2017 US Amateur Oscars — Riviera, Bel-Air, and More!

Welcome to the 2017 US Amateur Oscars. I played like garbage with a dumb attitude during the tournaments, but hey! doesn’t mean I can’t give out the awards from the US Am!

I consider myself the host of these awards, but I don’t have an intro speech with jokes, even though I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere about all the celebs who are members at Riv and Bel-Air, but can’t come up with any. Because of that, I’ll just lead off with the award for the best picture taken with a cell phone.

Best Picture Taken By a Contestant with a Cell Phone

Best Tournament Course

Riviera of course. And this isn’t just because it hosts a Tour event every year, but mostly because it really is one of the best tournament courses I’ve ever played. Here come the reasons.

My requirements for a tournament course are 1) All the holes look different enough so you play it once and remember every hole, and 2) no funky holes. I keep talking about how requirement number 1 is the key for any course to be considered good in my book, but number 2 is required for a tournament course. I won’t list here courses that host tournaments that violate those rules, but they exist in majors and on Tour. In Riviera’s case, it perfectly follows both the rules.

Proof that it follows the first rule – I played Riv 6 years ago back  in the college days, and I remembered the vast majority of the holes and their routing. And that’s not because I see them on TV during the Tour event.

And there aren’t funky holes out there. Some people might consider the par 3 6th as funky, because of the bunker in the middle of the green. Or maybe the par 4 8th with two fairways split by a waste area. But they’re not funky in the sense of required luck. When you hit a shot on those hole, you know where you can’t miss and where it’s ok to miss.

If you hit a bad shot you’re penalized, a good shot you’re rewarded. There are very few, if any, parts of the course where a bad shot stays in play. Throw in how long the course is (I had more irons 6 and over than I did wedges into par 4s, which is the first time in forever I remember that being the case) and you’ve got the perfect course to host a tourney.

Straightforward difficulty folks, that’s the best tournament course.

Most Enjoyable Course

I still haven’t figured out my exact definition of enjoyable course, probably something along the lines of which course I’d pick if I only would be able to play one from now on. Bel-Air wins the award on that definition.

Here’s some of the reasons.

  1. Bel-Air is easier, but not by much. It averaged ~1.2 strokes less than Riviera, but still averaged +4. Courses that are too easy definitely are on the opposite side. Courses that are too easy wouldn’t be on the enjoyable side, but compared to Riviera, I need something slightly easier to play all the time.
  2. Tunnels throughout the course. This includes, for example, the tunnel from behind the dumb (see the worst Bel-Air award below) 16th hole’s green to 17 tee. A volunteer told us members compete to see who can throw/roll their golf ball farthest down and closest to 17th tee. Sure, the tunnels are just connecting the course between the hills, but that’s a fun aspect you don’t see much. (Also, I won the competition in our group!)
  3. How about the celeb parts of the course? Like on the hillside to the left of number 4, which was the cave where Tarzan lived in the first Tarzan movie. The 8th hole were Howard Hughes once landed his plane to impress Katharine Hepburn. Or the original Bachelor Mansion to the left of 11 tee (which I can’t confirm cause I never watched that show back then, or even at all).

It’s not only those parts of the course that make it enjoyable; the design is fantastic. After playing these two George Thomas courses, he’s very high on my list of favorite course designers.

Best Hole at Riviera

Like most of these awards, it’s difficult to pick the winner for the best hole at Riv. In this case, I’m going to pick one of the more straightforward holes which I’m a big fan of. I’m go with number 9.

The course tour page on the Riviera website gives this quote by the architect George C. Thomas:

“On a trap which I recently constructed, one player objected to it because, he said, ‘If I make a bad drive, I cannot get on the green on my second shot.’ When everybody roared with laughter, it was realized that this very feature was the one which made the trap necessary and valuable.” – George C. Thomas, Jr.

It’s a 463 yard par 4 with a scoring average of 4.369. Slight uphill towards the clubhouse towering over the green. There are two fairway bunkers in play, one on the right is 236 yards to carry, and one on the left that’s 275 to the front, and 292 yards to carry. The left bunker is half in the rough and half covering the fairway. Take a look at the super long picture from the yardage book below, and then the pretty picture I took from the tee during the practice round.

Tons of info here.

It’s a straightforward difficult hole. A bad drive in the bunker makes it impossible to hit the green (and tough to get it within 50 yards even), where a good shot gives you still a difficult approach. I hit the ball far, but not far enough to carry the bunker meaning I’m having to think about hitting my butter cutter to miss the bunker.

