I woke up with a start when the alarm went off. My wife shushed me and I had to hastily turn the alarm off lest my baby wake up. Took a hasty shower, checked my wallet, picked up my golf bag and went down to the basement to get ready for the drive. As I moved out of my condo parking, I found it raining quite hard. I had already checked google-maps and kind of knew the way to the course. It was my first time playing a course outside of the usual golf courses in Manila. I was heading to Silang, Cavite to play the Couples course at The Riviera Golf and Country Club.
The course is situated in Silang, Cavite, a leisurely drive that that takes you to the course in around an hour (early morning, no traffic). I took the SLEX and then the Carmona exit, headed down Governor’s drive and embarked on a decently long drive till I hit SM Dasmarinas. Take the first left at the stop light immediately after SM and you will reach Riviera. The signboard comes out of nowhere and you are best advised to be on the lookout for it. It sits right opposite a Shell station so you can’t miss it or well maybe you can, like I almost did. A burnout and a quick tyre check later, I was headed down to the clubhouse.
The Couples Course
We were playing the Couples course and as my host put it, “It’s apparently the easier one of the 2 courses in the Riviera Golf and Country Club, the other being a Bernhard Langer creation”. During summers this course is heavily frequented by Korean and Japanese tourists. This is one of the first courses on their agenda when they come touring the Philippines. Very popular with the tourists I am told as I take a few practice swipes with my driver. The first hole is a short 385 yarder which is a gentle opener for the beautiful 2nd, a 507 yard par 5. After a longish drive, I had around 240 left to the pin. I took out my 4 wood and gave it a good whack. I caught the ball clean but found the ball hooking ever so slightly and splashing into the water hazard. Another 5 yards and it would have found the green. Not a good way to start the round, I thought. I took my drop and escaped with a bogey and my pride intact. Holes 4 and 5 are just brutal. Both are par 4s and are handicap 3 and 1 respectively. They are over 400 yards each and have water all along the right side of the fairway. If you can escape these holes then you can consider yourself lucky. The rough around these holes is just brutal so try to play conservatively and stick to the landing zones. I actually overshot the green on the 5th and it took me 2 tries to whack my way out of the rough behind the green.
The 6th is a gentle Par 3 followed by the uphill Par 5 7th hole. The hole is reachable in 2 for the long hitters if the wind is on your side.
The 8th is a hole which continues the trend of >200 yard par 3s. I understand that these holes may not pose much of a challenge for the long hitters but for weekend players these are more of an annoyance. One golf course I played recently (I will decline to name) had 4 par 3s and all were over 190 yards in length. The Par 3 8th which I described earlier is a handicap 5 and has a ravine fronting the green but there is a bunker on the top- right which I considered my bailout area. I was in between clubs and took out my 4 iron and let it rip. I missed high and right and ended up in the thick rough to the right of the bunker. The pitch shot was easy enough and I managed to tap in for par.
After my tee-shot on the next hole, I found my friend dawdling over his shot. I looked at my watch, it was 8:30AM, and we had only finished 8 holes (we teed off at 6:30). This was the 9th hole, a devilish par-4 with the wind blowing whichever way. After he fluffed his 6 iron which dribbled down the fairway about 20 yards towards the green I asked him why he took so much time. He just looked at me and said,” There is no beef-mami in the half-way house before 8:45”. On the Couples course, the half-way house is actually after the 10th hole, not the 9th as in many courses. Incidentally, I know now why he deliberately slowed down. The beef mami is really something else. Don’t get the full bowl or you will not be able to concentrate on the task ahead, the portions are large and delicious!! The closing holes are absolutely taxing so you need to bring your A game.
The 11th is a par-5 with a mandatory carry of 200 yards over a ravine. Not for the faint hearted. I had just had my fill and was pumped up. I smacked one out of the center of the driver and watched my drive sail well over the ravine, or so I thought. The drive managed to find the fairway; only just… My ego took a big knock there. It’s a long and meandering walk down to the fairway so the course has carts to ferry the golfers and caddies to the fairway (If you do decide to walk the course). The second shot plays slightly uphill into a green which has a ravine on the left and 4 bunkers on the front.
Mandatory Meaningless Golf Story Alert!
