Follow me with Miguel Crespo. After all, he has the key.
Crespo, you see, is in charge of those iconic wicker baskets that adorn the top of the flagsticks at Merion Golf Club, home of this year's U.S. Open. In the maintenance facility area, Crespo walks you to an area away from all of the heavy equipment, a room with a gray door that he unlocks, inside a treasure of wicker baskets that are under lock and key for protection. Each night, they are rounded up and returned to Crespo's hiding place for them.
"We don't want anybody to steal them," Crespo, 74, says.
Nobody knows for certain when the wicker baskets first appeared on the scene at Merion, but it appears it occurred sometime between 1912-1915. Club historian John Capers says the first time the wicker baskets were mentioned in print was July 1915 in a Philadelphia newspaper. A year later, greenkeeper William Flynn secured the patent on the wicker baskets. Capers, though, also noted that Merion isn't the first golf course to use wicker baskets atop flagsticks, saying that Huntingdon Valley Country Club in Pennsylvania and The Greenbrier in West Virginia had them before Merion.
As for how they ever arrived at Merion, the most common belief is that course designer Hugh Wilson got the idea for them on a trip to see golf course architecture in Europe.
The wicker baskets on the front nine are red; the baskets on the back nine are reddish-orange. Crespo also paints two matching stripes on the flagsticks. The wicker baskets were used the previous two times Merion held the U.S. Open, in 1981 and before that 1971. They weren't used, however, in 1950 when Ben Hogan prevailed.
Golfer/commentator Peter Jacobsen says the wicker baskets are as much controversial as they are a conversation piece.
"In 1981 I was surprised, excited to see that (wicker baskets)," Jacobsen says. "But you can't see the direction the wind is blowing. In a tight course like Merion, you need to see which direction it is blowing."
Defending U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson says, "I honestly think it (wicker baskets) will make us make decisions quicker. We're sitting there a lot of times and we see one flag over here blowing that way and a flag over here blowing that way, and we're confused and second-guess. It's just part of the tradition at Merion."
As for whether Merion will ever market the wicker baskets, perhaps sell them through their merchandise shop, don't bet on it any time soon.
"We don't want to sell them. That would be a little sacrilegious," says Merion general manager Christine Pooler (ebay, though, lists one for sale with a starting bid of $500).
Crespo, meanwhile, plans to guard them with vigor.
"I"m pretty proud of them," Crespo says.