Not many major golf tournaments have been an opportunity for fans to expand their vocabulary, but this year’s US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club might do just that. During the four days of the tournament, starting on Thursday, we expect broadcasters – and perhaps golfers – to routinely use a word that may be unfamiliar to many in the international viewing audience.
The word is barranca—pronounced “burr-ahng-kuh”—describes a narrow, winding, steep gully or river gorge typically found in the Southern California landscape.
The barranca on the North Course at Los Angeles Country Club plays a frequent par throughout the 18 holes, mainly as protection on and around the green. Stray golf balls that land inside a barranca may be unplayable and result in a one-stroke penalty. In others, expect to see competitors descend into Barranca in hopes of saving their golf balls. It may be a successful rebounding trick, or it may just provide a good photograph – a golfer submerged several feet down the running fairway in an attempt to make par.
However, LA Country Club barranca is far from a haphazard artifact of course layout. It serves an important and effective drainage role during the rainy seasons and adds a natural, herringbone aesthetic to the course design, which originated in the 1920s. However, by 2010 the barranca, which meanders all over the property with joists running in multiple directions, was largely rammed. The grounds renovation, completed in 2017, by golf architect Gil Hanse, with his design partner, Jim Wagner, and design consultant, Jeff Shackleford, has restored the barranca to its original appearance — and tactical purpose.
It plays first on the second hole, which is 497 yards, where players will face a long putt over Barranca. Golfers will face Barranca five more times in the front nine.
At 520 yards, 4 17, Hansey cleared so many trees that the serpentine barranca could be seen from the tee, reminding players of the danger lurking. It could test the nerves of the championship leaders going into the championship’s penultimate hole in Sunday’s final round.
“The barranca is pouring everywhere,” John Bodenhammer, chief tournament officer of the United States Golf Association, which conducts the US Open, said Wednesday. “There is brilliance in how it is used.”
Bodenhammer added that the barranca water ran three feet through it when he visited the site in March. The water was still up to 2 feet high last month. But Shackelford said on Wednesday that with a limited amount of rain in June, the Branca is now mostly sandy or dry, a condition that was expected and desirable.
“You’ll see players playing out of them—that’s what they meant,” Bodenhammer said. “You will see a lot of heroic shots, a lot of action. Barranca is just amazing.”
And it may be educational, especially for those hoping to add to their vocabulary.
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