True to form for me, I almost ended up with 3 n*ts (Not sure if this * can be an appropriate replacement to get this review a PG-13 rating!!). I had hit my second shot, a 4 wood, around 200 yards, leaving me with another 80 yards to the green. I was standing near my cart contemplating which wedge to use, when, out of nowhere, this ball comes flying by. It hits the inside of my right trouser leg, smacks the cart, misses my caddy by 5 inches and goes bouncing down the fairway. I was too stunned to respond till I saw a Korean guy (remember, they love the course!!) come sauntering down with his caddy. I told him that he had almost killed me and he just smiled and waved. Ummhhh….
Anyways, I lived to tell this tale didn’t I? The 12th is a routine, short par 4, reachable with 2 mid-irons. Just hit the fairway or it may be a difficult second shot to the green. The 13th is a slight dogleg par 4. You need 2 good shots to reach the fairway. Slicer’s beware, this is one hole you do not want to miss right, and it has a ravine that will swallow your ball and thick rough if you do miss the ravine. The ideal landing spot on the left is right next to a bunker which will allow you to be aggressive with your second.
The 14th is my favourite hole on the course, I almost got a hole-in-one there. The green sits around 140 yards from the blue tee, guarded by a ravine and bunkers front and bottom. The green is wickedly fast and it’s better to be below the green to allow you to be aggressive with your putt.
The 15th is just a long par 4 which precedes the 16th hole, a par-5. This hole, for all who read, is a scary hole. It is a double dog-leg. You see the fairway stopping in the distance and then curving wickedly to the right. The ideal landing area on the right of the fairway has a deep bunker. You cannot cut this off since there are trees framing the tee box. If you can slice/fade the ball then it is now that you should unleash your gift/curse and be done with the tee shot. Don’t be afraid to lay into the ball. The fairway extends well over 275 yards before you see your ball go into the ravine. This hole though 518 yards is gettable in 2. The second shot plays downhill all the way to a green that is so well guarded, the Avengers could not get in. The left side is kissed by a ravine and a smattering of bunkers that are deep. The figure 8 green is small and surrounded by deep rough on the right and back. Try to get on in 3 and you have a birdie chance, if you are on the correct tier (it’s a 2 tier green). Thankfully, the 17th and 18th are easier holes and birdies are definitely gettable as long as you are accurate. The round was over and I was soaked through due to the incessant rain. Credit to the drainage system that there was no water logging anywhere and the fairways were eminently playable. A hot shower and warm food later, I was ready to reflect on another enjoyable day at a truly beautiful course.
The Langer Course
The Langer course is a tough 7057 yard Par 71 layout. That said, it does present a fair test of your golfing credentials. I make no secret of my love for this course. I love and hate it in equal measure. There are holes aplenty that will frustrate the life out of you and a good score can turn the other way pretty quickly. An easy hole if there is such a thing at ‘Langer’ can be followed by a couple of tough ones. It keeps you on your toes for all 18 holes. Good shots are rewarded and bad shots punished severity. Keep the ball in the fairway at all times…I know, easier said than done.
A ‘not so easy’ start
The first 3 holes are definitely the toughest opening holes among all the courses in the Philippines. All are Par 4s and each one of them is >400 yards. The 1st hole is a 410 yard hole. It is pretty straightforward till you see the green which slopes from the back down to the front. It is framed by bunkers on both sides and if the pin position is front-center then it requires precision to get home with a par against your name. It is a fast green that requires just the right amount of touch or you may find your ball rolling right off the green. The 2nd and 3rd holes are routine Par 4s with their length being the only factor. The 2nd green is quite big but the rough on the left of the green is definitely thick so try and stay to the right or below the hole if you can. The 3rd green is shared with the 16th and one of the few shared greens in the country. It drops off to the back left into tricky rough with the right side being OB.
