Monday, 27 December 2010

#19 – James Braid

Best Course: Gleneagles (King’s)

Other notable work: Perranporth, St. Enodoc, Blairgowrie, Boat of Garten, Brora, Royal Musselburgh, East Lothian

Notable Remodel: Carnoustie (Medal), Nairn, Royal Troon, Royal Pothcawl

Overview: James Braid was the original golf professional at Walton Heath a landmark course when built and remained there all his career. He is best known as part of the great triumvirate with JH Taylor and Harry Vardon, winning 5 British Open titles in his career. He began his career as a golf architect after winning the first, but it wasn’t until after his playing days were finished that he dedicated himself full time to golf course design.

Braid’s work was limited by his problems with motion sickness and a deep fear of the sea. He became very reliant upon John Stutt to supervise and build much of his work. To make up for these issues, Braid planned his courses from topographic maps and produced very detailed working drawings to make up for the limited time in the field.
Praise for the work: He handled severe terrain as well as anyone, often benching green sites in severe land to wonderful effect. He didn’t change the land very much and often allowed the holes to simply fall with the terrain creating the need to hit shots that would hold the slope. He would then either find natural green sites or bench the greens and tees into the slope creating some really unique and quite spectacular green sites. The green sites often featured distinctive sharp fall offs on the low side. Interestingly rather than bunker many of these, he often allowed the sharp fall off to be the hazard to avoid.
St. Enodoc's famous 6th hole
I’m particularly fond of the bunkering work he did at Nairn. At the 5th hole in particular he made a fascinating decision. Rather than protect the dangerous but direct line to the green, he bunkered the exact location you would play a safe shot too, which meant you felt compelled to play a riskier line and challenge the hole. At Gleneagles he used quite a lot of traditional placed bunkers but punctuated that at key points like the tee shot on the 13th with a bunker that confronts you and forces you to make a decision. At his most prominent courses he provided an excellent range of hole types and strategies, courses that are fun to play.

Criticisms: In the beginning he did little more than stake out courses but over time became far more actively involved in the construction. The work that stands out is clearly correlated with the amount of time he spent on site, whereas he should be criticized for the number of projects where he provided little direction and the courses often suffered for this practice. His stubborn refusal to make changes after the course was open for play strikes me as a weakness, although it likely could be seen as an asset too. There are many holes designed by Braid where you are left wondering if a different routing or different approach may have been better.

The facinating 5th, Het Girdle at Gleneagles

My favourite: Gleneagles King’s Course: A highly underestimated course largely ignored for not being a seaside links. The course features a wonderful romp up and down sometimes severe terrain with not a weak hole among the group. Short holes like the 14th are underestimated they are often an intentional breather hole. The holes are better appreciated in the context. The 14th for example follows the awesome and difficult 13th (Braid’s best) and precedes the long tough 15th.

What I take from him: There are two things that standout in his work. His benched in greens fascinate me for their simplicity in form yet their inherent difficulty to hit. It’s a great example of something that appears fairly easy to play, but is much tougher than it looks. The other aspect is the use of interior bunkers to confront you. These bunkers draw your immediate attention and force you to make decisions including some you may even not want to. I love the idea of an architectural punctuation mark.

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