This year, I attended the prestigious Genesis Open, a golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. The Genesis Open, previously known as the Los Angeles Open, has been played for the past 94 years. It has been played at 10 courses around the county throughout its storied history, but it has been played at Riviera C.C. nearly every year since 1973 (the course underwent renovations in ‘83 and ‘94). Riviera is widely known as the most exclusive and expensive golf course in LA, with an entry fee of $250,000. Most golfers in the greater Los Angeles area never get to see the course, let alone play it. The course only opens its gates to the public in February of each year for the tournament.
At the tournament, I made sure I always was in the best spots to watch without a box seat. I also got to see the many great features of the club and course. Here are 5 things I observed and experienced at the Genesis Open:
The course’s Kikuyu grass
While watching the tournament, I heard many people remark on how tough the grass was. Originating from South Africa, the Kikuyu grass that grows at Riviera is some of the most challenging on the PGA tour. The grass is especially dense, soft, and strong. As I observed, this makes hitting shots out of the rough especially tough and gives less roll to incoming balls, which made the course play “longer” (meaning that the distance on each hole was longer than the measured distance). I saw this firsthand as Tiger Woods had trouble getting out of the rough on the ninth hole and ripped up some of the grass. The divot flew over toward the spectators, right at me. I took it home that day and placed it in my yard to grow. Compared to the grass in my yard, it was extremely dense, making it clear why it was so hard for the players to hit out of it.
Game management on the tenth hole
The tenth hole at Riviera, pictured right, is a short par four with a distance of 315 yards. This means most players can hit their longest club straight to the green for an eagle chance, which can pay off massively. However if the player misses the green, they will most likely have a hard up and down out of one of the many bunkers that surround the green. This leads to a choice by players and caddies: go for the green or layup. At the tournament, it was interesting to see which players went for the green and which players set themselves up for an easy shot into the green with a layup (and if so, what distance they preferred to hit into the green). One interesting shot that happened on this hole was when Harold Varner III shanked his 3 wood 120 yards into a sand trap, then proceeded to get a birdie with a perfect iron shot and putt.
Amateur golfers typically just look at the distance, pick a club, then swing. The pros take their time, lots of time. On one putt, Sergio Garcia, who is widely known for being the slowest player on tour, took 5 minutes reading the green before addressing his putt. On iron shots, Tiger Woods evaluated the lie, wind, slope of the green and surrounding areas, and green hardness all when deciding what shot to hit. This is something golfers should all do, whether or not we think we can hit the shots. I recommend any golfer goes to watch the pros in real time, as it shows us things we can do to improve our own game.
One great thing about the Genesis Open is that the course is great for spectators. An issue with many golf tournaments is that it is hard for people who don’t camp out in the front rows of holes to see the players. Many holes at Riviera, namely the second, ninth, and 18th (pictured right), have raised hills around the greens that allow fans exceptional views of the greens. I had a special experience on the second hole, which has a very large bank along the right side of the green. I went to sit down right on the boundary between the fan area and course and take a break from standing. As I started to see many people sitting down behind me, I checked my phone and realized Tiger Woods was coming up to the second tee. I was mere feet away from where his approach shot landed and got to see his putt sink for par.
Interactions with pros
As anyone who has been to a stadium sports game knows, typically the fans and players have no interaction. At golf tournaments, this is not the case—players and fans are only separated by a piece of yarn connected by stakes. Having never been to a golf tournament before, this was definitely the highlight of my experience. I had conversations with caddies and high-fived the Australian eventual winner of the tournament, Adam Scott. I also got Hideki Matsuyama’s caddie, Daisuke Shindo, to toss me one of the ‘Uncrustables’ sandwiches reserved for players and caddies. My favorite interaction with a player was being mere feet away from Woods while he “read” the green.
The 2020 Genesis Open was an exceptional sporting event all around. From close encounters with pros, a spectacular course layout, and great viewpoints, there was a little bit of everything at the tournament. I personally had a great time, and even if golf is not typically your cup of tea, I recommend attending next year, as this tournament will surely change your mind.