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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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Ari Techner has been obsessed with golf since he was a kid. His first job was at Carls Golfland picking the range as a 14 year old. He attended the University of Michigan and then the Professional Golf Management program at Ferris State University. At 23, only a little more than a year after graduating from college, he founded Scratch Golf Clubs where he served as President/CEO for 13 years. He is one of the world's most accomplished Club HOs having once completed a 4 round tournament with 4 different putters and finishing in the top 5. He is happy to be free of the shackles of Scratch Golf, giving him the opportunity to HO more than just drivers and fairway woods again! The only thing Ari loves more than golf clubs is golf courses. He has traveled all over the world playing golf, having played most of the USA Top 100 and most of the great courses in Ireland, Scotland and England. He is currently the Director of Business Development for King Collins Golf Course Architecture an up and coming design firm responsible for Sweetens Cove Golf Club the 59th ranked course on Golf Week's Top 100 list and only the 2nd 9 hole course to ever make the list. When he first played Sweetens Cove he was so impressed with the work that King Collins had done that he became a part of the ownership group when the opportunity presented itself. He is also a member at 4 courses in the USA Top 100 including 2 in the Top 20 and a Royal club in the UK that was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1864.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Frank Perry

    Sep 22, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    Why review a course that 99.9% of golfers have no chance of getting access?

  2. Joro

    Feb 16, 2018 at 11:50 am

    IT is a great place. The Friday night Seafood Buffet is wonderful and the course is not bad either. I think one of the best holes is the short #10 a sneaky sucker. For a “short” course it has a lot of tough holes and that is what makes a course, not the Bombers wide open long courses. You can see from the scores they are not eating it up, not even the bombers who have to hit quality shots, not just long.

  3. Noonan

    Feb 14, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    One of the most over-rated courses ever

  4. Shad Goldston, DDS

    Feb 14, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Outside of Augusta, “The Riv” is the yearly tour stop I covet playing the most. The tightness, angles to the green, risk/reward, etc. This place is off the charts. I think it leaves places like Pebble (which I’ve played) and Sawgrass in the dust, as far as design and strategy.

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Equipment

GolfWRX Spotlight: Tour Edge Exotics EXS Pro hybrid

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Hybrids, for many of us, are one of the clubs that don’t get replaced very often. Once we find one that we can confidently hit in pressure situations, it stays in the bag for as long as possible.

I am exactly one of those players as my hybrid has been in the bag since 2015 and has the paint chips and embedded dirt to prove it. That club has been my crutch to lean on when I couldn’t hit anything else straight off the tee, needed to hit the green on a long par 3, or go for the green in two on a par 5.

I wasn’t really looking for a new one when the Exotics EXS Pro showed up at my door, but the shape grabbed my attention, and I had to give it a try.

Tour Edge just announced the Exotics EXS Pro line of woods and they are “from the tour van” with tour-inspired shapes and performance. You can read the whole launch story we did HERE and also read about the new fairway woods.

The EXS Pro hybrid is smaller and has a deeper face than its EXS 220 sibling, giving it a look that better players look for. The shape is initially what got me, as it isn’t a tiny hybrid like we have seen with some other “tour” versions, but it isn’t too large either. The head is also a little more rounded overall, without a sharp toe or other lines. As I am one to hit my hybrid off the tee a good amount, the deep face was welcome—while it isn’t so deep that you can’t hit it off a tight fairway lie. The moveable weights in the sole allow you to adjust the head in order to make it an “anti-left” club that many better players fear.

On the course, I really felt comfortable with the EXS Pro right away. The first shot came off the face feeling hot thanks to the Beta Ti Face that is brazed onto the stainless steel body. The ball speed is really fast and the shot shape was flatter than my previous hybrid setup. If you are a high ball hitter and have a hard time with hybrids, the EXS Pro should be on your shortlist of new ones to try. Better players are going to love being able to flight the ball for windy conditions. Distance is of course fantastic, but it is repeatable and consistent.

The EXS Pro is a little longer than my previous hybrid, but still fitting into the distance that I require. Tour Edge didn’t just make the club longer to add distance, the lofts are pretty standard as the 19-degree I have is only 40.25” long and has a lie angle of 57.25 degrees. Dialing in the EXS Pro should be no problem since they make six lofts between 16 to 22 degrees to fit your gapping needs.

Over the past two weeks, I have found that this EXS Pro does remove the left side of the course. Tour Edge claims it is an anti-left hybrid, and so far I have found that to be nothing short of the truth. Shots are slightly fade biased with the heavier weight in the toe, but you can still easily turn it over and hit it straight. Tight lies or fairly deep rough are no problem with the compact shape and Slipstream sole, making it versatile all over the course. I

like the deeper face for hitting if off the tee and shots where the ball is sitting up in the rough. That deep face just gives me a little more confidence that if I get a little steep with my swing I will still be able to save a decent shot.

