No. 10 at Riviera steals much of the architectural spotlight each year during the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational, offering players a glimpse of a drivable par-4 green that most of them fail to reach from the tee.
But it is in no way the only bit of interesting design at Riviera, the California classic gem that has hosted three major championships and became synonymous with Ben Hogan decades ago, earning the moniker “Hogan’s Alley.” Riviera ranks No. 4 in California on Golfweek’s Best list of private courses, and it is No. 18 on Golfweek’s Best list of all classic courses built in the U.S. before 1960.
Another favored hole is No. 6, a 199-yard par 3 with a bunker sunk in the putting surface. Not to the side, not front or back, but almost in the middle of the putting surface.
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Riviera isn’t the only course to present such a feature, but it is rare. And while it’s possible to putt around it if your tee shot lands on the putting surface but on the opposite side of the sand from the flag stick, there are plenty of pros who have not been amused over the years.
The StrackaLine yardage book for Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, site of the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational, shows the bunker embedded in the green of No. 6. (Courtesy of StrackaLine)
Billy Casper, for example, was a supreme strategist with one of the best short games on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and ’60s. A shorter hitter than other stars of that era such as Jack Nicklaus, Casper pitched and putted his way to 57 Tour wins and three major titles.
But even Casper was flummoxed by the bunker in the middle of the green on the sixth hole at Riviera Country Club. One year in the Los Angeles Open – now the Genesis Invitational – Casper was on that green after his tee shot but on the wrong side of the pit, with no great options to putt around the trap.
Irritated, the normally reserved Casper is said to have taken three practice swings, each removing a chunk of grass from the green. He then cleanly pitched his ball from off the surface of the green to within a few inches of the hole to save par. He had made his point with the practice swings.
The StrackaLine yardage book for Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, site of the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational (Courtesy of StrackaLine)
Most of the time, players who end up on the wrong side of the bunker can use the serious slopes to guide the ball relatively close to the hole, or at least to the proper side of the bunker. At least that’s the plan, but it’s no easy task. Three-putts are plentiful, and there have been dozens of four-putts on that green since 2003. In 2011, Brian Davis four-putted the hole in consecutive rounds.
A view from behind No. 6 at Riviera for the Genesis Invitational, with its infamous bunker toward the left of the frame (Todd Kelly/Golfweek)
The key is to hit the approach to the proper side, but even Tour pros miss sometimes. And among those who do, there are still some players willing to swipe a wedge off the putting surface to loft the ball over the sand, regardless of the divot such a play might leave on the green. And yes, it’s completely within the rules. Players can use any of their 14 clubs at any time, and no rule says a player must use a putter on a green.
It’s all part of Riviera’s charm, so long as you aren’t the player who managed to hit the green in regulation and still find yourself short-sided.