Staying true to the spirit of James Braid – Thorpeness Golf Course

By Christopher Oldrey

It’s not an easy task to renovate a classic James Braid designed heathland golf course laid out in 1922. It’s a bit like asking today’s mechanic to tweak the engine on a Leyland Eight, a Rolls-Royce or a Daimler – all classic British automobiles from the 1920’s.

James Braid is one of the most famous names in golf course architecture. His vision for what makes a great golf course is sacred and respected the world over. We knew that in renovating the golf course we had to account for the radical technological developments in driver and golf ball technology, which both make the ball fly further than ever before.

At the same time we wanted to stay true to the way James Braid first intended the 18 holes to be laid out at Thorpeness.Our 3-year program of renovation included new bunkering, extended tees, deepening greenside swales and hollows, cultivating heather and seeding bent grass greens. These are big changes.
So how did we stay true to the spirit of Braid?

In his book, Advanced Golf, written in 1902 Braid said this about golf course design:
"It is both necessary and desirable that the holes should be laid out as suggested by the lie of the land, every natural obstacle being taken care of."
"There should be a complete variety of holes…not just length, but in their character – the way in which they are bunkered…the kind of shot that is required…the kind of approach and so forth."
The greens should be well guarded.
"The shorter the hole, the smaller the green, the more closely guarded."
"There should as frequently as possible be (at least) two possible alternative methods of playing the hole – an easy one, a difficult one – and there should be a chance of gaining a stroke when the latter is chosen."

We chose Creative Golf Design and Scottish architect Ken Moodie to make the changes at Thorpeness. We honoured Braid’s design philosophy by focusing on greenside bunkers, enhancing naturally occurring swales and hollows by greens and placing an emphasis on positional play from the tee and with approach shots.

“Thorpeness is a beautiful golf course but it is not long playing 6,449 yards at its full length. The changes to the bunkering and green aprons and run-off’s has added another level of strategic decision making for golfers hitting approach shots,” said Moodie. "We have also worked hard to enhance the visual composition and heathland character of the golf course by widening fairways at key points to accommodate new bunkering and by adding additional areas of heather, including on the faces of certain key bunkers. The widening of the fairways offers options for the golfer off the tee and an advantage for one who takes more risk.”

A new tee has also been built at the 12th hole, extending it from 373 yards to 406 yards, and the greens have been seeded with finer bent grasses for quicker surfaces and consistent roll. While the course is tougher and longer, the essential challenge set by Braid remains as relevant today as they did in 1922.

To score well around Thorpeness you have to drive into the right position to make your approach shot easier and then avoid a myriad of hazards and bunkering around closely guarded greens.

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