My only real complaint is that the EXS Pro’s Slipstream sole collects some dirt, and you have to grab a tee to clean it out, but really nothing that should stop anyone from putting this in their bag.

Overall The Tour Edge Exotics EXS Pro is an anti-left hybrid that is built for better players. What is might not have in total forgiveness it makes up for in lower launch, great distance, and its fade bias. If you have been struggling to find a hybrid to fit your game, the Tour Edge Exotics EXS Pro could be your answer.

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Accessory Reviews

GolfWRX Spotlight: Crossrope weighted jump rope & app

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An 18-hole round of golf averages out to just under five miles of walking, which on its own is a good workout. Once you throw in some potential uphill trekking you get some serious cardio too, but if you all looking for a quick workout between rounds of golf look no further than Crossrope.

Crossrope – The details

Crossrope is a system of the weighted jump rope that allows you to quickly switch the weight of the ropes you are using to boost your workout—they range from 1/4 lbs all the way up to 2 lbs depending on the kit you start out with. There is an accompanying app that helps you go through multiple workout routines and is available free, or you can upgrade to the entire library of workout routines along with more workout tracking options.

This is NOT your middle school jump rope

The handles are heavy duty and feature precision bearings to allow the rope to move smoothly around as you go through a routine. They are also ergonomic and fit into your hand naturally, which making gripping easy, something that is really nice when you’re swinging a 2 lbs coated steel cable around. The handles also come with a fast clip system to make changing cables depending on your selected workout easier too.

The ropes themselves are made from braided steel and are almost impossible to tangle, allowing them to be easily transported and stored when not in use. All in you are getting a premium piece of workout equipment that is effective and easy to store—hard to same the same thing about a treadmill.

When it comes to a workout, skipping rope is one of the most effective cardio workouts you can do, and with Crossrope, you can get both cardio and low impact weight training when using the heaviest ropes, and follow along with the guided workouts.

As someone that hadn’t used a jump rope in over a decade, starting out lighter was a nice way to ease in before moving up, and I was pleasantly surprised how easy and fun some of the workouts in the app were. If you are looking for a fun way to add something to your workouts, or you just want to try something new to get you into golf course walking shape, this could be right up your alley. To learn more check out crossrope.com

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Equipment

TaylorMade SIM and SIM Max driver review

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New for 2020, TaylorMade has launched the new SIM driver family. First the lower spinning SIM then a more forgiving higher spinning SIM Max and a SIM Max D head to help draw the ball for those that need it.

We have seen the tour players using all three of the SIM drivers.

Technical Details

The SIM, SIM Max, and SIM Max D drivers from TaylorMade feature an asymmetric sole shape as well as a redesigned Inertia Generator. The asymmetric sole shape of the drivers is designed to reduce drag while providing faster clubhead speed, with the redesigned Inertia Generator redistributing weight at the very low-and-back portion of the club in a bid to provide improved forgiveness.

The SIM Max D clubhead contains a heel-bias internal weight with a topline masking to make the clubhead look more open at address to help golfers who struggle with a right-miss.

Other features of the SIM, SIM Max, and SIM Max D drivers includes a speed injected twist face, inverted cone technology, a thru-slot speed pocket, multi-material construction and an adjustable loft sleeve.

Exclusive to the SIM driver is sliding weight technology which allows face angle and flight bias preferences of up to +/-2° loft change and up to +/-20 yards of draw-fade bias.

(Top Left to Right) 2020 TM SIM Max & 2019 TM M6, (Bottom Left to Right) 2020 TM SIM & 2019 TM M5

Reviews

Here are the individual reviews from GolfWRXers’ trip to The Kingdom.

Tester: Rob “osubuckeyes691

I’ll start by saying this. SIM is very good. It’s not a magical 30 yards like everyone is talking about here. That comes from being properly fit. But it is good, and with a proper fitting I’d be shocked if you couldn’t find at least slightly better numbers with SIM over any gamer you have.

My current set up is a Callaway Epic Flash SZ Double Diamond with a Fuji Ventus Black 6x. LOW LOW LOW combo…and I still hit it high haha. I live in the low to mid 170s ball speed with spin sometimes getting up to 2700 2800. Drives I hit well, spin around 2100. My miss is a big push slice.

But it is good, and with a proper fitting I’d be shocked if you couldn’t find at least slightly better numbers with SIM over any gamer you have. -Rob

I ended up being fit in to a SIM 9* with the new KBS Tour Driven 70 Category 5. This shaft is super interesting. It’s really hard for me to describe but it has feel, and a lot of it. Spin dropped to about 2400 on my miss right and really, that’s what I was hoping would happen. I wanted something that when I missed, wouldn’t lose me 30 yards. We put the weight in the heel and it really did help straighten out the miss. Huge advantage for me. I knew as someone who swings 120ish I wasn’t going to pick up 20 yards. I wanted to reduce my miss and that’s exactly what SIM was able to do for me.  Here is a link to his post in the forums.

