February 19, 2015 / 12:43 AM / 4 years ago

Changeless Riviera revered by the players

PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Iconic Riviera Country Club, which once again hosts the Northern Trust Open this week, is loved by the players for its classic feel and the fact that it barely changes from year to year.

With its long established links to the Hollywood stars, the par-71 layout is consistently ranked as one of the top courses on the PGA Tour because long, medium and short hitters can all thrive at the venue.

“The best part about it, it doesn’t change much,” 2012 champion Bill Haas told reporters while preparing for Thursday’s opening round. “It’s right there in front of you.

“The par-threes are difficult, and you’ve got to get those. If you can play those well ... the par-fives, obviously everybody takes advantage of those. This golf course is probably in the top three on the tour.”

Fellow American Bubba Watson, the reigning Masters champion who won last year’s Northern Trust Open by two shots after shooting bogey-free 64s in the final two rounds, agreed.

“They don’t tweak it,” said the left-hander. “They just leave it the way it is. They let the grass and the winds and the humps and bumps of the greens define their golf course instead of trying to make it extra long.

“I have not seen too many changes that I was worried about. They let the golf course just defend itself.

“And then when you look at the history, the great names like Bubba Watson on the trophy,” he added with a broad grin, sparking loud roars of laughter. “You look at the great names on there (the trophy), it’s an honour to be a part of it.”

At 7,349 yards off the back tees, Riviera is not especially long by modern standards but offers a variety of options for shot selection and boasts some of the shrewdest bunkering around.

Located just off Sunset Boulevard, Riviera hosted the U.S. Open in 1948 and the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1995, and has a long association with nearby Hollywood.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the course hosted the Los Angeles Open, and actors such as Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn flocked to the club to watch the professionals compete.

American world number six Jim Furyk, seventh-ranked Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (14th) are among five players in the top 20 who are in this week’s field.

Editing by Frank Pingue

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