‘Terrible’ Riviera hole draws pro’s scorn. Was his criticism warranted?

Adam Schenk of the United States walks from the second tee during the first round of The Genesis Invitational

Adam Schenk at the Genesis Invitational last week.

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Riviera’s par-3 4th hole gave players fits at the Genesis Invitational last week.

Over four rounds, the field cumulatively struck 241 tee shots there. Just 37 of those balls, or 15.35 percent, found the green.

The hole played tough in every round but was most taxing on Sunday when only six of 51 players, or less than 12 percent, hit the green.

That’s an insanely low green-in-regulation rate on the PGA Tour — where the average GIR percentage this year is 69.67% — and the tough-to-hit target resulted in a fourth-round scoring average of 3.225, making the 4th the hardest hole of the day, tying with the par-4 12th.

What gives?

Well, for starters, the hole is long. At the Genesis, it played anywhere from 230 yards to 245 yards into a prevailing breeze. That’s meaty, though not that meaty for the best players in the world. On Tour this season, the GIR rate from 200-plus yards (including shots from the rough and less-than-ideal fairway lies) is 47.76%, meaning length clearly isn’t the 4th hole’s only defense.

Fronting the green is a sprawling bunker that measures 60 feet from back to front, while the green itself pitches from front-right to back-left in the model of a Redan design; given the slope and tournament-week green speeds only the back-left portion of the green can support pin positions. For a right-handed player, there are two primary ways to play the 4th: (1) Hit a draw with a low-ish trajectory just short of the green’s opening and hope that your ball bounces onto the putting surface and funnels down to the hole, or (2) fly your ball, ideally with a fade, to the back-left of the green and hope that the slope helps hold your shot.

The first option is more of a linksy shot that requires some degree of feel and imagination along with firm enough turf to allow the ball to release. This is where the players encountered some difficulty last week. Because the grass around the 4th green is, in fact, a sticky Kikuyu, high-trajectory iron shots that landed short tended to stay there. Meanwhile, players who tried to fly their tee shots onto the green often saw their balls roll into the rough behind the green.

On Sunday, the challenge of the hole led CBS Golf reporter Smylie Kaufman to tweet: “I grit my teeth every time the 4th hole at Riviera CC comes on. @ColtKnost mentioned yesterday 16% of players found the green in regulation last year (I believe was the stat). I’m all for challenging the players but the hole doesn’t reward great shots. It rewards a lucky bounce.”

To which Knost replied: “I think it was meant to be played with a different fairway grass where it would actually bounce up. I’m guessing designed to land it several yards short and right and use the slope. Now days it just hits and stops.”

A player in the field also weighed in: Adam Schenk, who missed the cut on Friday after rounds of 74-73. Schenk called the hole “terrible” and implored tournament host Tiger Woods to ask event organizers to “grow poana [grass] short of 4 for the left 2/3 of green and rewarding good shots & keep current grass short on right 1/3 of green.”

Schenk added: “Who says you have to use the same FW grass around all the greens? Normally, I would say could be to [sic] hard for maintenance & cost too much…but it’s Riv that that excuse is out.”

According to the PGA Tour’s ShotLink tracking system, in the fourth round, 14 of the field’s 51 tee shots at the 4th landed short of the green and stayed there, while 13 more hit the green and ran off of it.

scatter chart of riviera's 4th green in final round of 2024 genesis
The Genesis field’s tee shots on the 4th hole Sunday. PGA Tour ShotLink

Tour pros are, of course, notorious for grousing about difficult holes, even one, in the case of Riv’s 4th, that Ben Hogan called “the greatest par 3 hole in America.” But given only a half-dozen players hit the green in regulation Sunday, it seems fair to ask: Was the hole fair?

For insight and opinions on the matter, we consulted some Riviera experts.

“Agree with the criticism,” one club insider who plays the course regularly told GOLF.com by email. “It’s been a favorite recurring complaint from the peanut gallery. Damp winter here makes the kikuyu worse. Riv manages kikuyu better than any other course I’ve seen by a significant margin, and their grounds crew has improved a lot on that issue over the past 10 years.”

One member said that the run-on area in the front-right of the green might be a touch “flatter” than the club would like as a result of mower usage, which occasionally prevents balls from releasing. But he stressed that the depression was by no means a chronic problem. “Maybe it doesn’t chase exactly right,” he said of lower, running tee balls, “but it chases mostly right, because I do it all the time, especially if it’s firm.”

That same member added that Redan greens aren’t supposed to be easy to hit but also that “their surrounds are strategically shaped to be able to get it up and down without too much trouble.” The stats at the 4th last week bear that out. While the hole gave up fewer birdies (11) over four rounds than any other hole, it also didn’t yield a single double bogey or worse and produced a tournament-best nine chip-ins. Of the 45 players who missed the green on Sunday, 32 got up and down.

Another member who said he plays the course “a few times a year at different times of the year,” said that he has “never noticed the turf being ‘grabby’ at the front of the green on the right. I try to aim at the right side of the green, and in my experience they usually put the pin in the middle of the green or on the left of it, which allows the ball to funnel down from right to left. If I hit it near where I’m aiming (by no means a certainty!), it usually does that and if it hits a little short usually pops forward onto the green.

“I will say that if only six of them hit the green in regulation on Sunday something is weird — it’s a big green and not a daunting distance for those guys.”

Might that persuade the club to make some minor edits to the 4th hole before next year’s Genesis? It’s possible. But major changes? Don’t bank on it.

Said a GOLF course rater who isn’t a member but knows Riv well, “All members I’ve talked to say leave it alone.”

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