Dunstable Downs is a classic example of a James Braid designed course. Five times Open champion Braid was at ‘the top of his game’ when he came to Dunstable in September 1930 having designed over 300 courses by that time, including Gleneagles that had propelled his reputation as an architect. He had also established a successful ‘design and build’ partnership with J. R. Stott of Paisley who had an intimate understanding of his design philosophy and who commented: “His plans were always crystal clear and definite, and it was very exceptional indeed for even minor alterations to be made during the carrying out of the work.” Braid’s philosophy on course design has stood the test of time.
Holes should present variety of length, demands on the player, style of bunkering and method of approach
Putting greens should be well guarded
The size of the green is governed by the length of the approach – the shorter the shot, the smaller the green.
The bunkering and general planning of the course should reward good positional play.
Braid worked quickly and efficiently, always mindful of the scenic value of his courses. A course should look natural while artificial hazards should blend in with the surroundings. His eye for landscape enabled him to contour bunkers with a deftness that is still a challenge to the modern golfer. Very little earth was moved, a problem 100 years ago, so there are few artificial features on his courses.
Braid also suggested that the first nine holes and the second nine holes should as nearly as possible match each other in total length, in golfing quality, and in general character, although it is not desirable that the order of length and character should be the same. The ideal length of the course should be between 6,000 and 6,400 yards.
It is amazing to see just how many old courses designed by Braid feature almost unaltered today. Braid was the father of strategic design and he was relentless in forcing all players to think their way around from first tee to last green. Not all courses were designed to such a high standard, but these principles still dominate the thinking of other traditionally minded architects. The dimensions of the game may have changed since the 1930's but the basic principles of good design have not.
He actually set forth his ideal course and it is worth comparing this template with his initial 1930 design for Dunstable Downs. Braid designed a course, not just a selection of great holes.
|1||360||4||Fairly long; not too difficult; to get players away quickly|
|2||390||4||Same object; but slightly more difficult. Two good shots|
|3||390||4||To complete the object of getting the players away. This hole should be difficult with the green well-guarded|
|4||190||3||Meant to be a full shot for a good player. Length may be increased to 210 to 220 yards|
|5||320||4||Iron play, very difficult near the green|
|6||500||5||Test of wooden club play|
|7||120||3||Test of delicacy and accuracy|
|8||400||4||Two good two shot holes to finish the outward half|
|10||340||4||Within two shots. To be a difficult hole with a trying second shot|
|11||410||4||Two fine shots. Three needed to get on in case of slightest mistake or moderate player|
|12||180||3||Difficult mashie or iron|
|13||370||4||Two good shots|
|14||520||5||Long hole in. Counterpart of sixth|
|15||130||3||A severely testing one shot hole|
|17||420||4||Seconds to be difficult|
The numbering of the holes changed in 1936 with the new site for the clubhouse. So what follows is based on the current numbering with Braids hole number in brackets
1st hole (hole 3 in Braid’s layout) - 572 yards
Braid felt that two very long holes, between 500 and 550 yards, were desirable. With his 3rd hole, he wanted the players to ‘get away’ and this hole was originally played after the 15th (Braid's 2nd). The hole originally measured 572 yards and the green was about 75 yards further on and beyond the current boundary fence into Buttercup Green. During WW2 this land was converted to agriculture to help the war effort. In 1944, Tom Moore, Club Secretary, shortened the hole to 500 yards and redesigned the green as it is today.
2nd Hole (hole 4 in Braid’s layout) - 200 yards
In his ideal course plan, he specifies that “there should be four short holes of differing lengths” and one of his short holes would demand ‘a good full drive’. Steel shafts had only become legal in November 1929, six months before his visit, so 200 yards was proving to be a tad too challenging for the members. But as Bernard Darwin opined: “Braid was by all accounts a very resolute architect in that once he had made up his mind he did not at all want his plans to be altered and disliked even the suggestions of any change.” The hole was shortened to 178 yards and was one of the initial changes made when the course was physically laid out in 1931.
3rd Hole (hole 5 in Braid’s layout) - 490 yards
The design of the 3rd has changed little although we are all aware of the recent challenges presented by an errant tee shot into the houses on the left-hand side of the fairway. It was designed to be a good test of wooden club play. Braid stressed that the tees were as important as the greens and recommended three at each hole, space permitting, and that they should be at different angles of approach to the fairway. I think we have managed to get that requirement covered!
4th Hole (hole 6 in Braid’s layout) - 320 yards
While some of us can use a driver and get a hole in 1, this hole was originally designed to test iron play. A bunker was planned on the right-hand side of the fairway. But in 1955 houses were built along the boundary. In 1960 poplar trees were planted to create a small copse and in 1964 the scrub on the right hand side was removed and bunkers added to the left to create the dog leg we see today. One of the unique features about Dunstable Downs is the complete variety of green composition. This green has a ‘top to bottom’ slope that can prove to be a real challenge in the summer. There were minor alterations to this green in 1935. The bunker at the back of the 4th was filled in in 1995.
