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1997 NISSAN OPEN / RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB

Barrancas May Run Through It Again

Riviera: Restoration plan in the works could include return of defining characteristic of 'Hogan's Alley.'

March 02, 1997|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Riviera that Ben Hogan tamed in the 1940s is not the same Riviera that the pros will be playing today in the final round of the Nissan Open.

The most noticeable difference is the absence of the dreaded barranca, a 20-foot-wide, 15-foot-deep ditch that meandered through the 18 holes. In its place, since an underground federal storm drain channel eliminated its need, is a wide swale.

If Noboru Watanabe, whose Marukin Corp. bought Riviera in 1989, has his way, the course may one day return to its Hoganesque state.

"I want to honor the [course architect] George Thomas design and do the same with the clubhouse--maintain the same classic, elegant design," Watanabe said after purchasing the club.

Head professional Mike Miller, who first came to Riviera in the 1970s as an assistant to Mac Hunter, said a restoration plan is in the works.

"Mr. Watanabe is dedicated to bringing the course more in line with what George Thomas and Billy Bell, the original builder, created," Miller said.

That could even mean the return of the deep barrancas, once the hallmark of Riviera.

"It would add a great deal to the image of the course," club general manager Pete Pino said. "For the professionals, the barrancas rarely came into play, but they were like a wandering stream to the members. You talk with any old-timer, and the first thing they'll start talking about is how you hit a ball in the old barranca and it was gone forever."

If the barrancas return, so will the picturesque bridges that linked the 18 holes. Since the drainage ditches were eliminated, players, carts and maintenance equipment drive across the depressions that remain as a reminder of the old ditch.

It was one of the bridges, on the par-five 11th fairway, that Hogan refused to cross in 1950 when water was raging almost to the top of the ditch.

Hogan had won the Los Angeles Open in 1947 and 1948 and the U.S. Open in the summer of 1948, a stretch of victories that caused Riviera to be called "Hogan's Alley."

So, when Hogan--making his first start after a near-fatal highway accident--said it was too dangerous, the PGA and the L.A. Jr. Chamber of Commerce acceded to his fears. The round was called off.

Jerry Barber, who had completed the third round in a driving rain, had a 10-stroke lead over the field, but in those days if a partial round was called off, the entire round was wiped out. Having to replay his 18 holes, Barber's lead was cut to two and when the tournament ended, Hogan and Sam Snead were tied.

More rain, and the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, caused the playoff to be held more than a week later. Snead won.

Not everyone at Riviera favors the contemplated changes, however.

Bob William, who has been a member since the Hogan era, wants to eliminate even what's left of the ersatz barrancas.

"I've been campaigning to fill them in and grass them over," William said Saturday. "All they do is slow play and aggravate the high handicappers. And there's more of us than there are pros."

The first restorative change will take place at the sixth hole, the short par three with the bunker in the middle of the green.

"You look at pictures of the way that hole looked in 1948 and the trap has a much different shape, more wild looking, than it is today," Miller said. "And there used to be a bunker in the back [between the green and the seventh tee]. We hope to put that back in.

"The seventh hole was changed dramatically when work was done on the flood-control project in 1973. We hope to redo the teeing area to make the tee shot more challenging. When it was built, No. 7 was considered just about the most difficult hole of the 18. Not anymore."

Hole-by-hole statistics after two rounds this week had No. 7 rated as the eighth easiest with an average score of 4.104. The most difficult were the par-four Nos. 2 and 18, which each averaged 4.285.

Easiest were No. 1, where 144 players shot an average 4.465 on the par-five hole.

Down the road, Watanabe and the Riviera board hope to bring the U.S. Open back. Next year, on the 50th anniversary of the Hogan Open, Riviera will be the site of the U.S. Senior Open.

"The seniors will give us a good opportunity to show the USGA what kind of a job we can do," said tournament chairman Dan Stevenson.

"We already have a bid in for another U.S. Open. A good tournament next year should give us a boost in that direction."

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