It‚??s not every day you get to play with a rock star. ¬†So when Robbie Krieger ‚?? a.k.a. guitarist for The Doors ‚?? called a few days back, asking if we‚??d like to come out to ‚??Riv‚?Ě for a hit, there would only be one answer. ¬†A resounding ‚??yes, please.‚?Ě ¬†Riviera Country Club is a top track in it‚??s own right ‚?? having held US Opens, PGAs and the like ‚?? so Day 143 promised to be doubly exciting.
My heart stopped for a moment when Robbie called at lunchtime, saying he‚??d had a minor surgery on his back on Friday, and might not be able to swing the club. ¬†‚??Don‚??t tell me you‚??re going to cancel Robbie!‚?Ě I thought in my head. ¬†Argh. ¬†Thankfully he didn‚??t, and braved the pain to join us for the front 9. ¬†Phew.
Rolling up to Riv in Dodgy was just as thrilling an experience as it has been recently at the likes of SFGC, Cypress and Bel Air. ¬†No one batted an eyelid ‚?? maybe all the members used to have one before they retired? ¬†Robbie greeted us in the carpark and took us down to the majestic clubhouse. ¬†What a building. ¬†The pictures you‚??ll see below don‚??t do it justice ‚?? particularly because we weren‚??t snapping around the corridors and in the bar (well, you wouldn‚??t, would you?). ¬†There‚??s first rate service too. ¬†A chap in the locker room offered me a guest locker and to polish my shoes while I played. ¬†Naturally I accepted his kind offer.
On the way past the first tee ‚?? down to the range ‚?? I glanced up at one of the infamous green Rolex clocks, which I reckon they must have at all the US Open courses. ¬†Correct me if I‚??m wrong. ¬†Seeing those clocks, for me, let‚??s you know you‚??re about to play a tough, quality golf course. ¬†I wasn‚??t wrong, on this occasion.
I picked Robbie‚??s brains down on the range about life on tour, and what they were up to these days. ¬†Still playing; still touring; and still writing new music. ¬†What a legend. ¬†He plays with the keyboardist from The Doors and a few other lads. ¬†Soon they‚??re off for an East Coast tour; then off to Europe. ¬†I said I‚??d try to jack him up at Royal County Down for a game, a track he mentioned he‚??d love to steal a day off to play while in Nor‚??n Ireland. ¬†Hopefully I can help return the favour; with his back in stitches, it was very good of him to bring us down here.
Our 3 became 5 when a couple of young lads joined us on the tee. ¬†Jay and Jerry are the two youngest members at Riv, at 32 and 36. ¬†Both are tech / web guys ‚?? Jay does internet poker promotion; Jerry is a publisher of various web forums, at the moment for home theatre systems ‚?? ¬†and good golfers too (Jay‚??s off 1; Jerry off about 5). ¬†Being late afternoon on a cold Sunday, our 5 wouldn‚??t be holding anyone up. ¬†In fact there was hardly anyone out there (although we saw Tom Brady, the 3 time Superbowl winner that‚??s married to Gisele Bunchen ‚?? ba#@ard!).
1 at Riv leads you into a false sense of security. ¬†At about 500 yards, from a raised tee, it‚??s a short par 5 without much defence. ¬†I hit 6 iron for my approach, but ended up in the bunker and could do no better than par. ¬†We all had between 10 and 20 feet for birdie, but none dropped. ¬†An opportunity missed.
At Riv you‚??ve got to take advantage of the easy holes ‚?? which are rare than hen‚??s teeth ‚?? because there are plenty gnarly ones to torment you. ¬†It‚??s a golf course that messes with you. ¬†Relentlessly. ¬†I love it.
2 was about 460 yards into the wind, and slightly uphill: a brutal par 4. ¬†No pars in the group. ¬†Things didn‚??t improve on 3 when a few of us were faced with seemingly straightforward chips / pitches. ¬†Kikuyu grass (that‚??s probably not how you spell it) is horrific stuff, and particularly impossible to chip from. ¬†Sometimes it grabs your club; other times the balls jumps out hot. ¬†If your ball lands short of the green, it ain‚??t gonna bump up there unless it‚??s coming in low and hard. ¬†Velcro, the locals call it. ¬†
Then we came across Ben Hogan‚??s favourite par 3 in America, the 4th (see below). ¬†He won the US Open here in 1958 (I think the last time it was held here). ¬†He also shot commercials for his clubs here back in the day; in fact the only commercial ever shot showing his golf swing was shot here on the 4th. ¬†If this was Hogan‚??s favourite hole, then he‚??s a masochist. ¬†At 240 yards over a huge cross bunker to a tilted green ‚?? into the prevailing wind 9 times out of 10 ‚?? it‚??s a beast. ¬†My driver (yes, driver) ducked into the bunker, predictably, resulting in another bogey. ¬†Jay was the only one of us to hit the surface from the tee, yielding a treasured par 3. ¬†While the rest of the boys were scrambling ‚??round for their bogeys I stood and admired the mesmerising maple tree standing on its lonesome behind the green. ¬†I‚??ve never seen a tree like that before. ¬†Very striking.