As for the green, it’s large, narrow with two sections of pin locations — front right to back left. Bunkers guard both parts of the green. In the picture below, you can see the leftmost bunker, and barely on the bottom the top edge of the front guarding bunker. Again, a green of straightforward difficulty. There are safe places to miss it, like front right with a back left pin if you can two putt from far away. But otherwise you’ll have a difficult up and down.

USGA yardage books have so much information. Lets you know exactly where to hit it.

In my case, I didn’t fade the drive enough in the practice round, got stuck in the left bunker, but got up and down from 110 yards for a par. In the tournament, my drive just rolled past the left bunker in the fairway, hit a 6 iron to the back of the green where I two putted for par with a lip out.

There are options and things to think about on your drive, but it isn’t a hole of luck. It’s a yes or no, good or bad, success or failure type hole. Like I talked about in the tournament style section, if you hit a bad shot, you’re penalized. If you hit a good shot, you’re rewarded. Number 9 at Riviera is a perfect example of that.

Worst Hole at Riviera

Uhhhh…. hmmmm… well….. hmmm….

This isn’t me not wanting to be negative on the main course at a US Am, cause other courses I do have opinions on worst holes (see below), but there legitimately isn’t a worst hole at Riviera. I’m just a huge fan of all of them.

Best Hole at Bel-Air

The first hole, because I made a birdie there! And also because it has a fantastic view from the tee box, and one of my more favorite green complexes. And sure, basically all of the old country clubs have their clubhouses on top of a hill with the first hole flying downhill, but this one is high up in my books.

Let’s start with a picture from next to the tee that I took before teeing of in the early morning practice round.

That’s clouds / fog, not pollution haze

This was taken from the front of the putting green so it doesn’t show the clubhouse behind. I wanted to throw that comment in here since the other awesome thing about the hole is how close the first tee is to the dining room. I got to play Bel-Air in my sophomore spring break and I remember eating lunch and being told the the guy about to tee of is tennis star Pete Sampras. I don’t follow tennis at all, but just sitting, eating lunch at Bel-Air, and being able to see people teeing off is something distinct.

Moving down to the fairway, we have a slightly uphill mid iron to the green where missing to the right is a no-no.

Sure, fine, if I had a 7 iron in, this should be a par 4, but you have to hit a great drive in order to have a shot at the green. Or hit a giant slice so far right that it’s on 18 fairway and miss the fairway bunker and have an angle over there. Which is what a guy in my group did. He made birdie too.

Listen, it’s an easy hole. Scoring average was 4.408 which made it the easiest hole on the course by far. But sometimes easiest does make it the best hole. When every hole on a course is so difficult where you’re frequently relieved to have a par (all of Riviera, and the entire back 9 at Bel-Air), a hole that still lets you make a birdie, and be ok with a par is fun to have.

Worst Hole at Bel-Air

Ok, now this is a legit opinion of the worst hole on the course, the par 3 16th. Here’s a picture of it, and don’t get confused because of how great the colors are there. The hole just tries to hide the dumbness with the green grass, darker green trees, and blue sky.

Yeah yeah yeah, it looks pretty.

To give you a sense of this hole’s annoyance, I’ll take you back to the famous 10th hole, an uphill par 3 of 204 yards. This is a beautifully famous hole where I can guess that more than a few of you have seen pictures of. Just because this hole is so famous, I took a this pic from behind the green towards the clubhouse.

I’m basically a professional photographer.

The green here is narrow and long, with two levels. The uphill long iron needs to be straight, but there’s room to be short with a difficult putt up to the back where the hole was located. I kept it on the fringe and two putted for par in the tournament when the pin was back middle. Scoring average for the hole was 3.465 making it the 3rd hardest hole. Tough hole, but beautiful and famous. Great hole to have.

Moving on to the 13th hole, a 230 yard par 3 to a round green covered short and left by deep bunkers. Oh hey look! Another super long par 3! Incidentally, I 3 putted for a bogey after hitting the green. Scoring average for the 13th was 3.571, meaning it was the hardest hole on the course.

Three holes later we hit the 16th, the hole I’m deeming worst on the course. It’s a vastly uphill hole from the other tip of the triangle on the back 9. Listed at 195 yards from our tees. The green is really thin, and looking at the yardage book it’s only 22 yards deep. The scoring average of 16 was 3.206, which made it the 11th hardest hole out there. Sure I contributed to making that scoring average higher, but come on!

