Matt Kuchar, the affable 15-year pro, shot a 7-under-par 64 today to take the lead on the opening day of the Northern Trust Open, hosted at Riviera Country Club.
Giving chase to Kuchar are the likes of Sergio Garcia, former world number one Lee Westwood, and rookie-sensation James Hahn.
However, Kuchar is not the star of the first day, nor will anyone be for the following three.
No, it’s Riviera itself that will play that role.
Riviera has played host to three major championships, and since the 1940s has been the primary host to the Northern Trust Open (formerly the Nissan Los Angeles Open, formerly the Los Angeles Open).
After opening in 1926 – the iconic Dr. Alister Mackenzie having a hand in the initial design and course plan – it’s fabled fairways have been home to Hollywood-types and the best golfers in the world ever since.
A handful of modifications have been made over time, most notably by the design team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, they of Sand Hills, Bandon Preserve, and Streamsong fame, however for the most part, the integrity of the course has been maintained.
I’m no expert on golf course design and critique (for that, read here or here), but while watching on television, you can’t help but get a sense of familiarity with Riviera; a sense that you too could play there and enjoy the golfing experience.
Living through the wintery Toronto tundra, it’s the ultimate tease to see tour professionals descend on the vistas of Pebble Beach, Kapalua, and Torrey Pines at the beginning of the year.
However, if I was ever played at one of the aforementioned famed golfing institutions, I would be thoroughly distracted.
Would I enjoy myself? Of course. But Riviera, I could relate to, I could make my way around.
The first hole is a straight away par 5 of 503 yards. The tenth, a 315 yard par 4. And the third, although measured at 236 yards from the back tees, was once called “the greatest par 3 hole in America” by Ben Hogan.
Hogan should know. The place has been dubbed Hogan’s Alley as The Hawk triumphed there in 1947 and 1948 at the L.A. Open. And at the 1948 U.S. Open which was also contested at ‘The Riv,’ as the locals call it.
When Hogan made his return to golf in 1950 after the horrific car accident that nearly took his life, it was the L.A. Open at Riviera where he debuted.
Mike Weir, one of the shortest hitters on tour, has won at Riviera twice. He once told Globe & Mail golf writer Lorne Rubenstein that, “he plans every year not to try to drive the 10th, but that the temptation is so great when he gets to the tee in the tournament he has to give it a shot.”
There’s one compelling hole after another. It’s a thinking-man’s golf course. And, the immaculate piece of property carries with it the mystique of modern and historical legends around every corner.
Kuchar may hold on for the next three days and win the tournament. Maybe he won’t.
But while watching the golf this weekend picture yourself at The Riv, think about how you may play a particular shot, and you’ll likely find yourself immersed in a pure golf experience.
And as a Canadian in mid-February, who wouldn’t want that?
Hitting the Links –
A meth lab yesterday. A kangaroo delay today. Jeez (Deadspin)
For the first time in nine years, the ‘Mario Golf’ game franchise returns to Nintendo consoles (Escapist Magazine)
Lee Westwood, Bubba Watson, and Hunter Mahan star in this new Ping commercial for the G25s (YouTube)
Toronto.Com is running a contest to win 1 of 4 pairs of tickets to the Toronto Golf & Travel Show (Toronto.Com)
WestJet announces non-stop flights to Myrtle Beach (Fairways Golf Magazine)