Basket Catch
Part Of Merion’s Lore Is The Club’s Unique Flagsticks

By Alex Miceli

Ardmore, Pa. – In the 100-plus-year history of Merion Golf Club, nothing is more closely guarded then the baskets that adorn the top of the flagsticks on the famous East Course.

 
Hugh Wilson, the architect for both of Merion’s courses, is credited with introducing the famed wicker baskets still in use today. (John Mummert/USGA)
The baskets have been part of Merion’s lore since the club moved to its current location in 1912.  It’s not a closely guarded secret, but nobody associated with the club seems to know the origin.  It is clearly linked in some way to a trip taken by course designer Hugh Wilson in 1910 when he was sent by the club to study the best courses in Europe before the course was built on its current site.

When Wilson returned from his trip the idea of the baskets came with him.  It was first assumed that Wilson’s trip to Sunningdale Golf Club in England was the genesis for the baskets, but that theory has since been proven wrong. In 1987 the then-captain of Sunningdale said the baskets did not come from his club. Stoke Poges Club as well as Prestwick in Scotland have also been named as possible origins of the baskets.

But nothing factually has been discovered. So the mystery continues, one that may never be solved. That’s fine as far as Merion’s members are concerned.

That same mystique extends to the person in charge of making the baskets.  Up until 25 years ago, the baskets were made on site by a member of the grounds crew staff. But over the last quarter-century a women, whose name and location are purposely kept anonymous, creates the current baskets.

All of the parts of the current flagstick are made somewhere else: the basket, the funnel that holds the basket on the flagstick and the flagstick pole itself are made off site. They are maintained on the grounds by Miguel Crespo, who for the last 25 years has been the keeper of the baskets.

"We do buy some every year, primarily the little ones," Superintendent Matt Shaffer said.  "We have the full size, the babies and the miniatures in the clubhouse."

The full size is for the 18 holes on the golf course, the babies for the putting green and the miniatures go on the tables in the clubhouse.  Each are treated the same under the watchful eye of Crespo.

 
Miguel Crespo is the caretaker of wicker sticks at Merion. (John Mummert/USGA)
Each night the baskets are taken in since people have been known to walk off the property with these icons.  A basket cart goes around collecting each basket and they are put under lock and key until the next day. Sometimes the baskets come in a little differently then they have gone out.

The baskets that are on the golf course for the 2005 U.S. Amateur are in some cases older than the participants themselves.  Some, according to Shaffer, are "old enough to have kids that can vote."

This means that Crespo has an incredible task of keeping the baskets in top shape.  Each basket is painted or repainted every two weeks with either red paint for the front nine and orange paint for the back nine.

"They’re an enormous undertaking," said Shaffer of the baskets. "Actually, lots of clubs would like to have the wickers, but I don’t think they have any idea how much time, effort and money goes into making them."

The same colors of paint are used on the metal flag stick and the funnel.  The flagstick has four stripes of either white and red or white and orange paint, depending on the front or back nine, with each stripe exactly 19 inches high.

The flagsticks are repainted three to four times a year and usually take three to four days since each needs to be primed, then allowed to dry for approximately two days and finally white paint is applied along with either red or orange depending on which nine the flagstick is going.

"We tried one year to make a wooden one," said Shaffer. "We used two piece of wood. We had a piece of maple and a piece of birch.  We stuck it out there and [after] a couple of rainstorms, that baby was leaning out there."

Just like a piece of real estate or fine art, no two baskets are the same.  This lends itself to naming certain baskets.  In this case, some of the baskets are named after former superintendents.   

"Some of them are characteristics of the superintendent," Shaffer said of the named baskets.  "For instance one superintendent had a particularly large cranium.  It’s called potato head.  That’s an inside joke.  If they are in need of repair we bring them in and get them repaired right away."

So in some small way every previous superintendent is still on the grounds.

Alex Miceli is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared previously on usamateur.org.

 

 

Championship Facts

U.S. Amateur Championship

PAR AND YARDAGE – Merion Golf Club will play at 6,846 yards and par 34-36—70. The Philadelphia Country Club course, which will be used for the first two days of stroke play, will play at 6,967 yards and par 35-35– 70.

MERION GOLF CLUB – Hugh Wilson designed the championship course at Merion Golf Club (East Course), which opened in 1912. William Flynn and Howard Toomey designed Philadelphia Country Club (Spring/Mill Course), which opened in 1927. Interesting, Wilson and Flynn were good friends, with Flynn being the first superintendent at Merion.

TICKETS AVAILABLE – Tickets can be purchased by calling the U.S. Amateur office at (484) 708-1050. Daily tickets are $15 and $60 for a weekly pass. More extensive ticket options are also available. Children 17 and under are admitted free if accompanied by a paying adult.

COURSE SET-UP – Merion Golf Club will be set for green speeds of approximately 11-feet 6 inches on the Stimpmeter. The primary rough will be grown to 4 inches, with a strip of intermediate rough cut to 1˝ inches in height. Bent grass covers both the fairways and greens.

NO PAST CHAMPIONS – No past Amateur champion entered the 2005 championship. Each of the winners over the past 10 years, who would have been exempt, has turned professional, forfeiting their eligibility for the championship.

TELEVISION COVERAGE – The U.S. Amateur will have 10 hours of live national coverage on The Golf Channel and NBC over the last five days of the championship.

The Golf Channel

First Round Matches – Wed. (Aug. 24), 3-5 p.m. (EDT)
Third Round Matches – Thurs. (Aug. 25), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)
Quarterfinal Matches – Fri. (Aug. 26), 3-5 p.m. (EDT)

NBC

Semifinal Matches – Sat. (Aug. 27), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)
Championship Match – Sun. (Aug. 28), 4-6 p.m. (EDT)

 

U.S. Amateur and United States Golf Association are registered service marks of the United States Golf Association (USGA) Copyright © 2005. United States Golf Association. All Rights Reserved. Use of this Web site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Visit The USGA