Local Knowledge: A talk with Todd Yoshitake, G.M. of Riviera Country Club

By
John Kim, Coordinating Producer
PGA.com

Series: Local Knowledge

In a city where "stars" come and go, one icon has not only withstood the test of time, but has flourished for 80 years and still seems as glamorous as ever. Featured in films and home to some of Hollywood's greats, the setting seems fit for an epic event -- and it is. How's that for high expectations? It's just fine, according to PGA Head Professional Todd Yoshitake. PGA.com: Your course is one of the oldest on TOUR, having opened in 1927. What is it about your course that makes it so timeless and respected, considering so many courses have had to really go through major redesigns or no longer be suitable for championship events? Yoshitake: George Thompson, the original designer, built this course for championship golf. He had a strong influence from Scottish designs and it shows on this course. There are a number of options on every hole, you'll use almost every club in your bag, and you have to have great control of your game to really excel here. That's championship golf and that's why this course remains a top layout still. PGA.com: Does that mean it's too tough for the average golfer? Yoshitake: No, not at all. Different players with different skill sets can all play the course and enjoy it. It's a tough layout, but also really fair. I think every hole except one is open in the front so a player can run up their approach. Every hole has different ways to play it. That's part of the appeal. PGA.com: Your course is often referred to as Hogan's Alley. Can you tell us where that came from? Yoshitake: Ben Hogan won the L.A. Open in January of 1947 here. He won the L.A. Open the next year in 1948 and then the U.S. Open in June of 1948, all right here. In a span of 18 months, he won three times here in brilliant fashion, including setting the U.S. Open scoring record [at the time]. The course just suited him great. PGA.com: Does it ever feel more like a movie set than a golf course with all the stars that deck the walls and walk around in the clubhouse? Yoshitake: We've been fortunate to have had a real storied history in terms of Hollywood and film. "Pat and Mike" with Katherine Hepburn was filmed here, so was "Follow the Sun" with Glenn Ford. We have actors, producers, writers, several people here in the entertainment industry. But keep in mind, no matter who it is, when they come here, the focus isn't on movies or scripts, it's about the golf. The course is the big star around here. PGA.com: For us East Coast folks, exactly what is kikuya grass, and why is your course known for it? Yoshitake: Kikuya is a special kind of grass that was originally imported from Africa. Riviera used to have polo fields and the grass was brought in for them. But soon, the grass spread all over the course and actually, is now predominant in the greater Los Angeles area. It's a very thick, wiry grass. In terms of golf, the grass is thick and strong, and so any ball in the fairway, will sit on top of it very well, it's like having a perfect lie for every shot. Now if you end up in the rough, it's just as penal there as it is helpful in the fairway. The grass just wraps around the ball, it's real hard to control your shot and make solid contact out of it in the rough. PGA.com: It's obvious you have to be a tremendous talent to excel on your course. It shows in that the names that have won championships at Riviera read like a Hall of Fame. Snead, Watson, Irwin, Miller, Couples, Crenshaw, of course Hogan, pretty much all of golf's greats. Well, except two. Can you explain? Yoshitake: I really can't, that's a tough one to answer. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are arguably the two greatest golfers ever, but neither has won here. The irony is, there games are really well suited for this course. You have to have great control of your distances, be able to move the ball in both directions, I can't explain why they haven't won. I've followed Tiger for a few holes in years past, and it's not like he struggles here. It's just always a break or two or a couple of putts here and there. He got his start here, this was his first professional tournament. He's got more fans and friends here than probably anywhere. I think he'll get a win here eventually. We'd all love to see it. PGA.com: What advice would you give them, or anyone, out to play your course for the first time? Yoshitake: Know where the ocean is in relation to you at all times. That will tell you where the wind is coming from and how your putts will break. PGA.com: One thing that strikes me about Riviera, is that you have a few "signature holes" on your course. The 18th hole with the amphitheater around the green and the opening tee shot on no. 1 both come to mind as signature holes, but several people think of no. 6 that has the green with the bunker in the middle. Every have members trying to chip over it? Yoshitake: No, that's not allowed for the members, just the Tour guys. But the truth is, the way the green is contoured, no matter where the hole is cut, and where you are putting from, you can always get within a few feet of the hole regardless of the bunker. The members know that, so the temptation to chip on the green just isn't a problem.