Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who just regained his status as the #1 pro golfer in the world, America’s Matt Kuchar, and Australia’s Adam Scott are tied for the lead at ten-under par 203 in the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational being contested at the famed Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, which is sort of a suburb of sprawling Los Angeles. Many other top names are close behind them, nipping at their heels. The final round is today, and the warm winter weather is usually spectacular.
Riviera was my second favorite golf course on the PGA Tour. (Pebble Beach Golf Links was my favorite.) During the mid-twentieth century, Riviera was a favorite venue where some PGA Tour tournaments were played occasionally. But in 1973, the Los Angeles Open moved to Riviera to make it a yearly occurrence.
At first, the tournament’s name was the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open. I counted Glen Campbell as a friend, like so many other people did. We played golf together once. And when I was on the Senior Tour, now the Champions Tour, Glen lived in the Phoenix valley where he and his wife Kim hosted the Senior Tour Chapel at their home when we came to town.
The first time I played Riviera, which was a practice round, I shot 79 or 80 and thought the golf course was really difficult. But it took me some time to get used to its kikuyu grass in the fairways and rough. Kikuyu grass is native to East Africa, and it is tough stuff. You can’t appreciate this until you have actually played golf on this turf. When you take even a very slim divot, it grabs your club head. With your iron shots, you must absolutely hit ball first and ground second.
Riviera Country Club is located in a large ravine that descends westward into the nearby Pacific Ocean. There is no water on the course. Many of the fairways are lined with huge Eucalyptus trees that are native to Australia. Maybe that’s why Adam Scott plays Riviera so well, with one win (unofficial because foul weather shortened the tournament to 36 holes) and a second place finish.
My best finish at the Los Angeles Open at Riviera was in 1979, when I placed fourth. I was leading the tournament midway in the back nine the last round. I was paired in the last group with Lanny Watkins, the eventual winner. On the par three 14th hole, I three putted from only about thirty feet to move back into a tie for first with Lanny. I had one more bogey somewhere and Lanny birdied the 17th and parred the par-four 18th hole, which is a really good finishing hole. It has a huge, natural amphitheater around the green, with the large clubhouse high above on a hill overlooking the hole.
It should be an exciting finish today at Riviera, where the Hollywood stars like to play.