It began as the Los Angeles Open in 1926, made its debut here in 1929 and has been played every year but one at Riviera since 1973. It’s seen Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Tom Watson claim titles. Seen Gregory Peck, Katherine Hepburn, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin tee it up. It’s nestled beneath the Santa Monica Mountains and must be the most difficult course to reach on the PGA Tour. It’s just off Sunset Boulevard, about a mile from the beach and surrounded by multimillion-dollar homes. The drive from the course to the San Diego Freeway during the tournament can take up to an hour. Most fans use the parking lot at the Veterans Affairs building in Westwood and then bus over on the shuttle. And hopefully bring a good book. The course itself sits almost in a small valley. The hacienda-style country club rests atop a bluff overlooking the course. And it remains one of the most challenging courses in America. The Nissan Open overflows with nostalgia but doesn’t feel antiquated. Serves up memories while still offering the promise of more. It is Los Angeles’ lone stop on the PGA Tour, its one moment as the center of the golfing universe. PACIFIC PALISADES – The sun was shining, and after the past three years, that was welcome news. It flickered through the massive eucalyptus trees, shining down on one of the most storied golf courses in America. Walk around Riviera Country Club and it’s easy to feel it, to absorb what makes its golf tournament different from most other PGA stops, the history that makes it L.A.’s own. “It has a classic design that has withstood the test of time,” said Tom Pulchinski, tournament director. “The scores are pretty much the same now as they were 80 years ago.” Thursday’s opening round of the 2007 tournament was played under sunny skies and a steady breeze. Beats the rain from the past three Nissans. Celebrity watching Fans of every ilk milled around. There were plenty of country club types. There were college kids in jeans and senior citizens in golf gear. There were a lot of golf hats. Given its proximity to Hollywood and its star-filled past, celebrity spotting is typically a constant. On a late afternoon walk I did not spot any, though I saw plenty of women looking like they wanted to be mistaken for a celebrity and several men with way too much tanning-booth time on their hands. Did run into former Dodgers General Manager Fred Claire. A public-relations guy said he spotted actor Don Cheadle. And apparently Pat Perez, tied for second after Thursday’s first round, went the celebrity route Wednesday searching for golf tips. “I worked with (Joe) Pesci yesterday on my putting,” Perez said. “He actually made sense for once.” Of course, celebrities have to actually walk among us on the golf course, so maybe it’s not too inviting for most. Pulchinski said some celebrities show, but it’s not like at the AT&T or Bob Hope stops. The course itself offers challenges of all types. The sand traps are deep, but there is no water on the course – not a stream or lake to be found. The greens can make the strong weak. There are doglegs right and left. The first hole is at the base of the country club overlooking a small cliff. Nearby is a free-standing, old-fashioned clock, the type you might see in a small town square. Only it’s a Rolex. Nearby is a small driving range. When I walked by, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh were practicing, but for some reason no Tiger Woods. The fairways are dotted with concessions. One sold ice cream for $4, though it was Haagen-Dazs. Another sold hot dogs for $5, turkey sandwiches for $7, and those little bags of chips you put in your kids’ school lunches for $2. Beer was $5, and big beer, not to be confused with Big Bear, was $10. There were booths selling Cohiba cigars up to $20 a pop and lighters for $9. Golf is one of the last sporting events in America where you can still smoke. Digital leader boards kept updated scores and are sponsored by Cialis and MasterCard. Not sure what statement that makes about golfers, but it’s my understanding you need the latter to be able to afford the former. Sponsorships and their oversize white tents dotted the course. The Michelob Ultra 19th Hole shared space with the Grey Goose Lounge. Three young women in shorts and T-shirts passed out Grey Goose hats at the lounge entrance. They looked bored. The crowd thinned considerably after Phil Mickelson completed his round by early afternoon. With no Tiger, Mickelson seems the official star of the tournament. Just past a line of Andy Gump port-a-potties was the medical trailer, but there was nothing going on there. No rain means fewer sprained ankles. Here’s one thing here you won’t find at your local public links: Nissans dotted around the course. There were even maps posted so you can find them all, like they were Easter eggs. At one tent with five different new models, a swing simulator offered the chance to take a hack into a screen that mirrors a hole at Pebble Beach. The guy operating it warned, “No drivers.” Apparently Singh complained that when the balls hit the back of the tarp they were making too much noise and disrupting his concentration. Tower room Rising 52 railroad tie steps up from the 18th hole, the classic clubhouse overlooks it all. It’s where guests of sponsors can stay in its hotel rooms. No. 225 is the Walt Disney Room, 223 the Dean Martin Room and 226 is actually named after a golfer, Bobby Jones. Rooms have large, rich wooden doors with brass knockers. There is a private tower room with eight arched windows, a spectacular view and a table for four. The hallways are lined with old black-and-white photos, one showing Horton Smith teeing off in 1929 with small saplings lining the course. Now mature eucalyptus, pine and sycamore trees tower over the course. The Riviera is actually Los Angeles’ oldest home to a major professional sporting event, predating Santa Anita by five years. A course filled with history, and it’s all L.A.’s. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. He can be reached at [email protected] If you go TOURNAMENT: through Sunday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. TICKETS: $25 per day; available at the door, by calling the Nissan Open office (800) 752-6736, at Roger Dunn Golf Shops, or online at nissanopen.pgatour.com. Nissan Open facts TV: Today, Golf Channel (noon-3 p.m., with replay 6-9 p.m.); Saturday, noon-3 p.m., CBS; Sunday, noon-3:30 p.m., CBS. PARKING: Free at the VA hospital (off the 405 Freeway at the Wilshire Boulevard West exit), with a $5 shuttle fee to the Longworth gate entrance at the Riviera Country Club. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!