camp

      Mar 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Hey it’s getting a lot more expensive to operate in California these days.

    • DatSliceDoe

      Mar 11, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      total rip off. No reason for that kind of increase given the SM line is the high water mark in wedge pricing as is…except the failed TM TP EF Spin Groove…that’s a mouthful.

      Anyhow, these look great, and if I get can get them for $70 used after a few hits by a fool who played them for two rounds like I got my SM5, maybe I’ll be a taker.

      • Double Mocha Man

        Mar 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

        Only the price of gas goes down.

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Reviews

Ari’s Course Reviews: Riviera Country Club

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Riviera Country Club was designed by George Thomas and opened in 1927. Construction was done by Thomas’ right hand man, Billy Bell, whom he worked with on all of his great projects in California. Instantly regarded as a top test of golf, Riviera Country Club has hosted 3 major championships. When the pros tee it up this week at Riviera for the Genesis Open (formerly the Los Angeles Open), it will be the 55th time the course has played host to this now annual test of the best in the world.

Related: Our photos from this week at the 2018 Genesis Open

The clubhouse is one of the most amazing in golf; it sits up on top of a hill with the golf course (other than the first tee and 18th fairway/green) laid out in the lower canyon, continuously bisected by a set of barrancas that are integral to the strategy of the course. The first tee is right next to the pro shop and is one of the most unique and best in all of golf. Literally feet away from the pro shop and the starter shack, each player gets their name and home town announced as they prepare to tee off, an experience that gives the place an even more special feel. Sometimes it’s the little details that matter. The first tee shot drops 75 feet to the fairway, giving you the feel of standing on the edge of a cliff as you tee off on the first hole.

George Thomas was all about strategy and angles in his course design. It was a constant theme in the courses he designed, as well as the books he wrote. This can be seen in most of the holes at Riviera. The best angle into the green is almost always the angle off the tee with the most trouble. You can see this on holes 1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 13, 17 and 18. If you challenge the fairway bunker, or barranca, or stay tight to the tree line, you get a much more open angle into the green. If you play out to the open side of the fairway, you have a much more difficult shot into the green.

The view of the first tee, and first fairway down below

There are only two or three par 5s on the course, depending on if you’re talking about member play or the PGA Tour. The first hole is just a shade over 500 yards and sometimes plays as a par 4 for the Tour. After the extremely memorable drop-shot tee shot, you descend into the valley that most of the course occupies. A barranca crosses the fairway at about 300 yards. The green is wide and wraps around a deep centering bunker.  There is a deep fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway past the barranca that does not really come into play for the Tour, but for the members if you can challenge this bunker you generally get a better angle into the green, unless the hole is cut on the far right side of the green. The 11th hole is tight between two stands of trees and crosses another barranca on the way to the green with a deep bunker guarding the right side. The 17th is a long, challenging, uphill par-5. The fairway is heavily bunkered on the left side. The right side is up tight to the tree line with only a single bunker back in the fairway. The green is large and double tiered. It is open on the left and guarded by and extremely deep bunker on the right. The best angle into the green is as close to the fairway bunkers on the left as possible.

Riviera has a great set of par 3s. The 4th hole was called the greatest par 3 in America by Ben Hogan, and it’s a long, Redan-style hole with a huge bunker short of the right-to-left sloping green. A shot out to the right with a draw can catch the contours on the right side and send the ball close to the hole just as easily as a high spinny shot right at the hole. The 6th is a true Thomas original and one of the most unique holes in the world. It’s a mid-to-long iron uphill to a large green with a bunker in the middle. The genius in this green is that it is contoured in such a way that you can get the ball close to the hole from just about any spot on the green to just about any hole location. The 14th is a mid-to-long iron to an elevated green that is wider than deep, and fronted by deep bunkers. The 16th is a gem of a shot hole, just 166 yards from the tournament tee to a very tiny, almost island of a green surrounded by sand. Besides being tiny, the green is fantastically contoured for its size and seems to fold up on itself. Hit the green and have a great chance to make birdie… miss into one of the deep green side bunkers and good luck making par!

