Riviera wants the U.S. Open. To get its wish, the storied Los Angeles club is enduring a makeover by turfmaster Paul Latshaw. "I love it," says Latshaw (left), who's tackling the task of rehabbing Riviera the way his hero George Patton approached warfare. "I'd do it 24 hours a day if I could."
In 1994 Noboru Watanabe, Riviera's owner, hired Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to rebuild the club's decaying greens for the '95 PGA. The sod didn't take, and the greens got worse. To stay in the running for future majors, Riviera offered to host a U.S. Senior Open, a so-called poison pill that can leave its host club deep in the red. "The 1995 Senior Open cost us more than $700,000, but it was worth it," says Ed Burke, former president of Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., "We put on a good tournament, got the '97 U.S. Open and made two to three million." Following Congressional's lead, Riviera took on this year's Senior Open and promptly borrowed Latshaw, who had transformed Congressional's ice-damaged Blue Course into what Jack Nicklaus called the best-manicured layout he had ever seen.
The son of a Pennsylvania Dutch poultry farmer, Latshaw studied agronomy at Penn State. He made his name by prepping Oakmont's fairways for the 78 PGA—replacing bluegrass with bentgrass, then aerating fairways with machines normally used on greens and cutting them with triplex mowers instead of tractors. Latshaw would move on to Augusta National, where he was superintendent for the Masters from 1986 to '89, and Congressional, where he put 75 volunteers to work hand-mowing fairways for last year's Open.
Now splitting time between his office at Congressional and a golf cart 3,000 miles away, Latshaw spends five days a week in California directing his troops, whipping Riviera into shape for the July 23-26 Senior Open. He has introduced computerized weather forecasts and new wrinkles in irrigation at Riviera, and replaced some or all of the sand in each of the course's 57 bunkers. What was wrong with the old sand? "It was dirty," sniffs Latshaw.
"The course looks fantastic," says Senior Open chairman Dan Stevenson. A good showing by Riviera in July may restore the prestige of Hogan's Alley and bring a multimillion-dollar U.S. Open bonanza early next century. A happy ending? Perhaps, but there's a dirty secret here too. Workaholic Latshaw may have saved Riviera, but he hasn't kept a few patches of crabgrass from sneaking into his lawn at home.