Meet the man who started a golf society with a twist
Dirty balls, countless books and worn down putters – the treasure trove of memorabilia at Michael Herriot’s house runs deep.
His wife says he’s got too much of it but James Braid has fascinated him since he was a boy and it’s been a lifelong obsession.
“I’ve got examples of all the clubs he made – you name it, I’ve got it.”
If there’s anything worth knowing about the five-time Open champion then Herriot is the man to ask.
Did you know, for example, that Braid invented the mallet-headed putter?
“I have a couple of Braid Mills putters. There was a firm, Mills in Sunderland, who made them for him.
“That was so ahead of its time. We went through a phase of having wooden, mallet-headed putters but, in 1910, here he was inventing a club that really didn’t become popular in the UK until the 1950s.
“Each of the clubs were made to a specific weight for the individual concerned. He would make the club for a member and have the head specially made.
“You could have them light or heavy. These were things that nobody else was doing at the time.”
But Herriot’s love of Braid has gone much further than racks of old hickories and drawers full of Haskells.
A decade ago, the Henley member started the Association of James Braid Courses – and a members’ list that first numbered 30 now tops more than 300.
The ethos of the association is simple. If you are a member of a Braid-designed club, you can go and play another one that’s tied to the association for a reduced green fee.
“It was Henley’s centenary in 2007 and we had round-robin matches with other clubs within 50 miles that were 100 years old at the same time,” Herriot explains of its humble beginnings.
“I thought it would be great for the members if they could go and see other Braid courses. I did a lot of research and got a list of all the clubs that I thought Braid had something to do with – either designing the original or redesigning bunkers or shapes of fairways and things like that.
“I started to email them and the first members’ list was in 2009.”
Of the more than 400 courses where Braid left his mark, Herriot has played 93 to date.
The first was as a 10-year-old boy when he set foot upon Cowglen, in Glasgow, and a club historian gave a talk and ignited the spark.
He’s been following Braid around Britain ever since and there are two layouts that hold a particular fondness.
“I don’t think there is an inland course, of that age, that can beat the King’s course at Gleneagles. As someone wiser than I said ‘if you are not playing well, just look at the views’. On the King’s course, you can play badly but still have had a great day.
“The other would be Brora, which is probably a typical Braid links course laid out on the land between the sea and the town. It’s a straight out nine and straight back nine.
“Other than where they have tried to gain a few yards, I suspect it is more or less as he wanted it laid out.
“It’s still has sheep on it, cows on it, and all the greens are protected by electric fences so it’s really what golf was all about 100 years ago.”
Turn the page to read Herriot’s memories of meeting Braid’s relatives and how he designed Henley in half a day…