Golf World (UK) - - BRANDEL CHAMBLEE -

James Braid may be best cel­e­brated for his five Open Cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries, but he was also a pro­lific golf ar­chi­tect who left his mark on more than 400 British and Irish cour­ses, in­clud­ing Gle­nea­gles, Carnoustie and Prest­wick. In the first of a new se­ries, Dun­can Len­nard ex­am­ines the great Scot’s con­tri­bu­tion to course de­sign.

ames Braid ought to be buried in his own bunker, with a nib­lick through his heart...”

This some­what hissy ver­dict was of­fered by JH Tay­lor at Prest­wick in 1914, shortly after miss­ing out on a fifth Open Cham­pi­onship. Fight­ing Harry Var­don for the Gold Medal, Tay­lor had reached the 4th two shots ahead. In front of him was a fa­mil­iar hole of around 360 yards, arc­ing right around the Pow Burn. Un­til re­cently this had been a straight­for­ward drive up the left; but now a new bunker, 200 yards hence, tight­ened up that open side and of­fered a tempt­ing, cor­ner-cut­ting line be­tween it and the burn. Tay­lor took it on, found a poor lie on the edge of the burn... and from here, hit into it. He ended up with a 7. Var­don mean­while, played safely left around all the trou­ble, made his 4, and ended up win­ning by three for his record sixth Cham­pi­onship.

The new bunker had been sited by a 44-year-old James Braid. His ca­reer as an ar­chi­tect tak­ing off, the Scot had been in­vited to con­sult on new bunker place­ments at what was al­ready a ven­er­a­ble old course.

Braid had al­ways loved the idea of fil­ter­ing tee shots by giv­ing ad­van­tage to a coura­geous and ac­cu­rate blow. There should be as fre­quently as pos­si­ble two al­ter­na­tive meth­ods of play­ing a hole, an easy one and a dif­fi­cult one, he had writ­ten back in 1908 in his book, Ad­vanced Golf. And there should be a chance of gain­ing a stroke when the lat­ter is cho­sen and the at­tempt is suc­cess­ful. It might be a bit of a stretch to say Braid in­vented risk-re­ward – after all, most holes on the Old Course at St An­drews em­body it – but no ar­chi­tect did more to put this strat­egy – now ac­cepted the world over – into the main­stream of golf course de­sign. This bunker on the 4th was Braid’s pol­icy in ac­tion, and like all great gam­bles, it had the power to se­duce. JH Tay­lor had been suck­ered in; and the anger in his re­sponse tells us that, at some level, he knew it.

A change of course

James Braid was born in 1870 and died in 1950 – two years that could al­most book­end golf’s epic jour­ney from cu­ri­ous cult prac­tised among the dunescapes of Scot­land to one of the world’s most pop­u­lar sports.

In 1870 there were only some 30 golf cour­ses in ex­is­tence; the year be­fore, the open­ing of Hoy­lake, Wim­ble­don Com­mon and Al­n­mouth had bought Eng­land’s to­tal to five. Seven months after Braid was born, Tom Mor­ris Ju­nior lapped a field of 20 to claim the £6 first prize at the 10th Open Cham­pi­onship. Golf pros were lit­tle more than glo­ri­fied cad­dies.

But by the year of his death golf was a truly global game, played by mil­lions on countless golf cour­ses from Perth to the other Perth. Ben Ho­gan had just struck his fa­mous 1-iron at Me­rion, the Ry­der Cup was in

Amer­i­can hands for the sixth time in eight matches and the New World had been play­ing golf long enough for Her­bert Warren Wind to pen a his­tory of it.

Golf’s phe­nom­e­nal growth at the turn of the 19th cen­tury has been at­trib­uted to many things – cheaper, bet­ter equip­ment, more so­cial mo­bil­ity, eas­ier course con­struc­tion and main­te­nance through in­creas­ing mech­a­ni­sa­tion. Yet ar­guably more im­por­tant than all of these was the sheer pres­ence of the Great Tri­umvi­rate – golf’s first su­per­stars. Braid, Var­don and Tay­lor were all born within a year of each other. Their epic bat­tles be­tween 1900 and the Great War in­tro­duced the pub­lic to the skill, beauty and drama of golf; but above all they com­mu­ni­cated a deep love of the game… and no one moreso than Braid him­self.

More than any­thing, Braid loved play­ing golf. He re­called his ear­li­est child­hood mem­ory as “at five or six years old, run­ning about with a minia­ture club in my hand and knock­ing a ball with it at ev­ery chance that pre­sented it­self”. He merged his pas­sion for the game with his con­sid­er­able skills in be­com­ing one of its pre­em­i­nent play­ers, and he is of course best-known for win­ning five Open Cham­pi­onships in the 10 years be­tween 1901 and 1910.

