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Sunday, April 21, 2024
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The Green Jacket Has Mass Appeal and Almost Nobody Can Get One

  • There are only two ways to get this most elusive of garments — neither of which is statistically probable.
  • For better and worse, the green jacket represents the pinnacle of success and exclusivity.
Apr 8, 2021; Augusta, Georgia, USA; Detailed view of a logo on a member's green jacket during the first round of The Masters golf tournament.
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

It only costs $250 to manufacture The Masters’ iconic green jacket.

The modest three-button, single-breasted blazer ranks with the NHL’s Stanley Cup, NFL Super Bowl rings, and Olympic gold medals among the ultimate symbols of sporting success.

There are only two ways to get this most elusive of garments — neither of which is statistically probable.

You could beat the best golfers in the world at The Masters Tournament. Or you could gain membership to America’s most exclusive — and exclusionary — private club. In a country of 336 million people, there are only 300 or so members of Augusta National Golf Club.

There are famous sports personalities, Silicon Valley billionaires, and Fortune 500 CEOs. Luminaries ranging from Peyton Manning, Jack Nicklaus, and Roger Goodell to Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Brian Roberts and Condoleeza Rice are said to be members. Relatively “no name” members rounding out the list are wealthy executives from Deep South industries like manufacturing, textiles, and railroads.

But the green jacket comes with baggage.

How The Green Jacket Works

Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The green jacket — a shade of brilliant rye green called Pantone 342 — is made of tropical-weight wool, according to the Augusta Chronicle, and features brass buttons, a breast-pocket patch with the famous Masters logo, and the owner’s name stitched inside.

The single-breasted, center-vent coats are cut from Georgia cloth, but family-owned Hamilton Tailoring Co. in Ohio has assembled the jacket since 1967.

Almost everything else about the why is shrouded in mystery.

You can believe that co-founder Bobby Jones was inspired by a trip to Royal Liverpool in England, where club captains wore matching jackets, or you can stick with the story that co-founder Clifford Roberts asked members to wear them so visitors needing assistance could easily spot them. 

The first green jackets were worn by members about three years after the club’s opening in 1934. Sam Snead was the first winner awarded the jacket, and honorary membership, in 1949.

According to Golf.com, “the club will select a few jackets that might fit the potential winner” as the finish line approaches. The champion is formally fitted after the win. They leave with a replica — and get their custom-fitted jacket about a month later. Or they can have the raw materials shipped to their own tailor. Nick Faldo, for example, had his jackets made by Nordstrom.

The elusive garment comes with restrictions to match, all of which increases the allure and significance. A green jacket can leave the grounds under two conditions: On the back of that year’s champion — for talk-show circuits, photo ops, and as a legitimate trophy — but only for one year, until it’s returned to the Champions Locker Room. Or when club leaders represent Augusta National for off-site promotional duties.

After becoming the first Black golfer to win the Masters in 1997, a 21-year-old Tiger Woods fell asleep clutching his green jacket like a blanket. Woods went on to win four more, trailing only Nicklaus’ six.

Reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler likes to pull it out of the closet when he wants to wriggle out of household chores.

“I’ve just put it on a few times around the house when trying to mess with Meredith [Scheffler’s wife],” he told Golf Digest. “When she tries to get me to clean the dishes or something like that, I’ll put the jacket on and be like, ‘Really, I still have to do this?’ I’ve had some fun with her with that.”

After winning his third green jacket in 2010, Phil Mickelson wore his to a Krispy Kreme drive-thru in Augusta to order donuts.

Over the years, some famous mavericks sidestepped the rules.

The South African Gary Player (who won in 1961, 1974 and 1978) and the late Seve Ballesteros of Spain (who won in 1980 and 1983), took their green jackets back to their respective homelands.

Player hosted dinner parties in his green jacket, but respected club rules by never wearing it outside his home. The swashbuckling Ballesteros made it the centerpiece of his trophy room.

When Augusta National asked for them back, their playful response was the same: Come and get them.

1970 champ Billy Casper literally took his favorite garment to the grave in 2015, when he was allowed to be buried in it.

The Ultimate Exclusivity

Jordan Spieth winning the 2015 Masters. Credit: The Augusta Chronicle

If you’re a golfer or tycoon lucky enough to add one to your wardrobe, the green jacket gives you status money can’t buy.

As for who is enjoying that status: The private club won’t disclose the names of its members. The best indicator is during The Masters, when members like Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann don their green jackets on the grounds.

What do members pay in dues? That’s another Bermuda Triangle of information.

The initiation fee is said to be in the $40,000 range, plus an annual fee of a few thousand per year.

Either way, you can’t bribe or bully your way into Augusta National membership. You have to be invited, which can be infuriating to billionaires who can usually buy access to anything.

Bill Gates, the world’s fifth-richest man with a net worth of $109.9 billion, is said to have humbled himself to land his coveted green jacket.

The legend goes that Augusta National kept the Microsoft co-founder cooling his heels on a waiting list for years. When Gates was finally admitted, he couldn’t even score on-site lodging for a member event because the rooms went to members with more seniority.

Gates was spotted checking into a local budget motel.

But for every amusing anecdote about first-world problems, there are more serious implications that point to Augusta National’s fundamental problem with exclusion. 

Even the club’s high-powered Masters of the Universe must come to terms with the formerly all-male club’s long history of discrimination against Black people and women — and just how long it takes the club to institute change.

The secretive club didn’t admit its first Black member until 1990, or the first female until 2012.

It took until 2021 for Augusta National to ask the late Lee Elder — the first Black golfer to ever play in The Masters — to serve as an honorary starter along with Nicklaus and Player.

The club finally launched the annual Augusta National Women’s Amateur tournament in 2018 — but The Masters remains the only golf major without a women’s counterpart event.

Augusta National reps could not be reached for comment.

A Piece of History

Tiger Woods presents the green jacket to 2020 winner Dustin Johnson. Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s winner will pocket $3.24 million, lifetime exemption to play in future Masters tournaments, and multiple trophies. The jacket itself is just as significant.

“The [green jacket] means something special,” ESPN golf analyst Andy North told Front Office Sports. “It’s something that ties somebody to The Masters forever.”

The two-time U.S. Open winner appreciates Augusta National’s tradition of keeping a winner’s green jacket ready in the Champions Locker Room when they return to the club.

Of course, that means nothing if you can’t get one. 

If you really need a green jacket — and fail to conquer the course, protocols, and restrictions involved in obtaining one — you could try to buy one in the event of a rare listing at Green Jacket Auctions.

A decade ago, the green jacket of the winner of the inaugural 1934 Masters, Horton Smith, sold for $682,229.45. The auction company said it was the highest price ever paid for a piece of golf memorabilia.

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