The par 4s are nicely varied in length and challenge. Hole No. 2 is very difficult and plays uphill to a green banked into a hill that is long and skinny. Challenge the fairway bunker on the right for the better, open angle into the green.  Hole No. 3 plays slightly downhill to a fantastic fallaway green. Challenge the fairway bunker on the left for the better more open angle into the green. Hole No. 5 is a standout hole with a semi-blind tee shot that bends softly to the left around the edge of the property. Its unique feature is a large grass mound that extends out into the fairway short and right of the large back to front sloping green.  Hole No. 7 is a very tight driving hole; the fairway is tightened severely at about 275 yards by a huge, winding bunker that cuts in from the left side. The more you challenge this severe hazard, the better your angle into this very narrow green protected by a barranca and deep bunker on the right. The left is a bailout area cut as fairway, but the slope up to the green is steep and the up-and-down from there is not an easy one.

The 8th hole starts one of the most interesting 3-hole stretches in PGA Tour golf. It’s a split fairway par-4 with two distinct fairway sections that are bisected by a deep barranca. Depending on the hole location and ones preferred shot shape, and what fits the eye, the hole can be played any number of different ways. In general, the left fairway is a little more demanding to hit, but sets up better to most hole locations. The right fairway is a little more accessible, but leaves a more demanding shot into the green. This was one of George Thomas most famous holes and the right fairway was originally washed away in 1938. It was brought back in play around the recent turn of the century, and, while not an exact replica of what was there, provides the strategic design that Thomas intended when he designed the hole.

The 9th is one of the most difficult holes on the course and plays uphill to a deep, narrow green that falls hard from back-to-front. The tee shot is pinched by a pair of bunkers, but in true Thomas strategic fashion, they are staggered by about 55 yards so the player can plot their best line and try to execute on their strategy.

An aerial view of the 10th hole

The 10th is simply one of the best holes in golf. An absolute masterpiece of a short par 4… maybe the best short par 4 in golf. The player is presented with a multitude of options off the tee. The easiest shot off the tee again yields the toughest shot into the green. A mid-iron just short of the cross bunkers carries very little risk, however, the player is then left with an extremely difficult short-iron shot into this tiny sliver of a green from absolutely the worst angle. The safest way to play this hole is to take this route from the tee and then hit your second shot short left of the green. This will give you a chance to get up-and-down for par from the best place, but intentionally missing a green on a par 4 that is barely over 300 yards is not a choice most are willing to make. The next safest option off the tee is a long iron or fairway wood down the left side towards the far left fairway bunker. This leaves a shorter shot into the green from a much better angle. Then there is also the play of hitting driver between the bunkers right at the green. Pull this off and leave yourself the best chance for par or birdie, but miss the tee shot at your peril. There are a lot of big numbers waiting on this hole for the aggressive player. The green is extremely narrow and slants hard from right-to-left. It is extremely difficult to hit from any distance. This is a hole that has perplexed the best players in the world for 90 years and has been studied by anyone that is interested in golf course architecture. Truly deserving of its reputation as one of the best in the world.

Hole Nos. 12 and 13 play along the edge of the hill that defines the property line across the valley from the clubhouse. A line of Pacific Palisades mansions look down on these holes as the land slopes gently towards the ocean. Hole No. 12 bends to the right and crosses the barranca, while 13 bends left and is tight and is lined with trees. Hole No. 15 is a hard dogleg right with a deep bunker guarding the inside of the dogleg. Play out to the safe left side and the hole plays longer but more open. Fly the fairway bunker and get into the fairway and shave some yardage off the hole. The green is huge, bisected by a large swale, and is my personal favorite on the course. The 18th is one of the most difficult and famous finishing holes in the game. A long, uphill par 4 with a blind tee shot over a hill that bends gently to the right along the tree covered hillside.  The closer to the tree line on the right you find your ball, the better angle you get into the small green that is set into a natural amphitheater in the shadow of the clubhouse.

A view from behind the 18th green

Aside from a great collection of holes, Riviera is one of those courses that is more than the sum of its parts. The routing is tight and extremely walkable, and the greens and tees are all in very close proximity to each other. Other than walking down the big hill off the first tee, and up the big hill after 18 tee, the course meanders up and over some nice rolling terrain, but there are no strenuous walks. The bunkering is stunning and fits the sense of place that you get from the course and the site well. They give the feeling that every square inch was sculpted perfectly as intended. They have lips that are built up and over which makes them extremely deep and difficult.

