Players at this week’s Genesis Invitational will again find their way up over 50 steep steps at the back of the 18th green to the clubhouse at Riviera Country Club in suburban Santa Monica.
The Riviera Club had first hosted a PGA Tour event in 1929 with a purse of $10,000 and since then rhw club has welcomed the Tour in 1930, 1941, 1945 to 1953, 1973 to 1982, 1984 to 1997, and then every year from 1999 to a year ago when Max Homa was handed a $1,674,000 first prize cheque from a purse of $9.3m. This week’s Tiger Woods Foundation hosted event boasts a staggering $12m in prize money.
The stunning cliff-top clubhouse and eucalyptus tree-lined fairways well below were opened in 1926 costing $244,000 to build and, at the time, making it then the most expensive in golf history. Also, given its closeness (13 miles away) to the Hollywood film studios, Riviera became not only a motion picture location, but a club to movie legends.
Then childhood star Elizabeth Taylor learned how to ride at the club’s riding school in preparation for her role in the 1944 movie National Velvet.
Wikipedia highlights the 1952 movie Pat and Mike, starring Katharine Hepburn and Babe Zaharias, was filmed at Riviera, as was The Caddy, starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, with a cameo appearance by Ben Hogan, and Follow the Sun, about Hogan, starring Glenn Ford and Anne Baxter. During the silent era, the 1927 movie Spring Fever was filmed at the new club, in which it was called Oakmont Country Club.
Riviera has had many famous members, which included Humphrey Bogart, Glen Campbell, Vic Damone, Peter Falk, Jack Ging, Dean Martin, Gregory Peck, Walt Disney, Hal Roach, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford.
In mentioning Bogart, there is a sycamore tree just to the left of the 12th green named Bogart’s Tree, as it’s understood the star of the Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, used to park himself beside the tree to watch the golf tournaments.
Anyway back to my story about Ireland’s legendary golfer Harrington and one of Hollywood’s legendary leading ladies.
The closest part of the ultra-exclusive and stunning clubhouse to the 18th green is the ladies locker-room, reached by climbing the steep staircase. Yes, the ladies’ locker room is used each year by the tournament as the recording area and post-round player interviews location. Though when you think of locker rooms, you have to remember this is one of the more exclusive golf clubs in the world, and Riviera is proud of its history.
Adorning the walls are photographs you will never see anywhere else. Photographs of the greats of Hollywood playing golf at Riviera Country Club.
On this day during the 2017 Genesis Invitational your writer, along with a couple of media colleagues, were talking to Harrington post his impressive opening round of 67. What has always been great about Harrington, is that it’s never a short conversation, and such was this occasion.
Harrington is leaning up against a wall in the ladies’ locker room and there on the wall is a stunning photograph of Hepburn, a winner of four ‘Best Actress’ Academy awards. Hepburn is in golf attire and holding a club. Harrington stopped the conversation and pointed to the photograph and said: “What do you like about that photograph?”
I responded (and now smiling) in a mischievous tone: “Wow! She’s really good looking.”
Harrington’s now saying: “No, no, no. Look at her grip. Look at her grip and how good it is.”
Judge for yourself and have a look at Hepburn’s grip.
Hepburn had been playing golf since a very young age, with her parents owning a house that backed onto a golf course in Connecticut. As a teen, Hepburn took daily lessons at Hartford Golf Club. She often shot in the low 80s and advanced to the semi-finals of the Connecticut Young Women’s Golf Championship.
When Hepburn’s acting career took her west to California, she continued to play golf. t’s the reason she lived on the 14th hole at Bel-Air Country Club, just 30-minutes from Wilshire. And the stories of her being courted by Howard Hughes, the business tycoon and film producer who was also an avid golfer, have become the stuff of legend.
As the story goes, Hughes, who was also a pilot, was late for a date with Hepburn. So, he landed his Sikorsky amphibious plane on the eighth or ninth fairway at Bel-Air, where Hepburn was in the midst of a round. Hughes, who exited the plane with his golf bag in tow, insisted on completing the round alongside her. The pair never married. Hepburn was briefly married to a Philadelphia businessman whom she divorced in 1941. She was often linked to Spencer Tracy, her co-star in nine films.
Hepburn spent the final years of her life at Fenwick Golf Club in Old Saybrook, where she lived as a child. The movie star always insisted on carrying her own clubs and to those around the course and surrounding town, she was simply known as Kate. Hepburn died in 2003 at the age of 96.
Listen to this week’s Irish Golfer Podcast