The 4th is the first Par 3 on the course and measures 171 yards from the blue tees (11 more from the tips). There is a ravine between the tee box and the hole with a bailout area below the green. There are two bunkers on the left and right side, below the green so it’s better to hit it long than short. The Par 5, 5th hole is handicap 1 and an uphill tee shot. Aim along the right of the fairway to avoid the bunker on the left. For the long hitters, there is some foliage on the right side about 280-300 yards off the tee so best to avoid that. The second shot should also be kept right since there is a bunker about 100 yards from the green (provided you can reach it). If you manage to hit your second around 15 yards to the right of this bunker it should give you a chance to attack the green. The green has a large bunker on the right and if the pin placement is back right then it may leave you with a tough 3rd shot into the green.
Holes 6 and 7 are routine par 4s which can be reached in two and present a chance to salvage some pride after the tough opening stretch. 8th is a par 3 around 170 yards from the blue tees. As with most Par 3s on this layout, there is a ravine between the green and the tee box. There is a lone bunker near the front left of the green. If you do miss right then be prepared to pitch out of some nasty rough. Hole number 9 is a short par 4 at 359 yards. After a routine tee shot you will find the second shot leading to a slightly elevated green. There is a small ravine running between the fairway and the green. This only comes into play if you top your second and find the ball running along into the ravine. There is some rough along the lip so you may be surprised to find your ball still in play (if you do top your ball). The green has a lone bunker on the right. Avoid it and 2 putt for par and check-in for some sumptuous beef mami at the half-way house.
Hole number 10 is a par 5. There is water on the left and between the tee and the fairway. It really only comes into play if you cannot drive the ball 170 yards to the fairway. The fairway slopes up with a bunker on the left. If you can hit it over the crest, expect some roll. The second shot, depending on where you land, can constrict your view of the fairway which has 3 bunkers running along the middle. They are around 150 yards to the green and really don’t come into play if you are a decently long hitter. Short hitters are advised to layup before the bunkers, leaving them around 160-170 yards to the green. The 11th is what I call ‘Devil’s Paradise’. It is a cursed hole I tell you. It was the scene of my greatest ever shot and most miserable 3 putt ever (and I was lucky to get a 3 putt). It’s a short Par 4 around 350 yards in length. The tee shot should bisect the fairway and even if you don’t, you are not heavily penalized unless you end up to the right of the fairway around 225 yards off the tee. There is a cluster of trees there. There are 2 bunkers, one to the right and one to the left. The one on the right does not really come into play but the one of the left sits around 225 yards down the fairway so try your best to avoid it. The green, cannot be seen unless you reach the bunker on the left, where the fairway drops down dramatically into a lake/canal. The green sits below the fairway and after the canal.
Do not overshoot the green. I mean it. The back of the green has a small grassy knoll which slopes down to the green. You may think that is a good thing but it’s not and I shall explain why.
This particular green has a nasty slope from back to front and I mean nasty. It is lightning quick due to a noticeable slope towards the front of the green. Stay below the hole and you have an opportunity to be aggressive with your putt. A slight touch is enough to set the ball rolling right across the green if you do face a downhill putt that you get aggressive with.
The next hole is a customary >200 yard par 3 which, apart from being long, is nothing special. The 13th however, is a unique hole. It is divided into 3 parts: The tee box, from where you tee off, the fairway and then the green. The tee box and the fairway are bisected by a ravine. The fairway has OB left and a bunker on the right. Be careful not to overshoot the green or go too far right. It is an optical illusion that the fairway seems long, it is not, and the green actually is to the right of the fairway. Reach the fairway and you are left with a short iron into the green which sits to the other side of yet another ravine. This is another quick green and slopes from the back to the front.
The 15th is everyone’s favourite hole on this course. It is a short par 4 reachable in 1 for the long hitters. The fairway has 2 bunkers, one on the left and one on the right for errant tee shots. If you do decide to play driver then it’s better to aim right, since the bunker on the right is a 200 yards carry. The one on the left sits smack in the optimal landing zone at around 220-230 yards. The OB runs all along the left side of the fairway and if you do miss, miss right, as the lack of substantial tree cover will at least give you a chance to hit the green. The 16th is a long par 5 that plays even longer if the wind blows towards the tee. The fairway slopes down to the left. The left side is an OB. If you do manage to skirt the left side of the fairway, there is some relief in the form of a faux-fairway that sits around 5 feet below the main fairway. If you do find your ball there you have no chance of hitting the green in 2 due to the dense foliage and bamboo trees that extend along the left side of the fairway. Your second shot is pretty straightforward and the fairway is at its widest around 130 yards from the green. There is a lone gnarly tree in the middle of the fairway and that is what you should aim for on your second shot. The green sits slightly to the left of the fairway with a bunker on each side. This is a big green (It is a shared green with the 3rd hole) so try and get it close to avoid a 3 putt.