But to­wards the end of his play­ing ca­reer, he in­creas­ingly chan­nelled his de­vo­tion into course de­sign. His very first tweaks were at Rom­ford in Es­sex, the course he served as club pro from 1896 to 1904. But the first course where he broke vir­gin land was in 1897, some 10 miles to the north, a pretty nine holes among the oak, beech and horn­beam of Ep­ping For­est at They­don Bois. It didn’t even cost the club a fiver; he was paid four pounds, 13 shillings and six­pence.

Even Braid him­self could not have guessed that They­don Bois would be the first of a de­sign ca­reer that surely makes him golf’s most pro­lific ar­chi­tect. Iain Cum­ming, co-au­thor of the im­pres­sive cof­fee-ta­ble work James Braid and his 400 cour­ses, es­ti­mates Braid has had a hand in some 412 golf cour­ses across the UK and Ire­land, al­though just shy of 100 of those were cre­ations from scratch. Two of those were his most fa­mous work – Gle­nea­gles King’s and Queen’s, rapidly ap­proach­ing their cen­te­nar­ies next year. Braid is also strongly as­so­ci­ated with Carnoustie, a course he ex­ten­sively re­mod­elled in 1926. The rest, from Brora to Brighton and Hove, are made of any­thing from con­ver­sions from nine to 18 holes to con­sul­tancy fees for any and all kinds of strate­gic ad­just­ments.

Given the fact car and sea-sick­ness en­sured he only trav­elled by train, the ex­tent of Braid’s course work is breath­tak­ing. It is said he knew the con­nec­tions through Crewe so well that he didn’t even need a timetable. “I al­ways got the im­pres­sion he was happy to de­sign a golf course any­where, no mat­ter how hope­lessly un­suit­able the land was,” says Ken Macpher­son, a man who fol­lowed in Braid’s foot­steps as club pro­fes­sional at Wal­ton Heath. “Braid was pas­sion­ate about spread­ing the gospel of golf, if you like, and I think he came to see build­ing golf cour­ses as the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of that. Take Finch­ley for ex­am­ple, a per­haps un­promis­ing site threat­ened by the ex­pand­ing north Lon­don sub­urbs. But in 1929 Braid laid out a charm­ing course here. Con­fined, hilly, flat, built up… it didn’t mat­ter to Braid; if he was asked, and he had the time, he would have said yes.”

Golden age

James Braid played his golf in an era when cour­ses were de­signed by golfers, not ar­chi­tects. The cour­ses of Old Tom Mor­ris (Prest­wick 1851), Tom Dunn (Broad­stone, 1898) or Wil­lie Park Jnr (Sun­ning­dale Old, 1901) dom­i­nated the golf­ing land­scape, and it would be some years be­fore the likes of Harry Colt and Alis­ter Macken­zie would an­nounce them­selves as pro­fes­sional course de­sign­ers.

As such, Braid’s ideas on golf cour­ses were born through his un­ri­valled ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing the game – in all land­scapes, and in all con­di­tions. He was if noth­ing else ver­sa­tile, adapt­ing his ideas to the land and bud­get in front of him. Be­cause of this, sum­ming up a ‘typ­i­cal’ Braid de­sign is one of golf ’s trick­ier as­sign­ments.

“He would re­act to a land­scape, rather than try to force his ideas on it,” says Cum­ming. “He also worked across a vast range of land­scapes, bud­gets and man­dates. Be­cause of this, it is hard to iden­tify re­cur­ring pat­terns in his work.”

That said, Braid clearly laid out his pref­er­ences for golf course de­sign in Ad­vanced Golf. Con­tained in these pages is a se­ries of tenets that are now al­most ax­iomatic as part of set­ting up a chal­lenge for the golfer.

Con­sider for ex­am­ple his in­sis­tence on a va­ri­ety of tee­ing grounds, to of­fer not just op­tions for vary­ing play­ing con­di­tions but also to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent stan­dards of player. It’s some­thing we take for granted to­day, but in Braid’s day tee­ing grounds were lim­ited.

Braid also con­sid­ered a hole’s bunker­ing and strat­egy should be de­signed to re­ward not just tee shot power but also po­si­tion­ing. His work at Carnoustie is in many ways symp­to­matic of these be­liefs. Brought in to


re­model the course for its 1931 Open de­but, he im­me­di­ately set about re­mov­ing some 80 bunkers which he felt af­fected only lesser golfers, and build­ing 60 new traps – each with its own unique shap­ing. Each bunker per­formed a spe­cific duty, ei­ther tight­en­ing a short ap­proach or ask­ing more search­ing ques­tions of the drive – and none more so than one he placed in the cen­tre of the yawn­ing 6th fair­way. It cre­ated two routes – a safer one up the right that brings a ditch into play for the sec­ond, or a nar­row tiger line up the left that courts out-of-bounds but leaves a much more favourable line in. Thus was born Ho­gan’s Al­ley. Risk/re­ward, test­ing traps and in­ten­si­fy­ing of at­tack an­gles… all in one hit. The bunker he placed in the fair­way at the 2nd per­forms a sim­i­lar func­tion.