5th Hole (hole 7 in Braid’s layout) - 150 yards
Braid said: “For longer short holes, something to be carried must generally be put in. A straight bunker might be placed at right angles across the course at a distance of about 140 yards from the tee, but the ends of it may be left open to give the short drivers a chance of going round if they feel disposed to try.” While Braid designed the course, this hole was originally named ‘Morrison Mount’ as recognition to Mr Morrison who constructed it. Brer Rabbit, the pseudonym for Golf Illustrated’s writer, commented in 1936 that he was particularly impressed by the 5th hole at 166 yards.
6th Hole (hole 8 in Braid’s layout) - 400 yards
At 400 yards, this is an example of Braid’s intention to have two good two shot holes towards the end of the first nine. The original green was in the copse behind the current green, but the climb up to the green was felt to be too strenuous for the members. The green was laid where it is now in 1931 and the hole shorted to 335 yards. Braid said” Two tier greens are recommended, and flat greens only used on long holes where a long shot may be rewarded.” A new medal tee was constructed through an avenue of trees in 2001 to lengthen the hole to 374 yards.
7th Hole (hole 9 in Braid’s layout) - 330 yards
Of the remaining par fours on the course, he felt that they should all be two-shot holes between 320 and 420 yards, with holes over 360 yards predominating. Braids original green was in the copse behind the current green but was shortened in 1932.
8th Hole (hole 10 in Braid’s layout) - 470 yards
Braid’s original location for the 8th green was situated to the right of the fairway and further up the hill. This hole was felt to be too strenuous for the members to complete and Braid visited in September 1932 to suggest changes. The following year, the greens committee adopted a much more radical approach and created the ‘new’ green that we play today. This green was completed in October 1934 and the length of the hole was reduced from 452 to 411 yards. This bogey five hole is ‘text book’ Braid with a pear-shaped small green with pot bunkers added as protection. One of the pot bunkers has subsequently been filled in. When Brer Rabbit visited the course in 1936, he commented: “In the main, the course has been designed by James Braid but there are some homemade holes on this course. All I have to say is that either James has a gift for imparting his knowledge or there are some people in charge at Dunstable Downs with a genius for golf architecture, for these home-made holes have about them the stamp of first-class architecture.” The fairway bunker, 200 yards from the tee was reshaped in 1987. One could argue that it is a pity that the club did not revert to Braid’s original 1930 design when the alternative Winter green was constructed.
9th Hole (hole 11 in Braid’s layout) 140 yards
The short 9th was designed by Braid to test delicacy and accuracy. His original design was headed north to south, at 140 yards, across the ravine and onto the 10th tee. An iron bridge was built although whimsically the Captain of the day said that “most people will still be looking for their ball in the ravine”. The hole was remodelled in 1934 to what we see today. The inspiration and design of this ‘home-made’ signature hole is all Braid. In “Advanced Golf”, Braid said: “By far the best way of making this (short) hole as good and difficult as it ought to be, is by placing a small green in the centre of a nest of pot bunkers completely surrounding it. What I would do, therefore, would be to make the ground as rough as possible for about 100 yards from the tee, or let the grass grow for that distance if that is the best that can be done. Then for 10 yards up to the nearest point of the putting green, the fairway should be smooth. But the passage of admission to the green should be very narrow, and should be flanked on either side by bunkers that would be certain to catch the ball that was not quite straight. An opening of 12 yards is quite sufficient. The green should preferably be pear-shaped, and should be of a width of not more than 25 yards. On either side of it there should be large pot bunkers touching its very edge, and beyond it there should be a series of smaller pots reaching almost the way round." I think the club got that spot on.
10th Hole (hole 12 in Braid’s layout) - 440 yards
“There should be two stiff carries to be made from the tee in the course of the round – about 150 yards each and where natural hazards exist, they should be used in the right places, creating a more interesting course.”
The gulley in the front of the 10th provides such an example and Braid used the flint gravel mine to the right of the green as the perfect natural hazard.
The 'new' layout for the 8th & 9th hole shortened the 10th by 25 yards. Braid too would always try to keep existing greens where possible to reduce the cost of construction and this hole, originally called Switzerland, was played as a 150-yard par three coming over the gravel pit from where the 1st yellow tee is now.
