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Everything old is new in Riviera bunkers this week

February 11, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

When 144 PGA Tour pros arrive at Riviera Country Club for the $5.2-million Nissan Open, they are going to find something different -- every bunker has been renovated.

"We've had a long year trying to improve the course," course superintendent Matt Morton said.

The faces of the bunkers have all been enhanced, and there is new drainage in each one. Plus, every bunker has new sand, Caltega VII USGA specification silica sand. Three greenside bunkers -- at the 11th, 14th and 17th holes -- have been moved slightly closer to the greens, which should allow for new, tighter pin locations.

After studying old photographs of the bunkers in George Thomas' original design, the changes were made in order to more faithfully follow the 1926 layout.

"It's pretty dramatic," head pro Todd Yoshitake said.

Because of last month's extended cold spell, the kikuyu rough isn't as pronounced as usual.

However, an irrigation project of the entire course, replacing every sprinkler on every hole, has meant fewer rounds played, and as a result, the greens are firmer and faster than usual, Yoshitake said.

"They may be the best we've ever had," he said.

The irrigation work meant that only 12 holes were open most of last summer.

The official yardage for Riviera is unchanged at 7,279 yards, and the par-four 18th measures 475 yards from the black tee, but the PGA Tour has not played the hole all the way back in competition.

Morton said the cold weather shouldn't have that much of an effect on the course, other than the rough.

"We've kind of had a slow start to the spring, but we're cranking," he said. "We're anticipating a dry and warm week. That would be nice."

Rory Sabbatini is the defending champion. His 13-under 271 last year was one shot better than Adam Scott, who closed with a 64.

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thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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