Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The very finest 'made' golf course in the United States.

Riviera's 6th hole, painted by Mike Miller, as
featured on the cover of The Captain, George C. Thomas, Jr.
and his Golf Architecture by Geoff Shackelford.
To see more of Miller's fine work, click here.
Pebble Beach last week, now Riviera on TV this weekend.

In his introduction to the golf course section of Geoff Shackelford's excellent club history, The Riviera Country Club, A Definitive History, Ben Crenshaw describes Riviera as 'the very finest made golf course in the United States'.

Riveria was built upon the relatively featureless floor of the Santa Monica Canyon, near Los Angeles, during the mid-1920s. Golf architect George Thomas and his construction foreman, Billy Bell, orchesrated a massive earthmoving operation at Riviera. Reportedly, a 27-foot fill was made to create the now famous 18th hole, with its amphitheatre green site. Greens at holes 1 and 11 were raised more than 10 feet above natural grade. And, creation of the wonderful, Redan-like par-3 fourth hole - which Ben Hogan called 'the greatest par 3 hole in America' - required 16 feet of fill material.

More amazing than the earthmoving operation undertaken to create Riviera is the shaping work. So many features of the course are designed to move water over the surface of the ground off of playing areas. Most holes feature a tilt toward a barranca that runs through the property - and also brilliantly factors into the design strategy of nearly half of the holes. Every slope, swale and valley designed to drain the course not only blend together to 'comply with nature', as Crenshaw puts it, but brilliantly assist with creating interesting golf as well. Despite the massive construction effort requried, Riviera is one of the most natural-looking golf courses in the world.

'It all looks as though it has been there forever,' adds Crenshaw. 'It is impossible to find where artifical work ended or began'

Then there are the holes themselves. In his landmark book, Golf Architecture in America (1927), Thomas wrote: 'When you play a course and remember each hole, it has individuality and change. If your mind cannot recall the exact sequence of the holes, that course lacks great assets of originality and diversity'. Riviera doesn't suffer this problem. The course features eighteen of the most distinct, memorable holes in golf; including the famed tenth. Played from a high tee, the 10th hole at Riviera is built over flat ground and yet, with its amazingly unique green design and bunker arrangement, is considered to be the very best short par 4 in golf. There's also the par 3 sixth, one in a collection of four incredible short holes, featuring a bunker in the centre of the putting surface. And the par 4 eighth, with its unique double fairway. This is to, unfortunately, say nothing about so many other fantastic holes at Riviera.

George Thomas also wrote that 'in golf construction, art and utility meet; both are absolutely vital; one is utterly ruined without the other'. Riviera is perhaps the greatest example of this extremely important architectural tenet. Perhaps no other golf course in the world exemplifies what is required of the golf course architect to create a world-class course; especially over a comparatively dull property.

Riviera is a textbook on golf course architecture, and a testament to the genius and artistic talents of George Thomas and Billy Bell. Enjoy it on TV this weekend.


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