Tester: Will “fillwelix

For my driver fitting, I was with Perry, who was a blast to get to work with. I started by hitting my gamer on Trackman, talking with Perry about what my misses usually are, and what I wanted to get out of the fitting.

I usually don’t have a problem with distance so I told him the biggest thing I was looking for was a tighter dispersion. I don’t have the trackman numbers yet but with my gamer, I was averaging about 110 club head speed, 160-something ball speed, 270-275 carry, 285-290 total. Launching a bit too high but spin was okay.

The thing was seriously nuclear. My club head speed bumped up only about 1 or 2 MPH, but the launch and spin were incredible, as well as ball speed. I topped out at 170 ball speed, which I had never gotten before. -Will

We tried the 10.5 SIM in a Ventus Black 6x, and he gave me a couple tips in my setup, because my AOA was something like 4 or 5 degrees up. The thing was seriously nuclear. My club head speed bumped up only about 1 or 2 MPH, but the launch and spin were incredible, as well as ball speed. I topped out at 170 ball speed, which I had never gotten before. Carrying 295-300, total of 315-320. One shot carried the fence of the driving range at The Kingdom.

Spent some time going through different shafts to see if there was an improvement, played with weights, etc. but the best numbers were with the 10.5 SIM with Ventus Black 6x and the weight all the way in the toe, because my miss is usually left. Here is a link to his post in the forums.

Tester: Nick “n_rones

I started off with my fittings working with Joe. After some warmup we started with the drivers. Coming in I was playing a Srixon Z785 with a Hzrdus black 6.5 70 gram shaft at 45 inches.

I’m a really tough fit because I have an unusual swing and hit down on the ball heavily with every club. My AOA with the driver was between 5 and 7 down which is pretty nuts I always knew I hit down on it but not that much. I’m still waiting on the trackman date to be emailed to me but with my own driver I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 109 swing speed with a launch angle of 4 degrees and 4000 spin (Ridiculous I know right).

I was able to take it on the course with me that afternoon and hit 12-14 fairways a new record for me and ever ball was easily 15-20 yards longer than I was used to. -Nick

His main goal for me was to get launch up and spin down. The first club he handed me was the Sim 10.5 turned up to 11.25 with a Graphite design IZ 7x. Instantly my launch angle increased and spin dropped. We then went through a few other shafts like graphite design ad di 7x. We came back to the IZ and with a quick change in tee height we ended up where we wanted. We knew with my angle of attack we were never going to get me to super low spin and high launch we just wanted to get it to a manageable number.

By the end of the fit I was hitting the sim with the iz under 3k spin with a couple down at 2500 and 9 degree launch increasing my carry from the 244 range up to the 260-265 range on good swings and we neutralized my cut massively. I was fortunate enough to finish my fit while other guys were still busy so we went right into the build shop and he built me my driver on the spot and gave me a super cool kingdom exclusive headcover. I was able to take it on the course with me that afternoon and hit 12-14 fairways a new record for me and ever ball was easily 15-20 yards longer than I was used to. Most of that is me never being through a proper fitting before but a big factor was I was able to get into the sim head with high loft but it was a great spin killing head for me. Here is a link to his post in the forums.

Tester: “jimbonecrusher”

I am one that gained a good bit of ball speed from getting fit for the SIM driver. My gamer is a Titleist 915D3 9.5* with a Rogue Silver 70X. I wasn’t fit for the driver as I just bought the parts off of the BST. I always felt that I lost yardage due to high spin. The Trackman didn’t lie as I was getting 166mph ball speed and 3000 rpm of spin on well-struck shots. Where this posed a problem was when I was off-center, the ball would be a high right spinner that would lose a lot of distance. 

Where I saw great gains was in dispersion. TwistFace just flat out works. Toe shots came back to closer to center, and heal shots faded right back towards center. I also didn’t lose as much yardage. I did pick up about five mph in ball speed. There are a plethora of reasons for this gain and the resulting 20 yard gain in ball flight.

Some could attribute the gain to almost 30 feet of height in ball flight. It could also be because there was 300 less RPM, or over a degree increase in launch angle. Either way, it has proven to me that getting fit by a knowledgeable fitter is crucial. This is the first time that I have been fit for a driver. All the expectations of mine going into this fitting have been met.

The SIM is forgiving. The SIM is aerodynamically superior to what I have been playing. The SIM just flat out performs for me because it doesn’t balloon, it is forgiving on mishits with good direction and ball speed, and it reduced my spin rate. – 

The sounds of the SIM line is amazing. The solid “thwack” sound it makes at contact is extremely welcoming. Gone are the days of high pitched aluminum baseball bat sounds. Now, some sounds just sound perfect to me. Johnny Wunder posted a video on Instagram of me hitting a driver, and you can hear the sound. Here is a link to his post in the forums.

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