Tuesday, March 28, 2017

James Braid's Highland Golf Trail

Muir of Ord Golf Club line-up. Left to right : John Tuach (Muir of Ord website designer) Allan Polock Muir of Ord captain), Gordon Fyfe (Inverness GC president), Gordon Hay (Boat of Garten GC secretary), Hamish Milne (Muir of Ord), Grant Coghil (Reay GC captain), Chris Skelton (captain of Fortrose and   Rosemarkie GC)


James Braid rose to prominence when he won the Open Championship in 1901 and went on to win four more times by 1910, using hickory golf clubs all his life.

By the end of the of the 19th century and early into the 20th golf courses were springing up all over Britain, and club committees were inviting two of the golfers whom Braid would soon join to become known as The Great Triumvirate, J H Taylor and Harry Vardon, to build and lay out their courses.

James Braid had moved from his native Fife to the London area around 1893, eventually ending up at the Romford Golf Club, Essex in 1896. It was here that he first dabbled in course design, making suggestions to improve the drainage on the course.

His first commissioned work was a new nine-hole course in Epping Forest for Theydon Bois Golf Club and the fee was £4 13 shillings and sixpence old money (£4.65p roughly).
An extra nine holes were not added until long after his death in his 81st year (November 1950. The course was not lengthened until 1971 but most of Braid's first nine holes at Theydon still exist with few changes, a testament to his original instincts.

As they say, "The Rest is History." James Braid, from his tender beginnings at Theydon, went on to design, alter and tinker with around 400 courses around the British Isles and onto mainland Europe.
Much of his work, especially in Scotland, have become icons and masterpieces such as Carnoustie, Western Gailes, Gleneagles King's and Queen's, Royal Aberdeen, Nairn and Turnberry.

But it was noticed by Muir of Ord Golf Club's vice-captain and marketing convener, Hamish Milne, when browsing through tourist's golf guides to Scotland, that little mention was made of Braid's link to the  Highlands.
Not resting on his own club's marvellous achievement of being crowned Scottish Golf's "Club of the Year 2016," he set about the task of raising the profile of Highland courses with Braid connections.

Mindful also that many tourists and would-be golfers are travelling the now well-established NC500 Route he made contact with seven golf clubs in close proximity of the NC500. Seven representatives of these clubs, Boat of Garten in the heart of the Cairngom National Park, Reay on the shores of the Pentland Firth, Brora and Golspie on Sutherland's East links, Ross-shire's Fortrose and Rosemarkie, with his own Muir of Ord and the Highland Capital's Inverness Golf Club met at Muir of Ord Golf Club recently to launch an exiting new James Braid Highland Golf Trail.

A Brief introduction to all seven.

Boat of Garten. Few courses can be more picturesque to play for the "Boat" is the gem of the Cairngorms set in it's pine and birch forests by the River Spey. "One of the world's really great short golf courses". The birdie you should be looking for at the "Boat" is the illusive native Capercaillie?

Inverness. A green belt refuge for relaxation on the edge of the busy Highland Capital with views over to the mountains of Ross-shire and the Kessock Bridge, gateway to the Highlands. A fine mix of par three, four and five holes on two levels with the Dirrie Burn splitting the course.

Fortrose and Rosemarkie. Credited as a masterpiece of Braid's ability to fit 18 holes on to a narrow spit of land he was given to work with. Braid worked his way out and back from the Channory Point Lighthouse lapping the edge of the Beauly Firth where you can all but touch the shipping and dolphins passing by.

Muir of Ord. A typical heathland/moorland course and one of the oldest on the Trail, dating from 1875. Braid visited in 1925 and was given new ground to extend from nine to 18 holes. The ground was known as the Castle Hill Plateau. Here he put in play a par three with an almost vertical climb of 111yards to where the castle once stood with its own moat.

Brora. Braid's fees were increasing but his £25 charge to the Brora committee is still regarded good value. He arrived by his usual mode of transport the morning mail train, walked the pure natural links and departed by the evening train. His plan followed by post and the course today is considered an equal of  his Carnoustie work.
Brora has been described by another five time Open champion, Peter Thomson as "The best traditional links course in the World". The clubhouse has a Peter Thomson room and the James Braid Society has its home in the neighbouring Royal Marine Hotel.

Golspie. Overlooking the course stands the monument to the first Duke of Sutherland and Braid's fee rose to £31 by November 1925, perhaps as he had to work with a mixture of all turfs, links, heath, heather and park. The variety keeps every golfer happy and as they make their way round the favourite highland song "Grannie's Heilan Hame" keeps the swing slow and rhythmic.

Reay. The trip round the NC 500 via the western circuit takes you to the final golf course on the trail. Braid visited two golf course in Scotland's most northerly mainland county in 1933. From Walton Heath, by now his base, to Dunnet Bay, the original Thurso golf course, is a journey of over 600 miles.
The Dunnet Bay course is now extinct but just a few miles to its west lies the village of Reay and here the local villagers had twelve holes laid out. Braid was tasked to add another six but they were never built due to financial implications but his tinkering with what is now the present sixth of 18 holes brought it the name "Braid's Brawest".

Further information about the James Braid Highland Golf Trail can be obtained from the following www.jamesbraidhighland.golf
or the club secretaries of the associated clubs.

Credit is given for some of the information about the Trail golf courses to John F Morton and Iain Cumming who compiled the book, "James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses," published by Grant Books, Cutnall Green, Droitwich.






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