The 17th is the signature hole of the Langer course and the jewel in the crown of this layout. It’s a par-3 which plays downwind all the way. It states that the hole is 154 yards long. Since the green sits well below the tee box, you should have enough clubs to hit 125 yards.
There is a smattering of bunkers around the green which is shaped like a ‘flying saucer’. Everyone in my group managed to land on the green safely while I smacked my 52 degree wedge to the left where it trickled down close to the green. They said that they had all paid their dues on this hole and were now safe in their understanding that their tee shots would land on the green every time they played. Nevertheless, after a steep ride down to the hole (The cart ride is pretty hair-raising so you better keep your foot on the brake on the way down), I found my ball in a pretty good position. I pitched out around 5 feet past the hole and found a fast tricky downhill putt which I managed to hole without much fuss.
The 18th is a wicked closing hole. The fairway slopes down to the right. There is another extension of the fairway towards the right. This extension sits below the main fairway and on level ground with the green which is some ways off. If you do manage to land here, which is no easy feat, you will find yourself on level ground for the second shot. I would not recommend anyone trying to hit this fairway since there is OB all along the right. The shot from the main fairway is always going to be played with the ball below your feet. Deal with it. There are a couple of bunkers guarding the green with a small bailout area towards the left. The right is all OB so best to avoid it. This is one of the trickiest closing holes I have faced in my fledgling golfing journey. This is not a course to be messed with. Play safe and keep out of trouble. There is an OB and a hazard on almost every hole. It’s not a course where you turn up an expect to shoot under par. Stay patient and you will get your opportunity. It’s the tough holes which give you the most satisfaction and believe me there are plenty of them. Having played majority of the courses in and around Metro Manila I can safely say that the Langer is among the top 3 courses I have played. No wonder that I decided to opt for a membership at Riviera. The round done, I looked at my buddy and said, “Want to play another 18? If we play fast, we may be able to finish by sunset”. Its 4 o’ clock my friend said. ‘So?’ I said and ran towards the tee box hoping for another chance at redemption and breaking 95.
More about the Layout
The Couples course hosted the Philippines Open in 1998 which was won by Frankie Minoza. The Langer course has had its share of tourneys as well and provides a stern test for the golfer. I have no shame in recommending it as the toughest test of golf in the Philippines. The fairways have Bermuda Tifton 419 grass and are lush green. It truly is a beautiful course with palm trees aplenty. The water features are well thought out and add to the beauty of the course. The Riviera golf course with its twin courses are a challenge that you must undertake on your golfing journey in the Philippines. If you do not get to play these courses then you are missing something. The Couples course is the ying to the Langer courses’ yang. They fit together beautifully and I have trouble choosing one over the other. If you want an easier challenge, you can choose Couples but will find that the ‘easy’ part is a myth. You cannot say you have experienced golf in the Philippines unless you have played these 2 courses at the Riviera Golf and Country Club.
Amenities: Thankfully, the amenities at Riviera are second to none.
Driving range: If you are playing the course then you get 1 bucket free and there is a nominal charge for the remaining buckets.
Shower facilities: Excellent showers, hot and cold water and a Jacuzzi for those who are into jets of water fizzing around on all your parts. I am like a cat (No, I don’t lick myself clean), I try to stay away from water as much as humanly possible except for the 2 daily baths I have to endure.
Membership Office: This is open from 6AM to 6PM and they are more than happy to assist you with any queries you may have with membership.
The Pro Shop: Opens at 6 and has a wide assortment of the usual golfing equipment. You may have to stock up on balls because you may not find a lot of ball-boys who will sell you balls out on the course.
The Restaurant: Now, this is one reason I love this course. They have a Class A chef who makes the most amazing dishes. Stick to the Filipino dishes and you will keep coming back for more. The beef and lamb are amazing. Remember, the half-way houses and the mami. This is one better.
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