Billy Casper was a stone-cold strategist with one of the best short games on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and ’60s. A shorter hitter than other stars of that era such as Jack Nicklaus, Casper pitched and putted his way 57 Tour wins and three major titles.
Even he was flummoxed by the bunker in the middle of the green on the sixth hole at Riviera Country Club. One year in the Los Angeles Open – now the Genesis Invitational – Casper was on that green after his tee shot but on the wrong side of the pit, with no great options to putt around the trap.
Irritated, the normally reserved Casper is said to have taken three practice swings, each removing a chunk of grass from the green. He then cleanly pitched his ball from off the surface of the green to within a few inches of the hole to save par. He had made his point with the practice swings.
The bunker is still there on No. 6, making for one of the most unique hazards in golf. Instead of an island green surrounded by water, it’s an island sand trap surrounded by green.
It’s all part of the charm of Riviera, which was designed by George C. Thomas Jr. and William P. Bell and ranks No. 18 on Golfweek’s Best list of Classic Courses built before 1960 in the United States. It opened in 1927, and the bunker has been pestering players ever since.
Thanks to several maps provided by Puttview – the maker of detailed yardage books for more 30,000 courses around the world – we can see exactly the challenges the players face on No. 6 in this week’s Genesis Invitational.
Most of the time, players who end up on the wrong side of the bunker on the 199-yard par 3 can putt around it, using the serious slopes to guide the ball relatively close to the hole. At least that’s the plan, but it’s no easy task. Three-putts are plentiful, and there have been more than 20 four-putts on that green since 2003. In 2011, Brian Davis four-putted the hole in consecutive rounds.
The key is to hit the approach to the proper side, but even Tour pros miss sometimes. And among those who do, there are still some players willing to swipe a wedge off the putting surface to loft the ball over the sand, regardless of the divot that might leave on the green. And yes, it’s completely within the rules. Players can use any of their 14 clubs at any time, and no rule says a player must use a putter on a green.
But we recommend you not try it at your home course, lest you draw the same kind of irritation from the greens superintendent that Casper displayed that day at Riviera.
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