The colourful and celebrity-filled history of Riviera Country Club

This week’s venue for the Genesis Invitational is not only accustomed to hosting famous golfing names – it’s also a haven for the rich and famous.

If you need any clues about the history of Riviera Country Club the surrounding geography ought to help you out.

The fact the club is in Los Angeles is one thing, but Sunset Boulevard is a block north and Pacific Pallisades lies between the course and the Pacific Ocean.

The former is a cultural, as well as geographic, icon of the City of Angels - a 22 mile-long highway long-associated with the aspirational nature of La La Land.

The latter is home to celebrities seeking refuge from the limelight and features in TV shows such as Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Saved by the Bell.

Naturally the club itself has welcomed plenty of famous faces.

Ahead of the Genesis Invitational, here's the pick of the most glittering elements of the Riviera story.

Origins

Opened in 1926, the course, then known as the Los Angeles Athletic Club, was one of the most expensively built at the time, but the money was easily generated amid a widespread mood of excitement for the sport.

That said, the Riviera architects George C Thomas and William P Bell were more or less Californian specialists rather than an integral part of that golden age boom.

In subsequent years the club became playground to the first wave of movie stars, then to cinema's own golden age, and today it remains where Hollywood and TV's top stars like to hang out.

In 2011 Hollywood Reporter indicated that it takes "good words from powerful friends" and "big bucks" to gain entry - it reported that the Riviera CC initiation fee was $250,000.

The early movie stars

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were not only titans of the movie industry as it moved from the silent era to the talkies, they were also early pioneers of Hollywood's love affair with golf at Riviera, even introducing their friends Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd to the course.

It was a dizzy period of time, when Walt Disney was a member, when Errol Flynn was arrested for trying to seduce a married woman in the clubhouse, and when the reclusive Greta Garbo would wander onto the course at night from her house situated alongside the course perimeter.

Cinema's boom period

Perhaps the man best linking this era and Riviera is Humphrey Bogart.

The craggy-faced actor was fond of propping himself against a sycamore tree on the 13th hole, sipping from a flask of bourbon, and watching the pros in the LA Open, as the Genesis Invitational was then known.

To this day the tree is referred to as "Bogey's Tree".

Meanwhile, the 12th is known as "The Tarzan Hole" in some circles, after Jack Nicholson grabbed a bunch of vines in frustration after a poorly executed 5-iron.

"They pulled me back," he told Golf Digest. "Lifted me straight up in the air so I was flying around for a few seconds before I came down."

(The original Tarzan, Johnny Weismuller was, perhaps inevitably, also a member.)

The Riviera clubhouse has welcomed many famous faces.
The Riviera clubhouse has welcomed many famous faces.

Dean Martin was a committed golfer, good enough to shoot even-par on the back nine, and one who preferred to play with good players, rather than hackers, in a bid to improve his own game.

Pictures of the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Gregory Peck and many of those mentioned above still hang on on the clubhouse walls.

Riviera as a location

The club has not only welcomed actors when they are playing themselves, but also when they are playing someone else.

As far back as 1927 it stood in for Oakmont in the silent movie Spring Fever, a comedy about golf that starred the great Joan Crawford.

The 1951 film Follow the Sun was a biography of Ben Hogan starring Glenn Ford featuring cameos from Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jimmy Demaret, the great man himself, and also Riviera.

The club is vital to the Hogan story, being one of the many venues nicknamed "Hogan's Alley", to honour his three wins there.

The track also featured in the Jerry Lewis/Dean Martin vehicle The Caddy, and Pat and Mike which starred Katherine Hepburn and Babe Zaharias, arguably the greatest female golfer of all time - so good, in fact, she twice played the LA Open at Riviera.

The club's Equestrian Center also hosted the 1932 Olympics and was where Elizabeth Taylor learned to ride ahead of her performance in the Oscar-winning National Velvet.

In all, the course has 18 locations references on IMDB which includes episodes of iconic shows The A Team, Charlie's Angels, Dynasty and The Rockford Files.

Hollywood and TV today

Most Riviera members, naturally, favour the correct golfing attire.

But Columbo, better known as actor Peter Falk, showed up one time in clothes that were deemed so Columbo-esque he was mistaken for a caddie.

Adam Sandler, star of Happy Gilmore, is a member, but presumably doesn't take a running jump at his tee shots.

Happy Gilmore's comeback 25 years on

Larry David, creator of Seinfeld and writer/performer in Curb Your Enthusiasm, is a member at Riviera, has shot 38 on the back nine and is rumoured to have made his first hole-in-one there.

A number of scenes from Curb have been inspired by the club (including the "Black Swan" episode) and a few more have even been filmed there.

Other recent celebrities who play the course as members include Hugh Grant, Luke Wilson, Dennis Quaid, Mark Wahlberg, and NFL superstar Tom Brady, whilst Stephen Speilberg, Tom Cruise and Whoopi Goldberg are among those whose houses have overlooked the fairways and greens.

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