Yesterday, I took a break from playing and decided to go watch some of the best golfers in the world in action at The Riviera Country Club. This was my first time attending the Northern Trust Open—or any PGA Tour event for that matter. I did go to the LPGA Kia Classic a few years ago, which was fun.
As you might expect, I was just as interested in seeing the course up close and personal as I was in seeing the players in action. Obviously, Riviera is high up on my local bucket list of private clubs I have yet to play. Ultimately, it turned out to be a really fun day and I enjoyed all aspects of attending.
I was meeting up with some friends from Greenskeeper.org. And, thanks to a member who was volunteering at the tournament, I was able to score a free day pass. I arrived early to beat the crowds. I went ahead and parked at the Santa Monica Civic Center lot, which was $5 for the day and provided shuttles to and from the course. I got there around 7:00, hopped right on the shuttle and was over to Riviera by 7:30.
I wandered around a bit by myself. I watched the pros warm up on the range, witnessed the first couple groups going off the back nine, and then worked my way up to the clubhouse. There, I watched guys on the practice greens and saw another group or two tee off on the first hole. Ultimately, I met up with my friends and we checked out some more of the course.
We made our way down to the 10th green. This is easily the course’s most infamous hole as the toughest short par-4 you’ll find on tour. Though easily drivable for all these players and with perhaps the most accessible front/left pin placement on Saturday, not one guy was able to hit the green from the tee all day. It tends to eat these amazing players alive, which is what makes it so fun to witness.
We did just narrowly miss getting plunked by Stewart Cink’s drive as we were standing short and left of the green and talking to a marshal. His ball landed right behind us on the cart path and ended up way over by a concession stand near the 13th fairway. It was then fun to watch him figure out his strategy from a nearly impossible location. He had to play it safe and short of the green, but he was able to get up and down from there for his par.
Later on, we were standing by the 6th green and almost got plunked again by Luke Donald.
We didn’t really follow any groups specifically and we generally avoided the big galleries following the last four groups with top players like Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson in contention. We got to see all of them at one point or another, though, along with exploring most of the course. So it was really fun walking all around and getting to soak in as much as we could.
It is definitely a lot of walking and I was pretty beat by the end of the day. Later on, we set up camp on the hillside left of the 18th green. This is a spectacular viewing area as you get to watch all the groups finishing up. We stayed there to watch the last 6-7 groups and had a great view for all the big name leaders as they came in. Rory and Bubba both made amazing up-and-down pars from next to the hospitality tent short and right of the green. I got Rory’s awesome par putt on video as you’ll see later.
Seeing the pros make some great shots was only part of the fun for me, as I was equally interested in checking out Riviera. I’ve always wanted to play the course, and I know it well from watching it on TV and playing simulated versions of it on video games. However, to walk the grounds in person was a real treat. I was just blown away by the course presentation. Not only were conditions immaculate, but the intricacies of the layout really shine when you get to see it all directly in front of you.
The bunkering is dramatic, the green complexes are interesting, and the tall old eucalyptus, sycamore and other trees frame each hole beautifully. At the same time, the property has a much more “open” feel than I had realized. In most places, you can see a number of holes in any direction.
Naturally, it was exciting to check out some of the most notable holes like the 10th as I had mentioned earlier. The 6th is obviously another cool one with the bunker in the middle of the very unique par-3 green. The 18th is a tough finisher with a great hillside amphitheater for the crowd. 14 and 16 are nice par-3s, as well.
However, the hole that caught my eye the most in person was the 8th. It just looks amazing with the gully bisecting the fairways. All the nasty rough in there along with the bunker makes for a really cool-looking hole, and the split fairway design provides an interesting strategic element for players.
I did not stick around after play was over, even though they were having a concert afterward featuring The English Beat. I had experienced plenty of enjoyment on a picture perfect day.
Fortunately, my friend had valet parked his car at the middle school down the road, so he offered to give me a ride back to my car in Santa Monica. There was a big accident on Sunset that was delaying shuttles, so I think I would have had to wait a long time for one. Even the valet shuttles to the school were backed up, so we just walked there ourselves and saved a lot of time.
Otherwise, things went really smoothly on the day and I had a blast at my first PGA Tour event. Saturday was a great day to go with an energetic crowd in attendance. Still, it wasn’t nearly as packed as I expected. There were enough people there to make it exciting, but it was still easy to get around and see everything, so it was perfect if you ask me.
I’m excited to sit back and watch the final round at home. One thing about being there in person is it’s really hard to keep up with the scoreboard and all the action. Whether you follow one group, camp out in one spot or wander around, you don’t get to see all the highlights and ebbs and flows of every player in contention. Going on Saturday or earlier in the week is perfect to see some great action, but then it’s nice to actually see everything that’s happening from the comfort of home on Sunday.
Lastly, they do not allow cameras at the event, but phones are allowed if kept silent. Many people were out there still taking pictures and I was one of them. I did get one marshal giving me grief, but otherwise I was able to get a lot of great pictures of the course and a few players in action. As long as you aren’t getting too close, making noise or disrupting someone’s swing, sneaking a few pics seems to be okay at this particular event.
Some pictures from the Northern Trust Open (2/20/2016):
Driving range action:
10th hole before play:
Vijay Singh warms up his wedges:
A view of 9 and 10 from up by the clubhouse:
Matt Kuchar on the practice green:
1st tee action:
View from along 1st fairway looking back at clubhouse:
Peaceful 18th green before any players or crowd arrived:
View from behind 10th green/11th tee:
Bubba attempts a tricky chip on the 2nd (he almost holed it):
9th green action:
6th green action:
7th fairway action:
Great view of 18th green:
Justin Rose taps in his par:
McIlroy and Matsuyama line up their putts:
And Rory saves his par! The crowd goes wild: