Basket case |

Basket case

John Renslow
Golf Columnist

It's U.S. Open week, and you should be asking yourself – when was the Open last played at Merion Country Club and who was the winner? Or you might be considering, besides Tiger, who could win this coveted major championship?

But this is not what you're curious about. Fortunately, I am a trained professional and here to help. So I know the question you're really asking: "What's up with those wicker baskets?"

Now, for those of you who have tuned in late, Merion Country Club, site of the 113th United States Open Championship, has little wicker baskets on their pins to identity the hole location. Rather than small flags (generally 18 inches wide by 12 inches tall) used by 99.999 percent (or more) of all golf courses around the globe, Merion has interwoven, teardrop-shaped wooden baskets.

Painted red on the front nine and orange on the back nine, the baskets have become an icon for Merion Country Club. Smaller versions top the pins on the practice green, and smaller versions still are used inside the clubhouse.

But why baskets and not flags? It seems the wicker baskets date back to a trip that Merion Country Club course designer Hugh Wilson made to the United Kingdom in 1912. Similar baskets were used at some British courses during that time (presumably better suited for seaside winds), and Wilson preferred them.

Merion's website states that the origin of the baskets is a "mystery to this day." Newspaper coverage in the first couple years after Merion East opened in 1912 fails to mention the baskets at all.

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"It could be assumed they were not there," the site states.

Also based on the history recorded on Merion's website, the baskets did not arrive until 1915, well after the opening of the Merion East golf course in 1912. Chronology aside, it still begs the question — why do Merion's pins (it would be a misnomer to call them "flagsticks") have baskets and not flags?

One more plausible idea — flags provide players with information. They show wind direction and speed. Baskets do not. So it may just be that Wilson wanted to give this relatively short golf course an added twist.

Perhaps Wilson was just an eccentric guy, just wanted to be different. Or maybe his marketing skills were way ahead of his time. This is one clever branding idea.

A hundred years later, the course is famously unique in this way, and we're still talking about the origins of those baskets today.

Enjoy watching the world's best players take on this historic, regal track. Ben Hogan won here more than 60 years ago, and the last time the Open stopped in Ardmore, Penn., the year was 1981.

Coverage starts today on Golf Channel at 9 a.m. and combines coverage with NBC over the weekend.

John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at

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