This is the third par 3 on the back with the shortest being an uphill 195 hole?? Not only that but the 15th hole was the 2nd hardest hole on the course with scoring average of 4.510 for a par 4. That’s just too many difficult holes in a row.

It’s a tough hole. I made bogey, which sure, is part of the reason I’m not a fan of this hole. But the real reason I’m not a fan is because we’d already played two long par 3s, one of which was already way uphill. Like come on, not dealing with that again.

Ok, I’m done complaining.

Best Course For Spectators

According to my mom and sister, Bel-Air is the winner. Here are their quotes:

Oh, so you’re going to write about this, but you want quotes from us. I thought Bel-Air was much prettier. I like that there was a stream. I like that the front and back 9 had distinctly different feel. More elevation changes that kept it interesting. Whereas at Riviera, I felt like I was walking back and forth in a canyon all day. I like at Bel-Air there were areas with hills where I could sit and watch the last couple shots of the hole and that was a unique view. I don’t want to trash Riviera, I just thought Bel-Air was the coolest course I’ve ever followed [Jack] on.

— Sara A. (Schultz) Mueller


I think Bel-Air was prettier with more flowers. I’m trying to think of a better way to say more flowers,

— Amy Schultz

See that tunnel? Tons of those out in Bel-Air. They didn’t mention it, but that’s a really fun part of the course as well.

Best Practice Area

This isn’t a note where I complain about how tiny the “driving range” at Bel-Air is. At the practice round, we were told that there’s a truck that drives us down to the range which is located down on the opposite end of the property. The range from that part has a max yardage of ~190 that you’re allowed to hit. Turns out there’s another range section that you can get to by walking down the path between 1 and 18. You’ll get (luckily!) 225 yards before the edge. They also had these two nets where you’re able to hit drivers into to at least get a feel of hitting a driver. And then you’re walking back up the giant hill to the clubhouse afterwards.

Over at Riv, you’ll find top of the class practice areas, especially impressive considering how long the course has been around. Those style country clubs, (*cough* Bel-Air *cough*) usually don’t bother having practice areas at all.

Anyway, the range has has tons of teeing area to hit balls from where the course is guarded by giant metal poles holding up nets. Every once in a while you’d hear a big dong from one of the ProV1 practice balls drilling one of the polls, which I was never able to do. Incidentally, those poles were great to use as imaginary fairways for aiming points.

And then along with the range, there are two chipping / pitching green areas that allow you to practice every type of short game shot you’ll encounter on the course. That’s the most important part of a practice area. Every place has ranges and putting greens. But legit chipping greens is the difference.

Best Lunch

Again, here’s a quote from my sister on the decision for this award.

I don’t remember what I ate at Riviera, but definitely do at Bel-Air. The biggest part was how comfortable Bel-Air’s eating area is, it almost seemed like a comfortable supper club and Riviera’s eating area was beautiful but pretentious feeling. The staff at Bel-Air came around more often to refill water cups. And we got to take the water cups home from Bel-Air. Bel-Air had more options for dessert and I liked their ice cream bar. I think I was put off a bit too because Bel-Air charged $20 for their lunch while Riviera charged $21. Both were yummy meals but I was excited when I got to eat two meals at Bel-Air!” — Sara

Such deep thoughts.

Best View from a Bridge

This is the bridge.

This is the bridge from below.

This was taken from the bridge.

Best Way from the Course Below Up to the Clubhouse

Confrontation time! I’ll first describe the methods at each course of how a person playing golf gets up to the clubhouse. I’ll save the notification of the winner until the end of the section.

At each course, and at pretty much every old school country club, the clubhouses are on top of a hill where the rest of the course is below.

Riviera’s climb starts off of 18 tee to the beginning part of the fairway. There’s this hill with native grass which makes it seems like a mountain trail, where back in college we had a race from the bottom to the top which I’ll just claim I won.

And then the walk from the green to the clubhouse is a wooden staircase.  I didn’t count the number of steps, but has to be something in the hundreds.

At Bel-Air, when finishing 9 and 18, you walk through this stone tunnel under the clubhouse that arrives at an elevator that takes you upstairs. That’s right folks, No reason to walk up stairs from below, all you need to do is cram yourselves into the somewhat slow-moving elevator.

And for the award, I’ll give the statue to Bel-Air. Both methods of getting upstairs are memorable, but you’ll very rarely if ever play a course with an elevator. I’m a big fan of differentness, so Bel-Air wins.

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