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Golfers can’t agree on anything. Blades or cavity back. Overlap or interlock. Tiger or Phil. Distance or rollback.
If you spend any time online following golfers, you’ll quickly realize that one’s particular way of speaking on the game (“Golfing isn’t a word!”) can produce such hatred in other golf fans you’d think someone’s grandmother was just told to fix her own tire or open her own door.
One thing we can agree on is Riviera Country Club. Every golf fan loves Riviera. How can you not? Riviera, in the modern age, is perfect. It isn’t an overly long golf course, but it still beats up the best in the world every year. It isn’t majestic, in the traditional sense, lacking ocean views or mountain vistas, but it’s still stunningly beautiful. It’s a golf course without penalty hazards that still makes a player feel like he’s trying to avoid the big number.
So why has it been nearly 30 years since we last saw the best players in the world take on Riviera in a major championship setting?
It’s asinine, really, when you think about it. With two major championships bouncing around yearly in the United States, it almost seems intentional to avoid a return to Riviera.
The last U.S. Open here? It was the only one, in ’48, when “Dewey Defeats Truman” was the earliest calls of all early calls. The last PGA Championship? That came in 1995, when Tiger was still a teenager, Dustin Johnson had just turned 11 and Bryson DeChambeau was about to see candle No. 2 on his birthday cake.
It seems even crazier when you dive into what modern players say about Riviera Country Club.
“You look at a great golf course and does it test every shot, does it test everything that you need?” Collin Morikawa, the reigning PGA champion, said this week. “That's what Riviera does. You hit every shot out here, you hit draws, you hit fades, wedges, long irons, 3-woods, everything, and I think that's what makes a great golf course.”
How about the best talker of golf courses among the modern players?
“It’s one of my favorites in the entire world,” Jordan Spieth said in 2015. “It’s one of the very few with the history that it has, past champions, not only just the champions, but just those who have walked these fairways.”
Spieth would know. His legend began to grow at Riviera in 2012, when it hosted the NCAA men’s championship. Spieth requested to play fellow freshman Justin Thomas, the eventual Haskins Award winner as player of the year, in the final. “Can you match me up with Justin?” Spieth asked his coach, John Fields. “I know he's a great player, but I think I can get inside his head.”
Spieth holed a 4-iron on the 15th hole, one of the toughest par 4s annually on the PGA Tour, en route to defeating Thomas and helping lead Texas to the title over Alabama.
How about an event that was recognized as a major championship for decades, the U.S. Amateur? In the 2017 championship match, Doug Ghim – also of Texas – appeared ready to put the Havemeyer Trophy above his fireplace as he was 2 up with two to play. That’s when Doc Redman elevated his game to meet the history of the club.
The Clemson sophomore eagled the par-5 17th and birdied the 18th to force a 37th hole. And what better hole to determine America’s oldest championship than the par-4 10th. The diabolical hole caught Ghim out of position and it was Redman who flew home with a little something extra as a carry-on.
These moments aren’t coincidence. Augusta National doesn’t routinely have thrilling second-nine Sunday finishes by chance. It happens because the course was designed for monumental moments and utter collapses. The golf course is excitement.
Riviera can be spoken of in a similar tone.
This is when I remind you that Riviera will host the ‘28 Olympics. That will have a major feel, as it should, and might have Wimbledon-hosting-the-2012-Olympics vibes.
But that’s seven years away. That’s another generation missing out on Riviera as the canvas for golf’s biggest golf events.
The U.S. Open is scheduled through 2027. No Riviera. The PGA Championship is scheduled through 2029. No Riviera.
The USGA did visit Riviera in 1998, for the U.S. Senior Open. It was won, appropriately, by the greatest senior of all-time, Hale Irwin. History often collides with history at Riviera. And last year, Riviera was considered an alternate site for the U.S. Open when dates were switched around because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a potential December U.S. Open being discussed and weather an obvious issue at Winged Foot, Riviera, the West Coast gem, was the go-to.
"We were honored that Riviera stepped up to offer their wonderful course to host the U.S. Open championship this year if need be," USGA chief brand officer Craig Annis told Golfweek in 2020. "They have been a wonderful partner and we have been intrigued by the possibility of going back for many years, but couldn't quite figure out how to do it on a smaller footprint. This situation could have been ideal given the circumstances.”
The U.S. Open was ultimately contested in September and Winged Foot was an excellent host. But knowing Riviera was being considered – at moment’s notice – as an alternative site says everything about its championship pedigree.
It’s time to get a major championship back to Riviera. As Annis mentioned, it would take serious planning and would force the USGA or the PGA of America to get creative considering the smaller footprint the course allows, but logistics shouldn’t stand in the way of history.
If we continue to wait, we’ll see another generation miss out on this opportunity. Dustin Johnson turns 37 this summer. Bubba Watson is 42. Adam Scott’s prime years appear behind him as well. All won Tour events at Riviera. All would have relished a chance at competing in a major there.
But none of them got the chance. And they aren’t alone.
Riviera is too good not to be involved in upcoming major championship scheduling. Each year we leave the West Coast swing thinking this. So, let’s finally end the discussions and start the actions.