Golf Course Features: the Barranca

Angela Stanford hitting out of a barranca during LPGA Tour event
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On a golf course, a "barranca" is a (usually) dry ditch, gully or ravine that is (usually) littered with rocks and/or desert-type vegetation.

Yes, there were a couple parenthetical caveats in that first sentence. Sometimes barrancas are a mixture of smaller rocks, sandy soil, and desert plants. Some golf courses call any kind of ravine or ditch a barranca, because, hey, the word sounds cool.

'Barranca' Is a Spanish Word for 'Ravine'

"Barranca" is a Spanish word meaning gulley or ravine. According to the Historical Dictionary of Golf, the word first began appearing in the lexicon of English-speaking golfers and golf media in the late 1800s. It was already in use in Spanish-speaking realms of the golf world because, of course, the word itself is Spanish.

The Historical Dictionary cites, for example, an 1887 magazine article by Horace Hutchinson in which Hutchinson — the 1886 and 1887 British Amateur champ — describes a golf course's terrain as "bare crumbly clay, with stones interspersed among it, and intersected by dry barrancas or water-courses."

Ravines, gullies, ditches, gulches, canyons, draws — these things have always been around on golf courses. But calling such a feature a "barranca" usually indicates a rocky or desert-y look to the feature.

At one point in the 1990s, barrancas became somewhat trendy in golf course design and some architects began creating them by hollowing out small gullies and filling the bottoms with rocks. These appeared more like dry creek beds than ravines, but, again, "barranca" is a cool word to use in golf course marketing, so the term was applied.

Is a Barranca a Hazard?

Whether a barranca is played as a hazard or not is up to the golf course staff (or tournament organizers) to determine, and may depend on the location of any given barranca.

A barranca off to the side of a hole — one that is possible for a wayward shot to land in but that is not "in play" for most shots — might be just another part of the rough, like hitting into the woods. Hit into the barranca like that leaves a golfer hoping he or she can play out, but one's lie might be awful or even unplayable.

A barranca that crosses a hole or runs close to a fairway, though, might be classified as a water hazard or lateral water hazard, even if normally dry. In such a case, the golf course should either stake the boundaries of the barranca or paint lines along its boundary (using the appropriate colors, e.g., red to indicate water hazard). The status of a barranca might also be indicated on a scorecard.