The golden age – Harry Colt and James Braid’s work in the North East

Following our look at Dr Alister McKenzie’s work in our region, we delve into the work of two more of golf’s golden age architects – Harry Colt and James Braid

Harry Colt and James Braid’s work during the late 19th and early 20th centuries remains celebrated across the world. The pair designed and contributed to hundreds of golf courses in their careers with Colt working internationally and Braid mainly working in the UK and Ireland. Their work ranges from alterations to Open Championship venues to the creation of some of the world’s most important courses, with architects today still taking inspiration from much of their work.

Colt (1869-1951) was a prolific architect with credits for original designs, renovations and alterations spread across the UK, Canada, the US, France, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands. He is credited with work on more than 150 courses including Open Championship venues Muirfield, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Portrush.

A Cambridge-educated lawyer, he was the first captain of Cambridge University Golf Club in 1889. In 1894, he laid out the New Course at Rye in East Sussex alongside Scottish pro Douglas Rolland – the pair appointed secretary and professional respectively the following year. He would go on serve as the first secretary at Sunningdale (1901-1913) and to partner with CH Alison and Dr Alister McKenzie on multiple projects until 1923, when McKenzie would venture out on his own. McKenzie would be replaced by Newcastle-born John Morrison and the firm renamed Colt, Alison & Morrison in 1928. The trio would go on to be credited with work on more than 300 golf courses.

While Colt’s work was prolific in the UK, his arguably most celebrated work can be found in the US – where he worked with hotelier George Crump on the routing for Pine Valley, which opened in 1919 and is ranked number one in Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Courses in the World and Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest.

His courses are renowned for their positioning in the land rather than set upon it. His bunkering style leaned more towards natural shapes, avoiding symmetry where possible and preferring large collection areas with smaller bunkers set within them. Greens were positioned on natural ridges, plateaus or in punchbowls.

Meanwhile, Braid (1870-1950) was a five-time Open Champion between 1901 and 1910, and a member of the Great Triumvirate alongside Harry Vardon and JH Taylor.

Born in Fife, he turned professional in 1896 and played professionally until 1912 when he scaled back his tournament play in favour of a full-time club position at Walton Heath.

Braid is credited with work on as many as 400 golf courses – primarily in Great Britain and Ireland, including the 1926 remodelling of Carnoustie, the design of the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles, and alterations to Royal Troon.

Braid’s courses feature minimal artificial elements, instead preferring natural shapes with a wide variety of hole lengths and features. He also notes in Advanced Golf: “The shorter the hole the smaller should be the putting green, and the more closely should it be guarded,” a recurring feature in his original designs.

In our region, courses credited to Colt (either original designs, redesigns or alterations) include Alnmouth (new layout around Foxton Hall), Alwoodley (with McKenzie), Brancepeth Castle (design), Cleveland (alterations with John Morrison), Ganton (alterations), The Northumberland (redesign, closely followed by Braid), Tyneside (redesign) and Whitburn (design led by John Morrison). 

Courses designed or influenced by Braid meanwhile include Arcot Hall (design), Brampton (design), Dunstanburgh (redesign), Goswick (alterations), Hartlepool (alterations), Hexham (alterations), Middlesbrough (design), and Scarborough North Cliff (design). We have picked out just some of the courses from the above lists to highlight both Colt and Braid’s work in our region further…
Tyneside Golf Club
A celebrated example of Harry Colt’s work, Tyneside was extensively remodelled by Colt in 1910 following the club’s move from the Mungo Park-designed layout at The Willows to its present location at Western Falls. The location, high on the south side of the Tyne Valley, affords spectacular views and dramatic elevation changes which Colt weaved holes above, over and through to create challenging golf holes while making the most of the views with many high tee boxes and greens set against natural contours and close to ancient trees. Restored in recent years by widely respected Colt expert Frank Pont, Tyneside remains an important example of the architect’s work in England with its strategic bunkering and subtly sloping greens continuing to challenge and entertain. As Pont wrote: “Tyneside is truly a classic course, with all the elements of a vintage early Colt design still present. The course has a very good and varied layout, virtually all the greens are still original, and much of the original greenside bunkering and detailing is still present. The course offers great views across the Tyne Valley, and has solid par three holes, as one would expect from a Colt course.”
Brancepeth Castle Golf Club
Following the decision of Lord Boyne to establish a golf course on his deer park in 1924, Harry Colt and his firm (there is some debate on who collaborated with Colt on the work) was appointed to design the new course. Several ravines and streams criss-crossing the site offered challenge and spectacular settings for golf holes while ensuring the parkland course drained well. Each of Colt’s par threes here is a fine example of his design philosophy and creates a challenging set with four of the five crossing the ravines. Peter Alliss said that if he could choose 18 holes around which to create a course, the ninth at Brancepeth would be one of them. Having survived a remodelling plan in the 1960s, the course remains incredibly close to Colt’s original design with some subtle alterations in near-100 years – including the much-appreciated additions of bridges at the eighth and eighteenth holes, saving players the walk to the bottom of the ravines then back up again.
Hexham Golf Club
Hexham Golf Club’s classic English parkland layout has been added to several times since the club moved to its present location in 1907 and employed six-time Open champion Harry Vardon to design the course. James Braid visited in April 1921 and tightened several fairways, repositioned greens and lengthened at least one hole. Elements of Vardon and Braid’s work remain, though the course was further altered in the 1950s by CK Cotton – who adjusted 11 holes and added seven new ones to create the course as it is now played. Laid out on spectacular ground for golf, the ancient trees at Hexham guard a challenging parkland design which is noted for its dramatically contoured green complexes and stunning views of the Tyne Valley – which Vardon described in a letter to the club. He wrote: “I was very much struck with the beautiful nature of the turf and it can be made into as fine an inland course as you can find… as for scenery it can hardly be surpassed.”
Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course
Golf has been played in the shadow of Dunstanburgh Castle since at least 1900, when a nine-hole course occupied this stretch of coastline. Purchased in 1919, the course was soon modified by James Braid before being extended in batches of three holes from 1929-1936. The course would remain much as Braid laid out until 1987, when it was extended to suit changes to equipment. Several of Braid’s original greens remain however, each fine examples of both dramatic and subtle contouring set against stunning dunescapes which continue to enthral and test golfers more than 100 years after they were originally shaped. Continued improvement of the course has been sympathetic to Braid’s work, particularly the original greens, while repositioned and remodelled bunkering has ensured it remains relevant to the modern game while offering spectacular views of the North Sea and the ruined castle.
Arcot Hall Golf Club
One of James Braid’s final designs, the course at Arcot Hall draws upon the architect’s extensive work and remains a fine example of his inland English golf courses. Having moved to Arcot Hall from Benton Park, the club employed 77-year-old Braid to layout a new course, which was completed in 1947 – just three years before his death in 1950. Credited by some as the inventor of the dogleg, Braid turns holes both left and right at Arcot, making use of natural slopes and woodland to create interesting and challenging holes noted for their expansive green complexes and challenging greenside bunkering.
Hartlepool Golf Club
The links of Hartlepool have been home to golf for more than 100 years. In 1911, Willie Park Jr extended the layout to 18 holes before James Braid reworked several holes in the autumn of 1929 – building on his initial engagement for a bunkering plan with several other alterations. Braid concentrated on the central holes – changing the ninth hole into a dogleg, pushing the 10th toward the dunes, lengthening the par three 11th and adjusting bunkering at the par three 12th. Several changes have followed his work including the renumbering of the holes following the construction of the clubhouse, and the creation of new first, 17th and 18th holes – though many elements of Braid’s bunkering and rerouting of the inner stretch of holes remains unaltered.