The legacy of James Braid is one that permeates through the entirety of golf in the British Isles. There are very few men in our game who have matched his standing, influence or dedication as a player, course designer and club professional.
As a member of the Great Triumvirate, Braid carved out a reputation alongside Harry Vardon and JH Taylor as one of the most prolific Open champions of all time, becoming the first man to win the title five times.
As an architect he can be credited with classics such as Gleneagles, Carnoustie and Blairgowrie.
He is also responsible for creating or redesigning more than 200 courses the length and breadth of Great Britain – leading to his unofficial title as the Great Revisionist.
Braid was also instrumental in forming the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), and finally, as a club professional Braid dedicated his time to the famous Walton Heath club, in Surrey, where he served for almost 50 years.
While the majority of Braid’s life was lived out in the south of England, his formative years were spent in Earlsferry, in Fife.
This is where he was born and grew up, and it was here that he developed the skills that would shape the course of his life.
Learning the game at Golf House Club, Elie, it was the rugged links nature of the course that helped to develop a swing that was described as a ‘divine fury’.
The club records state that he won his first competition at the age of eight, but coming from a family of modest means, Braid’s father, himself a farmer, insisted that his son learn a trade and so the young James became a carpenter.
However, golf was already in his blood and after transferring his skills as a joiner to that of a clubmaker, Braid was offered a job at the Army and Navy in London.
And, after turning professional in 1896, Braid embarked upon a career that would change the face of the game forever.
Despite finishing 10th in his first Open Championship in 1894, and never finishing lower than this position in the five years leading up to his first victory in 1901, Braid was always playing catch-up to his great rivals Taylor and Vardon.
Both had each won three Opens before the Scot could get his name engraved on the Claret Jug.
As one of the very best strikers of a ball, Braid possessed great length, a deft touch around the greens and the ability to mix caution with a sudden audacious killer blow.
He also pioneered the explosion recovery shot from sand.
If he had a weakness it was on the greens and it was not until he made the switch from a wooden-headed putter to an aluminium one that the results began to turn his way.
Muirfield, on the Lothian Coast, was the scene of his maiden victory. On this occasion he finished three shots ahead of Vardon. Despite claiming two runners-up spots in the time between this and his second victory in 1905, there seemed little doubt that Braid would add to his collection.
Between 1905 and 1910, Braid dominated the Open Championship and carved out four victories, a runners-up place and a 5th in a spell that would define his career.
It was at St Andrews where, in the final round, the tall Scot twice hit recovery shots from the railway tracks that ran alongside the course to scramble home for his second Open victory.
He then successfully defended his title the following year at Muirfield, which was the first time the tournament would be held over three days.
He was able to lift the Claret Jug again in 1908 at Prestwick where he romped to an eight-shot victory with a record-breaking total of 291, but the following year, his great rival Taylor drew level on four victories at Deal.
However, Braid was able to make history again at the Home of Golf, just a few miles north of his birthplace, by becoming the first man to win five Open Championships.
Braid didn’t exclusively enjoy success in the Open – he also had four Professional Match Play titles to his name as well as the French Open.
His tally of victories would surely have been much greater, especially overseas, had he not suffered from motion sickness and a fear of flying. So, when he retired from competitive golf, his attentions turned to course design and with the same verve, passion and prolific nature that defined his approach to his golf game, he left a legacy that has reached into the furthest corners of the British Isles.
Braid has helped to remodel Open venues and many classic links courses, but many of his best courses have been inland tracks and by using his farming background, he would ensure that all his courses were well laid out and well drained.
It has even been said that Braid invented the dogleg.