Finding the fairway at Riviera Country Club – never an easy task to begin with – figures to be even tougher this week.
Not only has a dry winter created firm and fast conditions for this week’s Northern Trust Open, but a shorter cut in the fairways is expected to accentuate the various slopes and undulations inherent in the Santa Monica Canyon.
“We’re trying to show off some of the movement in those fairways (architect) George Thomas created,” said Riviera superintendent Matt Morton, in his 16th year overseeing the renowned terrain off Sunset Boulevard.
Thomas’ 1927 design incorporated much of the property’s terrain changes, creating a “thinking man’s” layout that has stood the test of time.
As the years went on, though, some of those characteristics became obscured.
“What we’re trying to do is bring back some of those features that Thomas designed that were kind of lost through time back into play,” Morton said. “That kikuyu grass can get sticky.”
The fairway cut has been lowered to 36/100ths of an inch for this week’s event, down from 40/100ths a year ago. Crews also are rolling the fairways twice a day, using newly acquired machinery that improves the process.
Not only will drives roll out a little farther, but are expected to curl more with the tilt of the terrain.
“They’re really going to have to control their distance off the tee,” Morton said, noting several holes that figure to be affected.
The par-4 seventh, for instance, has a crown in the fairway that’s likely to send more balls off to the side. No. 8 also brings plenty of undulation to its double fairways, and the 18th fairway slopes noticeably to the right.
Last year’s driving accuracy mark of 51.8 percent, by the way, was the NTO’s lowest since the PGA TOUR started keeping the stat two decades ago.
“If they hit the shot, it’ll run out and be rewarded,” Morton said. “But if it’s off-line, it will run into the rough.”
Morton said he was inspired to make the tweaks after a trip three years ago to the links of Scotland. “Seeing the ball move on the ground there, it just opened up ideas,” he said.
“It’s something I’m trying as a superintendent to bring fun into the game,” he added. “In all sports, people watch when the ball is moving. Let’s let the members have fun hitting balls around Riviera, and same thing for the pros.”
Sharp viewers also may notice a change in some of Riviera’s visuals, as swaths of native vegetation has been allowed to grow out. That includes part of No. 18, where part of the lower fairway now sports long kikuyu.