Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 Genesis Open

The Tour comes back to one of my favorite Tour stops at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California.

Riviera was built in 1926 and designed by William Bell and George Thomas. I’ve always felt that Bell goes a bit unnoticed as he built numerous excellent designs like Rancho Park, Industry Hills, Balboa Park, Bel-Air Country Club as well. Perhaps because his designs were almost exclusively out West, he doesn’t get the notoriety that a Donald Ross or Alistair MacKenzie receive.

I’ve always been fascinated with old-school Los Angeles as well as old-school golf architecture and LA is chock full of old-school designs which just endears me to the area even more. Unfortunately, the courses in good shape in LA are almost all very private.

This is a course that from a design perspective is applauded by the Tour players. They did make some renovations over the past 10 years that helped the long hitters a little more and thus the shorter hitters were hurt by that design. But, the course can get a little crusty and that tends to shift the favor back towards the short, but accurate hitters.

The problem with Riviera has always been the conditioning. It is often in pristine shape, but it also has it’s occasional years where it’s in bad shape. I’ve seen times where players hit 160 yard approach shots into the green and it takes 1 bounce higher than the flagstick. And if you go on YouTube and look at some old LA Open videos, you can see some pretty rough years conditioning wise.

As far as the course goes, expect a lot of talk about the infamous 10th hole

I studied the hole years ago and the numbers at that time dictated that the best play was to go for the green on the front and middle pin location. Then lay-up towards the left bunker when the pin was in back (as shown in the diagram above).

The problem is that the conditions at Riviera change. Generally, if the course is really firm that is still the best way to go because if you end up either in or behind the right bunker, you’re screwed. But if the course….in particular that green….is softer, the better play is to just go for the green all 4 days.

This is not a popular opinion with many…but, I just don’t think it’s a good golf hole design. Mainly because ‘luck’ is too big of a factor on the hole. Players can hit good shots off the tee and on approach shots and make triple. Others can hit weak shots and make birdie.

But, as far as the hole design itself, it’s very rare. I’d rather watch this hole design than a bad hole design like #18 at Houston which makes the hole impossible. And since Riviera is so well designed it doesn’t make #10 so bad. But more importantly, I’m ‘okay’ with #10 because Bell had something that old-school designers have that new-school designers lack…he understood the importance of the ebb and flow of designing holes. #9 and #11 are pretty much as straight and standard of a hole as you can find. #9 is a difficult hole and #11 is not an easy birdie par-5. They are also not holes where you see a big deviation in score. Thus, #10…where there is a great deviation in score and is a very unusual hole….fits in nicely here even though I don’t think it’s a very good design.

The other thing about Riviera that doesn’t get talked about much is that it’s a great preparation for the Masters. Time and time again, players that have won at Riviera have generally done well at Riviera. Mainly because it features a lot of long approach shots like Augusta. Augusta’s greens are generally bigger, but the Riviera greens are firm enough and small enough that they generally require higher ball flights like Augusta requires. And while the Riviera greens are nowhere as fast as Augusta’s, they have a lot of break to them which tests the skill of the players with the flatstick.

Projected Winning Score: -12


Dustin Johnson +850
Justin Thomas +1,200
Jon Rahm +1,600
Xander Schauffele +2,200
Phil Mickelson +2,200
Paul Casey +3,300


Rafa Cabrera Bello +6,600
Jason Kokrak +8,000
Abraham Aner +10,000
Harold Varner III +12,500


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