James Braid was one of golf's great champions, but he is probably better-known today as one of the finest golf course designers of all time. Born in Earlsferry in Fife on 6 February 1870, James Braid first began playing golf on the links at Elie. His pursuit for golf combined with his experience as a carpenter took him from Scotland to Army and Navy in London to make clubs.
As an amateur, Braid was a powerful hitter with an astounding talent for straight iron, and although his long and short game was excellent, his putting was not so consistent. When he replaced his wooden putter with a metal headed one, his play improved dramatically, which in turn attracted Romford Golf Club in Essex, who employed him as a professional in 1896.
A year later, Braid successfully gained the runner up place in the British Open, but went on to win the Open at Muirfield in 1901, the first of five wins that he would achieve in a decade.
Braid left Romford in 1903 for Walton Heath soon after the start of his successful competition career. During the next seven years, he won four more Open competitions, with St Andrews in 1905, Muirfield in 1906, Prestwick in 1908 and St Andrews in 1910. He also won four British PGA championships in 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1911 as well as the 1910 French Open title.
Retiring from competition golf in 1912, Braid turned his head to golf course design. He was asked to consult on many of the new courses that were being constructed throughout England and Scotland. His agreement to consult for these courses led to the development of a new architectural style that laid the foundation for today’s modern course layouts. This can be attributed to his working style as he suffered motion sickness and fear of the sea which limited his travel. As a result, he planned his courses from topographic maps and produced very detailed working drawings. His colleague John Stutt then undertook the construction of much of his work. Whilst not having a visual record of the terrain, to which a course would be strictly planned by tradition, Braid’s plans altered terrain to create new and radical designs based around shot strategies. So while his contemporaries Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt were drawn to other countries in Europe, the Far East, Australia and the United States, Braid concentrated his efforts in England and Scotland. He designed only one course in the United States, but he never visited the site.
Although Braid understood that natural terrain was useful for certain holes having worked on a number of links courses, he also believed the landscape could be altered to create more imaginative and challenging designs. This style is probably more prominent with his inland courses, of which he designed many, with the King's Course at Gleneagles being the most notable. Many of his courses contain the earliest known dogleg layout, of which many assume was Braid’s own creation.
Braid believed that every hole should force the player to question the kind of approach that should be made. In addition, greens should heavily guarded and careful thought would be needed to land there safely. Bunker planning had the specific objective of pushing the player to make distance and moreover, to gain a desired position. Failing to do this would result in penalty as the following shot would require considerable attention. The whole purpose for bunkering in Braids designs was simply to present a mild penalty for a defective shot, not to present a hazard in direct line of a good shot.
As with MacKenzie, Braid believed that at least two methods should be available to play a hole. A simple one and a difficult one. Should a player choose the difficult route and fail, the lesser player would gain advantage.
Braid’s most poignant courses alongside Gleneagles Kings include Perranporth, St. Enodoc, Blairgowrie, Boat of Garten, Brora, Royal Musselburgh and East Lothian. However, he also undertook some fascinating remodelling work at Carnoustie, Nairn, Royal Troon and Royal Pothcawl.
In addition to his skills on the course he proved a very successful president of the PGA. His contributions to the game were rewarded as one of the first golf professionals to be inducted as a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
This much admired pioneer of golf, died in London in 1950, having remained at Walton Heath since his retirement in 1903.