5 might just be my favourite hole in LA (see pic below). ¬†A right to left sloping, doglegging fairway sits in front of you, with OB on the right under a string of mansions (what‚??s the correct collective noun here?). ¬†The 5 of us hit blazing drives down the middle, to the top of the hill. ¬†You‚??re then looking down over a shoulder and front right bunker to a MacKenzie-like green. ¬†(It looks from the fairway like it slopes towards the tee, but when you get up there it goes front to back). ¬†Robbie stepped up first and crashed a 3 wood to the middle of the green ‚?? not bad for an old timer. ¬†We all, in turn, knocked it on there, raising the prospect of a few unlikely birdies. ¬†¬†All pars, I‚??m afraid.
6 is world famous. ¬†A 220 yard par 3 up the hill, WITH A BUNKER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREEN! ¬†The pin was behind the bunker too, at the back. ¬†How cruel. ¬†I knocked a 10 footer in for par, which might‚??ve won me a few skins had Goldy not snatched a half with his 8 footer. ¬†Drat. ¬†
I‚??ll stop describing all the holes now, for otherwise my entry would be more essay than blog. ¬†Forgive me. ¬†I can‚??t move on however without mentioning 10 ‚?? a unique, nigh on impossible short par 4. ¬†From the tee a U shape of massive bunkers splits the fairway with a tongue to the right and the more prudent left side strip. ¬†A bunker at 270 yards at the end of the fairway frames the fairway, giving you a few options. ¬†I went straight at it ‚?? the wind was blowing into ‚?? and, thank the Gods, came up just short. ¬†Robbie hit a final tee shot for giggles, then bid us farewell. ¬†The others went left. ¬†Right is dead, by the way.
What makes 10 so deadly is the green. ¬†It‚??s about 10 paces wide and runs from 8 o‚??clock to 2 o‚??clock from the fairway. ¬†¬†Oh, and it slopes hard front right to back left; there‚??s a deep pot bunker short of the middle; and severe slopes take anything remotely offline into swails right, left and centre. ¬†George Thomas, you‚??ve had a blinder.
With 60 yards to the pin, coming from the perfect angle, you‚??d think birdie would be on my mind. ¬†Wrong. ¬†I was so nervous I shanked my lob wedge...to the worst possible spot, behind the pot bunker...! ¬†A flop shot from the cucuya, over the bunker, onto the downslope ‚?? no problem. ¬†Ha! ¬†Mike, who was coming from way out left, probably had a better angle ‚?? and didn‚??t shank his approach. ¬†Rather he left it in the fringe and 2 putted for a magnificent par. ¬†I took 6. ¬†Just goes to show a par 4 doesn‚??t need to be 460 yards to do you damage.
It was a shame Robbie couldn‚??t hang out for longer; I enjoyed hearing about his music and life as a member of The Doors. ¬†Truth be told I‚??d love to have had longer to draw out a few juicy tales of acidic adventures, but on the flipside I‚??m sure he‚??s probably sick of recounting stories of yesteryear. ¬†Anyway, as I said before, not every day you get to hang out with a rock star. ¬†(You‚??ll be pleased to know I managed to avoid humming the tune to his songs while zipping round in the cart with him ‚?? surely nothing could be more annoying than some punk trying to built a rapport ‚?? on the golf course ‚?? by openly rejoicing in your music?). ¬†The fact that there was a Lakers game on not long after he left might‚??ve had something to do with his departure too...although I didn‚??t put that to him, of course.
The back 9‚??s as strong as the front, if not stronger. ¬†11 is the longest par 4 I‚??ve ever seen. ¬†We walked back to the back back back tee block, just to check out how the hole might play if the Superintendent woke up on the wrong side of the bed. ¬†Long, I can tell you. ¬†500 yards into the wind, with a watery ravine just short of the small green (which is also guarded on the left by a maple tree - see pic below). ¬†¬†You get the picture. ¬†If I‚??d flushed driver from the back, my approach would‚??ve been a mere 230 yards into the wind to said postage stamp. ¬†Yeah, right. ¬†Goldy hit a memorable punch 6 iron to 15 feet, straight at the stick. ¬†Had he rolled the putt in it would‚??ve been one of the best birdies of 2010, no doubt. ¬†But Scott, our caddy, was giving bum reads match fixing styles. ¬†After about 12 holes I stopped listening to him, but asked his opinion anyway out of politeness.
It doesn‚??t get any easier, along the back 9, either. ¬†More monster par 4s, and a par 3 surrounded by a desert worth of sand (16 - see pic below). ¬†By the 18th green we were washed, after being tormented again by the kikuyu rough for one last time. ¬†Take my advice: don‚??t try flopshots out of the stuff unless you are better than Tiger Woods. ¬†It just won‚??t work.
Jerry kindly shouted us a roadie in the bar afterwards. ¬†I could spend a lifetime in that clubhouse, and might‚??ve spent an hour or two in the jacuzzi had they not closed the locker room up before I had time to drop my breeks. ¬†
Riv is a special place; a purist golfer‚??s dream. ¬†The course is tough as nails; the mansions perched atop the cliffs surrounding the course are something to behold; the members ‚?? or at least the ones we met ‚?? are gentlemen; and the clubhouse, as I said, is a palace. ¬†God I‚??d love to play there again tomorrow!
Thanks again Robbie for bringing us down ‚?? another memorable experience among what have been an amazing few days in LA. ¬†Jerry and Jay, thank you too for your hospitality ‚?? look forward to catching up down under when you boys pluck up the courage to (convince your girlfriends / wives to let you) jump on an Air New Zealand plane. ¬†
Off to Mountain Gate tomorrow, for a Kiwi gathering. ¬†Sweeeeet.
JP ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†
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