BEHIND THE SCENES
No Name? No Matter. The Oakmont Squirrel Rocks June 13, 2016 | OAKMONT, Pa. By David Chmiel, USGA

The inspiration was found on the course, leading Oakmont to one of golf's most iconic logos. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

Secret Squirrel. Rocky the Flying Squirrel. Skrat, from the Ice Age film series. These three animated rodents may have entertained generations of cartoon lovers, but only one squirrel has more staying power – and means more business.

The Oakmont Country Club squirrel was introduced to the golf world in 1962, largely because the trees that once filled the property provided a perfect sanctuary for the nut-hoarding rodents. Now, as the 116th U.S. Open gets underway, the squirrel is almost as synonymous with Oakmont as the Church Pews bunker and the notoriously thick rough.

“That little squirrel sells a lot of merchandise,” said Annie Vanzant, director of merchandise for Oakmont Country Club. “He started off with a whole different look, with a tam o’ shanter. He had kind of a cartoon feel, but it was the start of what has become an icon for Oakmont and its championships.”

The first squirrel logo, for the 1962 U.S. Open, was a cartoon curiosity. (Courtesy USGA)

Mary Lopuszynski, senior director of Merchandise and Licensing for the USGA, said the Oakmont squirrel is the leader in the merchandise clubhouse and has changed with every USGA championship played here.

“We work with artist Lee Wybranski, who gives him a face-lift for every championship. Then we work with the members of the Oakmont committee and come up with the best logo for the championship.”

Vanzant and Lopuszynski agree that the changes to the squirrel stimulate interest in the merchandise.

By 1973, the squirrel was portrayed in a more realistic light, even if he was sitting on a tam o' shanter. (Courtesy USGA)

“This logo is a powerful brand,” Vanzant said. “We sell so many different items, some that will come after the championship to update the list of winners. And this year he is nestled in some long fescue, which has been a big seller. We have one piece that features the names of winners. Ernie Els was here the other day and he said, ‘I need one of those!’ We are just so proud to have our squirrel become of the most iconic images in golf.”

“There should be a change,” said Lopuszynski. “It goes from being a logo to a collectible. It reflects change and provides a tremendous opportunity for spectators at the U.S. Open. It delivers a sense of place and provides a special memory from their visit.”

Whether you are at the merchandise pavilion or the Oakmont pro shop, the squirrel gets a lot of attention, even if you can't order him by name. 

David Chmiel is manager of member content for the USGA. Contact  him at dchmiel@usga.org