11th Hole (hole 16 in Braid’s layout) - 410 yards
Braid felt that the last two to three holes should be testing and create a hard finish to reward the better player. His last three holes; the 11th, 12th and a 430 yard 13th. effectively allowed that to happen. This hole too was part of the original course but new bunkers would have been added to ‘catch particular kinds of defective shots’
12th Hole (hole 17 in Braid’s layout) - 425 yards
This was the second part of Braid’s strong finish with a challenging second shot at 425 yards. Braid was an expert in bunkering and visited many courses to just rebunker them. But with the transition to steel shafts and Gutty balls, it was lengthened to 466 yards in 1939 to make it ‘more of a problem’ and bring the bunkers into play. Braid had clear design principals on bunkering and this can be clearly seen on this hole. “Bunkers should not be placed at right angles to the line of play, but shaped in a double crescent at an angle to trap pulled or sliced shots. Cross bunkers too should not go all the way across the fairway, giving short drivers a chance to go around them”
13th Hole (hole 18 in Braid’s layout) - 430 yards
The last hole and a whopping 430 yards, 100 yards further back than today! A new tee was constructed ‘this’ side of the new access road in 1936 when the new clubhouse was built. Braid felt that all greens should have undulations apart from the 18th. This green was part of the original course. One could think that this would create a health and safety challenge today with the busy Whipsnade Road but there was more space to the right than there is today. In 1999, the right hand bunker was extended by 5 metres into the fairway on the advice of Golf Architect Cameron Sinclair (If any member has a copy of Cameron Sinclairs original plans could they please bring it into the office)
14th Hole (hole 1 in Braid’s layout) - 300 yards
Braid said that “blind holes should be avoided and especially a blind shot to the green”. He could only work with the natural landscape in front of him so after a fairly generous and wide fairway, the second shot requires accurate pitching to tightly bunkers pear shaped greens with narrow openings that punishes weak approaches. This hole has changed little. A new medal tee was built in 1993.
15th Hole (hole 2 in Braid’s layout) - 350 yards
Braid is widely recognised as the inventor of the dog leg hole. In his original design, the tee was down the hill from the 14th and inside what is now the practice ground. We all had the pleasure of playing this hole from this spot on Pete Samsa’s Captain’s Day. The objective was still to ‘get the players away quickly and to be slightly more difficult than the 1st’. The tee was moved to where the yellow tee is today and Braid was on site in July 1932 to inspect the changes. In 1997 the medal tee was extended and pushed back that has got closer to Braid’s original design and I am sure we would all agree was a great improvement. The club gained a practice ground.
16th Hole (hole 13 in Braid’s original layout) - 410 yards
There is an old redundant tee in front of the 'halfway hut' on the 11th hole that was actually the location of the original tee for the 16th. When the new clubhouse was built the tee moved to where the yellow tee is today and in 1939 the medal tee was changed once more “to be a given a dog leg effect and to be equipped by a formidable bunker”. A new bunker was added on the left hand side of the fairway in 1997.
17th Hole (hole 14 in Braid’s original layout) - 315 yards
This was part of the original Roland Jones design although Braid had added a number of bunkers to afford added protection. He said, “At least one green should contain a ‘knob’ visible from the fairway,” and Dunstable is fortunate to have the natural tumuli feature on its course. He went on to say: “The hole should never be cut close to this knob which should influence the players approach, penalising the shot finishing on the wrong side.” George please take note. The filling in of the bunkers, narrowing the fairways and adding trees in 1993 is probably the biggest change to Braid’s and indeed the original designer, Roland Jones’s philosophy. A new medal tee was built in 1993.
18th Hole (hole 15 in Braid’s original layout) - 125 yards
Braid had no problem whatsoever with recommending a complete reconstruction of the whole course if he felt that it needed doing. But if there was a ‘good’ hole that met his design philosophy he would retain it. The 18th is such a hole that is described as difficult requiring a mashie or iron. The hole has a narrow opening and is surrounded by bunkers. Braid did not design this hole, but he certainly endorsed it.
Dunstable Downs is a James Braid masterpiece. He has stamped, on what he described as good golfing ground, his architectural mark on the fairways, on the bunkers and on the greens. At a time when clubs are now moving their tees back to accommodate modern equipment, Dunstable Downs went on a campaign in the 1930s to shorten its Braid course as it was considered too strenuous.
Today, with 2020 Vision we find ourselves in an enviable place. Gleneagles, arguably his most famous course, made the conscious decision to reinstate Braid’s original design; to lead and not to follow and to focus on reinstating the course’s original character. We are fortunate to have kept in the club’s archive his original blueprint. This has now been dusted off as we set out to make Dunstable Downs one of the best Braid courses in the country. Play it yourself and you will soon see why
This summary has been based on information gleaned from discussions with members, with Iain Cummings, co-author of ‘James Braid and his four hundred golf courses’, archive newspaper cuttings, the DDGC centenary book, ‘Advanced Golf’ by James Braid and ‘James Braid’ by Bernard Darwin.
In the book “James Braid and his four hundred courses”, authors John F Moreton & Iain Cummings say, “The course was opened without ceremony on 26th September 1931, its yardage being 6579, longer than today." If any member has any further information, clarification or an old score card from 1931 through to 1936 as evidence of this and further information on the architectural journey the club took please take it to the General Manager
For more information on James Braid click here