The site is fantastic too, ringed by mansions of the rich and famous up on the hillside and laid out mostly in the canyon below that cascades gently towards the ocean. The barrancas that run through the property are used strategically over and over again by Thomas and they add immensely to the character of the course. Unfortunately, George Thomas did not design that many courses and equally tragic even less of them are in existence today. Fortunately, Riviera is still there today, so George Thomas can still show us how much fun a course full of strategy, beauty and challenge can be.

A day at Riviera is a very special one and this is one of the PGA Tour events I most look forward to watching every year.

If you liked this review, read Ari’s review of Oakmont Country Club!

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Apparel Reviews

On the course? Off the course? Adidas’ new adicross line has you covered

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Furthering golfwear’s trend toward the more casual and versatile in a big way, Adidas today unveiled a new line extension: Adicross.

Urban inspired. Decidedly non-traditional. The Adicross line (styled “adicross”) leverages Adidas’ clothing and footwear styles from other arenas and reimagines them for wear on the fairway. Available December 1, the line brings Anorak jackets, henleys, hoodies, joggers, and even an Oxford to the golf course.

And before you clutch your saddle shoes in terror, remember, this is a line extension targeting a particular segment of the golfing population, not a total change of course for the entire Adidas Golf brand. If you’re wondering who represents the segment in question, think Erik Anders Lang: filmmaker, irrepressible golf enthusiast, and host of Skratch TV’s Adventures in Golf.

Lang hosted a launch event in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District warehouse space where he sat down with Adidas execs and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for a chat about the new line. He praised the performance aspects of the five-pocket pant and the footwear styles, in particular.

As for golf’s top-ranked player, regarding the Adicross line, DJ told us the line is much more in keeping with stuff he’d actually wear than the baggy shirts and khakis that were the uniform of golf when he started out on tour.

“This is a line that I’ll wear all the time,” Johnson said. “I can wear it to the course and then go meet some buddies for lunch, and I’m not a walking poster for golf.”

From the Stretch-Woven Oxford, to the jogger pant, to the Adicross Bounce footwear, every item Dustin Johnson wears in picture below is intended for both on- and off-course wear.

“Adicross is the lifestyle brand that golfers everywhere have been waiting for,” said the world No. 1. “This is something that I’ll wear when I’m traveling to a tournament, practicing at home, or even headed to the gym.”

The aforementioned versatility of the Adicross line is very much a function of the materials: No-show sweat wicking technology, nylon-spandex blends (featured in the five-pocket pant and short), Primeknit (featured in Icon Polo and Jacket). These are clothes that are ready to wear to the office, but stretch, are light enough, and offer enough comfort to play 18 holes in.

“We wanted to challenge ourselves to design a line that would aid in helping athletes in their game, their life and in their world,” said Chad Alasantro, senior designer, men’s apparel at adidas Golf. “adicross is a perfect blend of hidden technology, fused with a creative aesthetic.”

 

The Adicross line also boldly brings street-inspired footwear to the golf course, retooling Adidas’ ultrapopular Bounce design to support the foot and grip the turf during the golf swing (and resist water during dew-sweeping early morning rounds)

“Adicross was designed as a result of the feedback we were hearing from our core consumer,” said Dylan Moore, Creative Director, Adidas Golf. “Like everyone else, golfers live in a complex, busy world with many diverse interests. They expect more from less and demand performance out of what they wear.”

The centerpiece Bounce features an ergonomic fit, offset wrapped saddle with multiple eyelet rows for customizable lacing, and a non-marking adiwear rubber spikeless outsole that features 181 strategically-placed lugs for a green-friendly grip.

The Bounce will be released in January, and additional styles will follow in February.

Regarding said “additional styles,” you can spot a few in this promo video. 

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Accessory Reviews

Choose Your Tartan: Enter now to win a Sunfish Tartan headcover

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Sunfish, well known for its stylish headcover designs, is offering up free Tartan-style headcovers to five GolfWRX Members. All you have to do to apply is become a GolfWRX member, if you’re not already, and then reply in the forum thread with your favorite the Tartan pattern.

TartanPatternsSunfish

The five winners will receive a free headcover in the pattern that they select. Winners will be selected on Friday, so don’t wait.

Click here to enter into the giveaway and pick your favorite style.

Reminder: Commenting on this post WILL NOT enter you into the giveaway.

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