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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

WRX Spotlight Review: Eminent Golf’s Conic putting trainer

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The golf world is full of training aids. From the simple to the silly, there are no shortage of tools and machines being thought up to (hopefully) help golfers improve their games. It’s not very often you come across something that really has the potential to help improve consistency and “ingrain” a feeling (or “feels” as the pros say) into a part of the game that so many struggle with.

This is the Conic putting aid.

Before we go any further, let me be very up front: this is NOT a training aid intended or designed to be an impulse purchase during early morning reruns on Golf Channel. The Conic costs $1,350.00…but for good reason. It’s designed, manufactured, and built right here in the USA, milled from solid pieces of steel and aluminum. The entire system is built to last and to be a true lifelong training tool. The likelihood of this thing ending up the in a dusty corner of your garage is slim to none. Even the carrying case is something to behold.

On my first try, it took about 5-7 minutes to set up (I went full “dad-building-Ikea-furniture mode” and initially ignored the entire instruction manual. That’s on me), but after the first setup, getting this thing from the case to on the green took just a few minutes after that. It’s 100 percent NOT a “warm up before my tee-time, and throw it in my golf bag” style of training aid because of its size, but if you are headed to the green for a real “session” this is an indispensable tool.

So what does it actually do?

The Conic is designed to get you into the perfect putting setup and help you learn to make a repeatable motion built for your stroke and body type. This is not a one-size-fits-all training aid. It also works for both right and left0handed golfers.

So how does it do all of this:

  • The Conic has five adjustable plane angles for different size arcs: 85,80,75,70,65. This makes sure you get set up based on putter type and your optimal stance. The goal is to have you get more consistent with your stroke not some arbitrary “ideal stroke model”
  • The trainer controls the X, Y, Z axis of the putter head: Lie, Loft & Face Angle. Each one of these variables can make or break a putt (first putting pun in the bag), and so by being able to control those helps improve repeatability when on the course
  • It puts you into the same position time after time to help develop the feeling of a correctly made putting stroke. As much as people might say it, muscles DO NOT have memory — your brain does. The Conic helps develop motion patterns which again lead to helping you be more consistent on the greens
  • There is a built-in detachable arm that helps the golfer visualize both the target line and line the putter head up perpendicular to the target — a great tool for those that struggle with direction.
  • The putter arm can also be controlled to help maintain a specific stroke length — little stops get inserted into the slide and create instant feedback when you take the putter back too far.

So does it work?

Heck yeah it does! Although not meant for extremely long putts, you can use the Conic 1.0 easily on anything inside 20 feet, and it really helps with the 6-10 footers. With all of the adjustability, it’s also easy to switch between putter models that you might have.

My personal theory with putting and alignment is quite simple:  “Every putt is a straight putt. Just get it rolling and let gravity and speed take care of the rest.” The moment the ball leaves your putter face, your job is now over, and what the Conic does is allow you to work on, in a very structured way, hitting putts on line. My favorite use for the Conic was on roughly 7-9″ putts where you just set up, make the right stroke for speed, and watch the ball work its way into the cup.

This is an expensive tool — even PGA Tour pros that are using them paid in full. But like I said before, you get what you pay for with the Conic. Another feature is it can be used inside and out as long as you have a “green” or a nice piece of carpet to roll some putts. Beyond the players who spare no expense on clubs and fittings this seems like a bit of a no brainer – roughly the cost of three nice putters gets you something that will work for you, as long as you want to work with it.

I believe that one of the biggest markets for the Conic currently is for teachers to help students ingrain the feeling of making a solid stroke and increase consistency at setup. The cost is still the biggest factor that will detract people from purchasing this, but for the golfers looking for the ultimate putting aid, the Conic trainer could be your answer to those missed three-footers.

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Accessory Reviews

WRX Spotlight: Uther Supply golf towels

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Product: Uther Supply golf towels

Pitch: Via Uther: “Uther cart towels use the highest quality material and construction which have been tested to perform season after season…Uther’s unique blend of moisturize wicking, soft microfiber is 3x more absorbent than cotton and 5x more durable…Waffle pattern to easily remove even the most stubborn dirt in club grooves and golf ball dimples…Uther is the creator of the fashionable golf towel. Features unique sublimated prints and designs that make a fun accessory for both men and women golf bags.”

Our take on Uther Supply golf towels

Most golfers have a “logo” towel hanging on their bag today. Typically you’ll see the name of a course the golfer has visited, or an OEM name. Uther Supply towels, however, are different. Uther (pronounced “other”) Supply Founder Dan Erdman described his inspiration for this unique line of golf towels in an interview with GolfWRX a few years back:

“When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together… I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.”

They have certainly succeeded in creating a new type of towel in the marketplace. We used them over several rounds of golf, in various conditions to put them to the test.

Meant to be shown off, Uther golf towel designs are creative and clever, with some of the most popular being the “Happy Gilmore inspired” Cart Towel and “90s coffee cup” Tour Towel. There of course, are many others to choose from.

Of course, let’s not forget that the primary function of a towel is to clean your golf equipment. That might seem easy but we at WRX have ordered some custom towels from other manufacturers in the past and were disappointed in the performance. Uther’s towels, however, succeed in both form and function. They’re stylish, but they also are an excellent functional towel. You’re like to be impressed at how light they are as well. These aren’t bath towels, but rather high-quality microfiber blends that Uther says are 3x more absorbent than cotton.

As far as cons, if we’re nitpicking, you may need to find a larger carabiner clip for some golf bags if you want to hang your towel in a more prominent place. These are made to show off, after all.

Prices range from $28-$35 USD and are available for purchase at uthersupply.com, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy in the US and Golf Town in Canada.

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Apparel Reviews

WRX Spotlight: Air Jordan ADG golf shoes

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Product: Air Jordan ADG golf shoes (available at Dick’s and Golf Galaxy). 

Pitch: Via Jordan: “Jump up the leaderboard in the Nike Men’s Air Jordan ADG Golf Shoes. Famed for its incredible comfort and lightweight feel, the ADG features a Zoom Air unit for responsive cushioning and an integrated lacing system for a secure, supportive fit. The Integrated Traction pattern offers you enhanced grip on every terrain and the signature Jumpman logos give you extra style on the course.”

Our take on Air Jordan ADG golf shoes

Confined to the feet of Keegan Bradley for years, the iconic sneaker brand seems to have proof of concept in the golf space, as evidenced by the growing roster of tour players (Pat Perez, Harold Varner III), and numerous retail offerings.

We got to test one of said retail offerings: the just-released spikeless Air Jordan ADG. Now, the Jordan style may not be for every golfer (can’t imagine them catching on in Tuesday morning senior leagues across the nation), but if you like the look of Js on the court or street, you’ll love the look of these. Indeed, you’ll probably love the look of all Jordan offerings for the fairway, as the company has done an excellent job of bringing its aesthetic to golf, rather than the opposite (if that makes sense…tacking the Jumpman logo on a pair of saddle shoes was never going to work).

So, appearance wise, the elephant print leather upper and other signature brand elements look great (and the translucent sole is an awesome touch). However, when it comes to golf shoes, particularly of the spikeless variety, we’re always concerned about stability during the swing (both in terms of contact with the ground and within the shoe internally) and appropriate support/comfort for the five-plus mile trek that is a round of golf.

On both of the aforementioned fronts, these shoes are superb. You can feel the comfort and support the instant your heel hits the Jumpan Golf logo on the insole, and the shoes do everything you’d ask a spikeless shoe to do on course. Highly recommended; we look forward to seeing what his Airness’ cordwainers come up with next.

A look at the white colorway, via Jordan, below. 

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