Opened in 1927, Riviera, designed by George C. Thomas, is a shot-making challenge with its numerous doglegs and tilted greens. Ben Hogan won the 1948 U.S. Open and two L.A. Opens in a span of 18 months, thus it is called “Hogan’s Alley.” Today the par-71 layout measures 7,322 yards. The famed layout in Pacific Palisades, California, first hosted a tour event in 1929.
“It’s a special golf course, it means a lot to the players. To be able to say you won at Riviera, it just means something,” said Golf on CBS analyst Ian Baker-Finch.
The Riviera Country Club has hosted the Genesis Invitational, in its various iterations, for most of the last 45 years. What was once known as the Los Angeles Open became the Northern Trust Open and then the Nissan Open and Genesis Open before being changed to an Invitational.
With the change to the Invitational format, the field is narrowed from 140 to 121 players, though with Daniel Berger withdrawing on Tuesday it’s now down to 120.
The course itself has no water hazards, but it still has a reputation as one of the tour’s toughest. It ranked inside of the Top 10 in scoring relative to par each of the last few seasons. Fairways can be tough to find at this course, giving the opportunity for those with accuracy off the tee to have an advantage.
It opens with a par-5 1st hole that, at 503 yards, offers hope of starting with a birdie or potential eagle. As Baker-Finch puts it, “you get a nice soft start a lot of the long hitters only hit 3-wood or 7-iron off the first, it’s a short par-5.” But, that lighter opening is followed up by a second hole that can set the tone for the round.
“There’s a long, difficult par-4 with a testing green,” says Baker-Finch of the second hole. “Really, the par of those (1 & 2) holes is 9 but you need to start 4, 4 or 3, 4 you need to be under par on those two holes.”
As Baker Finch warns, being at par or over par on that opening combination can put players in a tough spot the rest of the way. The mindset that’s needed is one of finding the delicate balance between aggression and defensiveness. It’s a balance that Baker-Finch says really needs to be found early in the week in practice so that players aren’t letting the heat of the moment in the round get them carried away.
“You can’t be too defensive knowing that, ‘I just want to get this in the fairway to make sure I don’t make 5. That’s the tricky part,” said Baker-Finch. “I can’t be aggressive and take the drive on and try and hit it 320 down there because if I hit it in the rough I’m going to make 5. They’re the things that you really lean on your caddy for and your game plan.”
The toughest hole on the course is the par-4 15th. A dogleg right that measures 487 yards, the 15th had the most scores over par of any hole on the course in 2020. The two-tiered green can give players fits even after they’ve made it safely on.
“To keep a good round going you need to hit a great drive and a smart second shot into 15. You can hit it with driver and still make 6 there. It’s a really testing green,” said Baker-Finch.
The player that finds that balance and is able to handle those tricky holes without allowing them to derail the round can find themselves hoisting the trophy come Sunday. Which, as Baker-Finch said, can be a bragging point for players over the rest of their career.
“Usually, it means you’re a good ball-striker, a great player. That you’ve been able to withstand the pressure of winning in ‘Hogan’s Alley’, one of the great venues in PGA Tour golf.”
Watch the Genesis Invitational, Saturday, February 20, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, February 21, 3:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.