This article first appeared in February, 2015.
For me, the ideal short par-4 has a few basic characteristics. It must be potentially drivable for a professional or scratch amateur. It must be a relatively easy par for all — whatever their handicap — who give up ideas of making birdie and plot a sensible and safe route from tee to green. Conversely, for the over-ambitious keen to make birdie or even eagle, it must be fraught with danger and risk.
The 313-yard 10th at Riviera ticks all of those boxes.
The fairway is wide, offering a straightforward and obvious two-shot path to the green — left with the tee-shot, then a pitch straight up the narrow, angled green. The player who deviates from that formula is headed for trouble though. Land anywhere from the center to the right side of the fairway — regardless of how close you are to the green — means hitting the putting surface in two shots is unlikely. That is great strategic design: one side of the fairway is good, the other bad. And the “bad” part here is created subtly, by the angle of the green, not rough and a consequently poor lie.
The real genius of this hole, however, is the bunker on the left side of the fairway [the bunker in the center-left of the above photo, shaded by the tree]. It is the only relevant bunker off the tee. There are others, but all they really do is mess with your depth perception. The more you “challenge” the left bunker with your tee-shot, the easier your approach will be. In other words, the closer your ball is to the sand, the greater your chance of making a four or a three. That is another mark of a truly great hole — even a “safe” shot is interesting.
Which brings me to the temptation to hit driver from the tee. Especially for tour professionals, this hole plays with the mind. Yes, we could play sensibly to the left. But that is too easy. Whether through ego or taking a “life’s too short, let’s go for it” attitude, the attraction of an eagle putt or at least a tap-in birdie is too seductive for most guys to pass up.
And that’s when things can get really interesting. For every drive that ends up on the putting surface, there will be four or five in really bad places. You can’t bail out left because there are trees over there. And if you finish anywhere right of the fairway you almost certainly won’t get your second shot on the green. The putting surface slopes hard right-to-left from that side.
One last thing: An 18-handicapper can legitimately challenge a scratch player on this hole. The club champion will go for the green and maybe one out of six times be in great shape. But the average guy can play sensibly and be the favorite to win more often than not. You can’t say that about a long hole. There is no fun way for those same two players to compete on a 480-yard par-4. But the 10th at Riviera is for everyone.
Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy is a partner in the Melbourne, Australia-based course design firm of Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead (www.OCCMGOLF.com).