By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
Considering the Northern Trust Open’s place on the calendar, rain never seems all that far away from Riviera Country Club. Unlike some soggy editions of recent memory, though, the wet stuff has been more of a benefit this time.
Late January rains helped Riviera’s famed kikuyu grass recover from a cold snap, leaving the iconic course thriving just in time for the PGA TOUR’s best lineup yet in 2013 to take dead aim.
“I think Riviera actually looks better than it has at any point in the [recent] past,” said Paul Vermeulen, the TOUR’s agronomy director who oversees final preparations for the NTO.
“The timeliness of the rain has certainly been a contributing factor. It really energized the kikuyu and the course really has great color.”
Nor did a couple of early-week frosts do much to affect the look. Even better, the only rain in the tournament forecast shows a 10 percent chance on Saturday morning.
“I’ve been doing this tournament for several years now,” Vermeulen said, “and I know it’s certainly the best that I’ve seen.”
Riviera’s picturesque opening hole, a haven for birdies and eagles, might see even more with a small change around the green.
A section of rough fronting the green’s right side has been mown, creating a chipping option that especially comes into play for one pin placement on the right.
“It gives guys a chance to bump the ball up on the putting surface,” Vermeulen said. “It really is a wonderful improvement. Kikuyu rough is really wiry and you never know which way it’s going to bounce. This gives them a more predictable situation to deal with.”
Riviera also did a major upgrade of its practice facilities in the past year, including a new chipping area between Nos. 1 and 2, and a larger practice range to alleviate some of the congestion that typically would occur.
Workers also raised the net behind the range another 40 feet, which should keep balls from blasting out to the 11th fairway.