The short par four tenth at Riviera is one of golf's most iconic holes. It's a rare hole where power takes a backseat to accuracy and precision. It's a hole that yields eagles and double bogeys and strikes fear in the world's greatest players. Today, the 10th hole at Riviera is a really good hole.
The 10th was changed by George Thomas a few years after the opening of the club. He feared the hole was too easy and added bunkers that surrounded the back portion of the green. Tom Fazio worked on the course and altered the 10th green and bunkers to increase the difficulty. Over the years, sand build up from shots out of the bunker has made the green even more severe. The 10th has become a more difficult test of golf and forces the best players in the world to play defense. The changes have made the 10th more predictable and less interesting.
As it is today
The current setup of the 10th takes away the heroic shot. The front pin is the only flag accessible from the tee because the green and its surrounds are too severe. It is virtually impossible to hit a shot from the tee that finds anywhere but the front edge of the green.
This year, only seven shots have found the green surface through the first three rounds. Only Troy Merritt has hit a shot that has found the green beyond the front edge. The greenside bunkers create a situation where "going for it" means hitting it long and left. To make an eagle, players need to get lucky and catch the right slope like Merritt did or chip in. Yesterday Patrick Cantlay hit a superb shot and wasn't rewarded.
The old days
During Saturday's coverage, CBS flashed a graphic of the original version of the hole. The main difference between the original hole and today's hole is the green and its surrounds. The club added three greenside bunkers and the left fairway bunker a few years after opening. Those changes removed options and strategy from the hole in favor of difficulty.
How it used to be
A lone bunker sits off the elevated green. The green sloped from right to left and from back to front.
The 20 yards between the bunker lip and false front of the green provided the opportunity to fire at any flag from the tee. A shot too short would find the front bunker. A shot too long a would find a back runoff. It allowed for the heroic play to every pin and gave players with endless options to attack the hole. The original version of the 10th is a great golf hole.
1928 vs 2018
Here's a look at the original version of the 10th and today's version side by side. The instant and natural reaction to the old 10th hole is that it’s easier. That might be true, but it was far more interesting and provided a reward to players who hit great shots. It also provided more layup options, with each having benefits for different pin positions.
With today's version of the 10th, there are two options, layup or hit it at the front left corner of the green. The latter, provides a wide dispersion based off of how the player hits it and whether they get a good bounce. The results of this wide dispersion doesn't mean that there are additional options of play, they are just different results. Meanwhile the original George Thomas designed 10th provides a number of different options, here's how they each plays out.
Option A is a great choice for a shorter hitter that wants a full wedge shot into the green. The angle offers a direct look up the slope of the green to every flag.
Option B is riskier than A but provides the same great angle from a shorter shot. This is a play unavailable today because of an added bunker.
Option C is a bold play off the tee that would be ideal for pins on the back half of the green on either the left or right portions. It would be a difficult shot for players when the pins were on the front half.
Option D would be a preferred play when the pin is on the right half of the green. It would provide a good amount of green to work with on what would be a shorter chip shot. It would be extremely difficult, however, when flags are on the left side.
Option E would be available every day to every pin. It would give an aggressive player the opportunity to make eagle or even an ace. To get the ball close it would require a perfect shot that landed between the bunker and the green at the right trajectory. Shots that were a little short would result in a tough pitch shot over a false front to a narrow green. An over-aggressive shot that missed long would be dead. It yields a chip from the back to an elevated green that runs away from the player. In all likelihood, the player that misses long would follow their eagle chip from the back with a birdie chip from the front of the hole.
Riviera should consider bringing the short par-4 10th back to the original version. It would give fans the opportunity to see the world's best players attempt the heroic shot and make eagle. The changes might lead to a lower scoring average on the hole, but increased options, strategy, and most of all, entertainment for players and fans.