As Tay­lor’s re­ac­tion at Prest­wick sug­gests, such bunkers led to crit­i­cisms that a ‘straight’ drive should not be pun­ished. But in bring­ing bunkers more into play, Braid re­de­fined what a straight drive was. Per­haps for the first time, the tee shot would be as much about brains as brawn.

Braid’s other ar­ti­cles of faith were based around fair­ness of pun­ish­ment – smaller greens for shorter holes – and va­ri­ety of chal­lenge, es­pe­cially in the par 3 holes, to which he at­tached spe­cial im­por­tance. “As at his most cel­e­brated cre­ation, the King’s Course at Gle­nea­gles, Braid liked the idea of four one-shot­ters in a round,” adds Cum­ming. “But it was im­por­tant to him that they played at dif­fer­ent lengths and if at all pos­si­ble, in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. This is why, in gaug­ing a piece of land, he would look for par 3 sites first. Then he would plan in the longer holes, and use the ver­sa­til­ity of par 4s to link them all up.”

Of course this was not al­ways pos­si­ble. On the King’s, two par 3s play west, one north east and one north west. Down in Corn­wall at St En­odoc, where there are five short­ies, he got closer – the 5th is south, the 8th north east, the 11th west, the 15th south east and 17th south west. But it is rare to play a Braid course with­out gain­ing a per­cep­tion of the im­por­tance given to par 3s. The King’s’ perched 5th green and St En­odoc’s 5th and 15th, both played over an en­tranc­ing val­ley, stand as per­fect ex­am­ples.

An­other King’s par 3 – the tiny 140-yard 16th – is a stir­ring ex­am­ple of one trait we could pin on Braid. “He was gen­er­ally known to be the best – or per­haps most sav­age – bunkerer,” says Cum­ming. The 16th fea­tures no fewer than nine bunkers around it, four stretched across the front and five flank­ing the putting sur­face. Two holes ear­lier, the 10 bunkers of the 309yard 14th show how ag­gres­sively he pro­tected short par 4s. The five deep traps guard­ing the green of the fi­nal hole at Stran­raer – the last course Braid de­signed, in 1950, and aptly named ‘Braid’s Last’ – proves he showed no signs of mel­low­ing in old age.

A last­ing legacy

James Braid never lived to see Stran­raer com­pleted. He died in 1950 – to his last day the head pro at Wal­ton Heath, the club he had served for 46 years. He was laid to rest in the course’s lo­cal church­yard, St Pe­ter’s, just a firm mashie from his shop. Ken Macpher­son was given the hon­our of tend­ing his grave by Braid’s daugh­ter-in-law… but only on the un­der­stand­ing noth­ing was done to give the im­pres­sion James was more im­por­tant than any one else in the grave­yard. “His grave­stone doesn’t even men­tion any­where that he was a golfer,” he adds. Braid’s hu­mil­ity was leg­endary. There is a pic­ture of him, taken in the twi­light of his years, in which he is hun­kered down un­der an um­brella, in a Mack­in­tosh and mit­tens. He is on the first tee at Wal­ton Heath, start­ing a group of vis­it­ing golfers. Never mind that he was a five-time Open Cham­pion or the cre­ator of Gle­nea­gles; he was head pro at Wal­ton Heath, and it wouldn’t have oc­curred to him to be any­where else. It’s said a golf ar­chi­tect’s per­son­al­ity comes out in his de­signs. Yes, Braid de­signed the mighty Gle­nea­gles: but his zeal to put a golf course on any patch of land epit­o­mises his ut­ter im­mu­nity to hau­teur. Not for him the re­flected glory of a sig­na­ture lay­out; a work­ing-class lad, he just wanted to take a game hith­erto the prov­ince of the landed gen­try, and give it to the peo­ple. Mis­sion ac­com­plished.

James Braid and his 400 cour­ses

(RRP £25) is pub­lished by Grant Books (www.grant­books.co.uk)


St En­odoc is still Braid’s work, the 16th one of just two newer greens.

The King’s 16th green may be in a bowl but fierce bunker­ing rules out a kindly kick.

A man of few words, Braid’s hu­mil­ity be­lied his achieve­ments in all walks of the game.

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