Meet the man who started a golf society with a twist

Golf News

Michael Herriot’s love of James Braid spawned a nationwide movement to keep the champion golfer’s name alive, as Steve Carroll discovers

The spirit of Braid lives on in the association and in the lengths some golfers will go to play his designs.

Herriot has been part of a group that has been “touring” for 30 years – “we’re now old men” – and never fail to take in at least one Braid course wherever they have travelled in the UK.

He also knows of players who keep their clubs permanently in their boot, waiting for the moment they can grab a half-day – or a spare evening in the summer – and nick off and play one of his courses at the special rate.

But for Herriot it is beyond a simple appreciation of the man’s ability to mould something special from the soil.

“He wasn’t just a golfer, he was a gentleman who, according to books written about him, played golf every day of his life.

“If he didn’t have a game at Walton Heath, he would stand on the first tee to wait for a singleton to come along and would even go out with a junior.

association of james braid courses

“I have a copy of a famous story of someone’s experience playing with Braid in such circumstances. He just happened to be out and there he was standing on the first tee.

“That, to me, is what golf is all about. It’s about friendship. You can play like a 50 handicapper but still have had a great day because you’ve got your mates with you and you’ve a bit of banter during and afterwards.

“When you think he got a day off from Walton Heath, which usually was him playing an exhibition match with Harry Vardon, JH Taylor or some of the amateurs and, in that day off, he designed golf courses.”

He put Henley together in just half a day, drawing on a lifetime of golfing knowledge and the visions in his head of hole designs.

“He didn’t believe in moving a lot of earth other than to make the tees and make the greens. He used one company in the main to do all that – Stutt’s. They knew how he worked and he knew how they worked.

“He would come to a place like Henley and put a peg in the ground where he wanted the first tee.

“He was a very tall man so his steps were virtually a yard long and he would walk the first hole and put a peg in the ground where he wanted the green. He would make a note that the first hole was, perhaps, a number 23 of the holes he carried in his head.

“Then he’d go onto the second and do the same thing, all the way round. He’d take his notes back to Walton Heath, get out the topographical plan and plot the holes onto it – putting in bunkers if he felt they were needed.

“He wasn’t a great user of bunkers. Berkhamsted has no bunkers, Chorley Wood has no bunkers, and then the draughtsmen at Walton Heath would draw it out on a topographical plan.

“He’d sent it to the golf club and say ‘This is what I want. I’ve sent it to Stutt’s and they will be in contact’. For £15 3 and tuppence ha’penny, he designed Henley.”

Herriot can tell you how Braid designed the dogleg, or how Seve Ballesteros once declared the 12th hole at Henley to be so fine he would happily put it on any golf course in the world.

But his favourite story is not one of heroics at the Open, or of how a spectacular course came into being.

It’s a much simpler scene that epitomises why Herriot holds the man in such high regard.

“I had the pleasure to sit next to one of his granddaughters at a dinner. I said, ‘So what was he really like?’

“She said, ‘Well, we used to go there on Sunday for tea and he’d say hello. And when we left, he’d say goodbye.’ To me, that tells you a lot about Scottish people, but it also tells me a lot about the man.

“He was very quiet. Vardon was probably the flashier, dare I say, of the Triumvirate whereas Braid was quiet and perhaps an in the background type of person.

“For me, that sums up the man more than anything.”

Who was James Braid?

Part of the famed Great Triumvirate that dominated golf in the late 19th and early 20th century, which also included Harry Vardon and JH Taylor, James Braid won the Open Championship on five occasions between 1901 and 1910.

Born in Earlsferry, in Fife, he learned to play at an early age and worked as a club maker before turning professional.

He became the club professional at Walton Heath in 1912 and scaled back his competitive engagements – becoming more involved in course design.

Braid would go on to design or alter some 400 courses, including creating the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles while also remodelling Carnoustie.

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