Riviera Country Club and the man who designed it

My last few blogs / tweets have been focused primarily on the European tour stops – those in the Middle East and South Africa. Yes I know you can hardly call it the European tour these days given how little golf is actually played in Europe. Anyway, I feel it more fitting, this week, that I discuss events closer to home. This week the US tour visits the Riviera CC located in Pacific Palasades – a Los Angeles neighbourhood.

Over time this event has hosted most of the best golfers you can imagine and the list of champions is impressive. Each and every year the best golfers continue to support the event and my hunch is that this is probably because the golf course is so damn good….I have certainly spoken with or overheard many top flight golfers praise the golf course as being that good.

I mean here is a course that has stood the test of time. Riviera CC was designed and built before the great depression by a man who had a passion for breeding roses (he would write a book or two on this subject) and designing golf courses? I suppose like anything if you got a passion for something you likely to be O.K at it. But George C Thomas Jr was more than just O.K

Much like many of the great golf architects of that time, he was born and raised in Phildelaphia, he would learn his trade socialising with other budding architects like Hugh Wilson (of Merion fame) or George Crump (of Pine Valley Fame). He would also have at his disposal (if this is indeed the right word) some of the best golf courses ever built in close proximity to his home in Philly.

It is obvious he had a knack for this design thing as he would go onto to design many notable golf courses – mostly on the west coast of America – with his associate William Bell. Sure many of these courses have changed through the years, or have been deleted altogether, but his work at Riviera remains somewhat intact – albeit some of the holes were damaged through flooding back in 1938.

George C Thomas Jr would also write a book on golf architecture aptly called ‘Golf Architecture in America’ which is a wonderful resource for all things related to good design. In fact I spent nearly $200 for my copy back yonder but by gosh it was worth it.

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My expensive copy of the George C Thomas Jr book on Golf Architecture

About Riviera CC. Well what makes it so good is the fact that it is a thinking man’s golf course. It is not overly long, albeit it has been lengthed to over 7000 yards recently, and sat in a small but expensive parcel of real estate. George Thomas would coin the phrase ‘strategy of the golf course is the soul of the game’ and this is very real at Riviera. You gotta plot your way around the course and make the right decisions. It has an abundant of variety and this is key to making the course playable for every level of golfer. George C Thomas Jr was very much an advocate of strategic design which I favour myself.

He would discontinue his love affair with golf design after the depression -mostly because there was little available work – and would return to his second passion that of breeding roses. But his legacy lives on in the form of golf courses like Riviera, Bel Air or Los Angeles CC. Anyone close to the TV set this weekend should take some time out and watch the golf out of California – I bet it won’t disappoint.

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