Here’s why one top pro thinks Riviera is the best course on Tour

February 14, 2020
What is it that makes Riviera Country Club so popular among Tour players?

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — What is it about Riviera? There’s always been some prestige to the L.A. Open, some combination of location, history and money — now juiced with the arrival of Tiger Woods’ Genesis Invitational. But an integral part of that equation is the golf course, too. In GOLF’s 2019 Anonymous Tour Pro survey, Riviera took top honors when it came to “Favorite Tour Course,” claiming 20 percent of the vote. Muirfield Village (16 percent) was second, and no other course got more than 8 percent. Guys like coming here.

But it can often be difficult to get Tour pros to explain why, exactly, they’re so enthralled by a golf course. Very few are architectural nerds. Plus, it’s not their job to appreciate a course’s design — their job is to dismantle it, one shot at a time.

Golf historian and L.A. golf expert Geoff Shackelford gave his criteria for what makes a great golf course on the Drop Zone earlier this week, which was as follows:

1. Do you want to play there every day?

2. When you leave the course, can you remember every hole?

3. Is it a place where you’d want to take your dog for a walk?

That was a fantastic starting point. But the most succinct description from a Tour pro came courtesy of Patrick Cantlay, a Southern California kid with plenty of Riv experience.

“I love it this week. I think it’s the best golf course on Tour and it’s in perfect shape,” he said, acknowledging his local bias. But why is it the best course?

“I think they change very little about the golf course and yet the scores are always relatively high, or the winning score is relatively always around 12 to 16 under par or something. And there’s no real rough and the greens aren’t overly firm and it’s not crazy, crazy long. It’s long, but they don’t have to do much and the golf course always defends itself. There’s no tricks, there’s no water on the whole golf course, there’s no real goofiness except maybe the 10th hole, but it’s so short that you realize what you’re getting into. So I just think all in all it’s just the best test that we play.”

It doesn’t take a close reading to get Cantlay’s subtext: Some Tour courses play completely differently when the pros come to town, getting “tricked out” with wacky pin placements or course conditions. But Riviera plays as it naturally does: a stern, complete test.

It doesn’t hurt that Cantlay shot 3-under 68 his first round, either.

Now, if they’d just loosen the rules on dog-walking around the course, they’d really have something for everyone.

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