2/18/18

Bringing showtime back: The 10th at Riviera

An in-depth analysis of the 10th hole at Riviera Country Club

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The short par-4 tenth at Riviera is one of golf’s most iconic holes. It’s a rare hole where power takes a backseat to accuracy and precision. It’s a hole that yields eagles and double bogeys, and strikes fear in the world’s greatest players. Today, the 10th hole at Riviera is a really good hole.

The 10th was changed by George Thomas a few years after the opening of the club. He feared the hole was too easy and added bunkers that surrounded the back portion of the green. Geoff Shackelford wrote a nice history on the 10th which included an excerpt of what Scotty Chisholm told Country Club Magazine about the added bunkers for the 1929 LA Open.

“This hole has been too easy to score on even for the so-called dubs. It measures 320 yards and it is a well known fact that the golf architect of today experiences more difficulty in designing a hole of this length than any other. Although the green lies at almost right angles to the tee and difficult to hold with a pitched shot, Thomas has decided to trap it heavily to the right and cut down the putting surface.”

It’s an excerpt that sheds light on how golf architecture has changed. A short par 4 was the most difficult to design in the 1920’s. Today the rise of the long drive has made the short par 4 one of the staples of modern architects. In Scotland’s Gift: How America Discovered Golf C.B. Macdonald wrote about how the Haskell ball changed design, it rings true today, with how design has shifted since the advent of oversized driver heads and solid-core golf balls.

“True nearly all these courses were laid out before the advent of the Haskell ball, adding as it does about twenty yards to a wood and iron. Now while the Haskell ball has marred many excellent holes, it has made just as many indifferent holes excellent. The majority of greens committees have failed to realize this and have expended their energy in devising means to lengthen every hole. It would be much better if they would shorten some, lengthen some and leave others alone.”

The game has changed and altered the way that Thomas had intended the 10th to be played. The 10th has undergone alterations from Tom Fazio who reworked the green and bunkers to increase the difficulty. Over the years, sand build up from shots out of the bunker has made the green even more severe. These factors have without a doubt made the 10th a more difficult test of golf. The hole forces players to play defense and aim left of the green. Looking at shot patterns, the 10th is likely more predictable and less interesting, than Thomas intended.

As it is today

The current setup of the 10th takes away the heroic shot. The front pin is the only flag accessible from the tee because the severity of green and its surrounds. It is virtually impossible to hit a shot from the tee that finds anywhere but the front edge of the green.

In 2018, only seven tee shots found the green surface through the first three rounds. Only Troy Merritt hit a shot that found the green beyond the front edge. The greenside bunkers create a situation where “going for it”  means hitting it long and left. To make an eagle, players need to get lucky and catch the right slope like Merritt did or chip in. Here’s an example of the severity of the green. Patrick Cantlay hit an unbelievable shot and wasn’t rewarded for it.

The old days

During Saturday’s coverage in 2018, CBS flashed a graphic of the original version of the hole. The main difference between the original hole and today’s hole is the green and its surrounds. The club added three greenside bunkers and the left fairway bunker a few years after opening. Those changes were made before the rise of the long ball and oversized drivers rendering the hole drivable for all.

How it used to be

A lone bunker sits off the elevated green. The green sloped from right to left and from back to front.

The 20 yards between the bunker lip and false front of the green provided the opportunity to fire at any flag from the tee. A shot too short would find the front bunker. A shot too long a would find a back runoff. It allowed for the heroic play to every pin and gave players endless options to attack the hole. The original version of the 10th is a hole that has become better for today’s modern game.

1928 vs 2018

Here’s a look at the original version of the 10th and today’s version side by side. The instant and natural reaction to the old 10th hole is that it’s easier. That might be true, but in today’s power game it would better reward players who hit spectacular shots. It also provided more layup options, with each having benefits for different pin positions.

The 1928 version of the 10th (left) and today's version (right) and the corresponding options for play

With today’s version of the 10th, there are two options – layup or hit it at the front left corner of the green. The latter provides a wide dispersion based off of how the player hits it and whether they get a good bounce. The results of this wide dispersion doesn’t mean that there are additional options of play, they are just different results. Meanwhile the original George Thomas designed 10th provides a number of different options:

Option A is a great choice for a shorter hitter who wants a full wedge shot into the green. The angle offers a direct look up the slope of the green to every flag.

Option B is riskier than A but provides the same great angle from a shorter shot. This is a play unavailable today because of an added bunker.

Option C is a bold play off the tee that would be ideal for pins on the back half of the green on either the left or right portions. It would be a difficult shot for players when the pins were on the front half.

Option D would be a preferred play when the pin is on the right half of the green. It would provide a good amount of green to work with on what would be a shorter chip shot. It would be extremely difficult, however, when flags are on the left side.

Option E would be available every day to every pin. It would give an aggressive player the opportunity to make eagle or even an ace. To get the ball close it would require a perfect shot that landed between the bunker and the green at the right trajectory. Shots that were a little short would result in a tough pitch shot over a false front to a narrow green. An over-aggressive shot that missed long would be dead. It yields a chip from the back to an elevated green that runs away from the player. In all likelihood, the player that misses long would follow their eagle chip from the back with a birdie chip from the front of the hole.

The original version of the 10th might be a better hole for today’s modern player. The club should consider bringing it back or at least restoring Thomas’ ’28 version which afforded more opportunity for players to go for it thanks to its less severe surrounds. A change would give fans the opportunity to see the world’s best players attempt the heroic shot and make eagle. It might lead to a lower scoring average on the hole, but also increased options, strategy, and most of all, entertainment for players and fans.