James Braid – Five Times Open Champion

The Golden Age of Golf 

James Braid was born to his weaver mother, Mary, and farm worker father – also James – in 1870 and grew up in a cottage in Earlsferry – a village neighbouring Elie in Fife, Scotland.  

Elie is home to an ancient and renowned links course, where the young James threw himself wholeheartedly into learning the game. He won his first local tournament at the age of eight, and the die was cast – James was on the way to becoming a golfing icon. 

As his golf improved as a teenager he became an apprentice joiner, then he moved on to St Andrews, Edinburgh and ultimately headed south of the border to London to work as golf club maker at the Army & Navy Stores. There was plenty of time away from the day job to keep up his golfing at several London area clubs, until he became a full time professional at Romford Golf Club in 1896. 

It was not long after this that the young Scotsman had his first taste of course architecture, being paid to lay out a 9-hole course at Theydon Bois in the Epping Forest. 

Course designing though had to take a backseat to his professional career as James began to ramp up the victories – five British Open titles (Muirfield 1901, St Andrews 1905, Muirfield 1906, Prestwick 1908 and St Andrews 1910). He also won the PGA Championship in 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1911, and the French Open in 1910. 

It was a golden age for golf in the early years of the 20th century, and James Braid was caught up in the glory along with other golf pioneers Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor, who together became known as the Great Triumvirate. The trio between them won The Open 16 times in the 21 tournaments held between 1894 and 1914. In the five tournaments where none of them won, they finished as runners-up. 

One of the Finest Course Architects 

James Braid was described as a shy man of great character, who disliked travel (apparently he suffered from travel sickness) and never owned a car because he preferred trains.  

At the top of his game he decided to retire from professional golf in 1912, and settled down to take up the position of pro at the new Walton Heath Golf Course south of London, where the likes of Royalty and Winston Churchill teed off regularly. 

At Walton Heath James found the time to work on course architecture, and write books about golf. His talent for course design is now legendary. He’s credited with designing more than a hundred 9-hole and 18-hole courses, extending more than 50 nine-holers to 18 holes, and reconstructing, remodelling and altering more than two hundred more courses. 

His output was prolific without compromising on his high standards, and he came to be regarded as one of the finest ever course architects.  

There are numerous courses in Scotland that owe their design wholly or in part to James Braid, including some of the best in the Highlands.  

Golf Highland is proud to be able to have a stable of eight impressive golf clubs as part of our membership that can be attributed to the brilliant course architecture of James Braid: 

Of all the courses he worked on James Braid’s “home” course of Walton Heath in England, where he was club professional, was not one. It was designed by Herbert Fowler and accepted as being outstanding and inspired before Baird came into post, so he opted to leave it be. 

James Braid’s Approach to Design 

Many golfing devotees travel around Scotland seeking James Braid’s golf course gems, full of admiration and appreciation for this master of course design. 

He achieved so much in a long life, staying as full-time club professional at Walton Heath for more than 40 years, until his death in 1950 at the age of 80. 

He was designing golf courses right until the end, having planned Stranraer Golf Club’s course in Dumfries and Galloway, which he never lived to see completed, although it was finished by Paisley contractor John Stutt who worked on dozens of Braid’s projects over the years.  

Braid had a very definite philosophy on the design of golf courses from which he never wavered, and wrote about often. This included the fact that he believed it “necessary and desirable” to lay out holes following the lie of the land, incorporating natural obstacles. He preferred each hole to be unique in its character, so that each required an individual approach. For Braid variety was the spice of golfing life. 

Some of his ideas were a bit radical when first introduced, but have now become accepted as usual practice. For instance, he suggested that the shorter the hole, the smaller the green should be, and that there should be at least two options for playing a hole – easy or difficult.  

In Scotland you’ll always find a warm welcome if you come to follow the trail of James Braid’s great courses, particularly from Golf Highland’s member clubs who are pleased and proud to offer you a memorable round in memory of a great golfer and a genius course architect. 

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