Why do Masters champions win a green jacket?
Golfers fall asleep dreaming of securing theirs, Bubba Watson was moved to tears simply reminiscing over his, and one fan was willing to shell out over $680,000 just to own one.
Sure, the prestige of winning one of the four majors in men’s golf and the trophy, not to mention the prize money, are welcome rewards, but the storied history of the Georgia club’s green member’s jacket earned it a unique reputation among those that pursue it.
The story of Augusta’s green jacket began some 3,900 miles across the Atlantic, in the town of Hoylake in northwest England.
Ahead of hosting its sixth British Open Championship in 1930, Royal Liverpool Golf Club held a players’ reception. In attendance was the most celebrated amateur golfer of the era, American Bobby Jones.
Over dinner, Jones proceeded to pepper former club captain Kenneth Stoker with questions on his red coat, the formal kit of Royal Liverpool captains.
“Mr. Jones, if you’re so fascinated by this, I will give you my coat if you win our Championship this week,” challenged Stoker – according to a CNN interview with club historian Joe Pinnington in 2014.
Naturally, Jones made short work of the wager, clinching the 11th of his 13 career major victories and returning to the US with a trophy – and a red blazer.
After becoming the first and only golfer to complete the original grand slam (Amateur Championship, Open Championship, US Open, US Amateur) months later, Jones stunned the sporting world by announcing his retirement from competitive golf at just 28 years old.
Harboring a passion for course design, Jones had other plans in mind. In 1934, his newly founded Augusta National hosted the first incarnation of The Masters.
Three years later, Augusta members started wearing green jackets to make themselves identifiable to patrons. In 1949 it was decided that year’s victor, Sam Snead, and all the previous champions, would be issued with their own version too.
How Royal Liverpool Golf Club inspired the Masters green jacket
The green jacket wasn’t a smash hit from the start, though. Originally produced by New York’s Brooks Uniform Company, Augusta members complained that the jackets were overly thick and uncomfortable in hot conditions, leading to a swift change of manufacturer, according to the PGA Tour.
Since 1967, Hamilton Tailoring Company of Cincinnati has held responsibility for making the jacket, the color of which is officially classified as “Pantone 342.”
Production is a month-long process that sees the owners name stitched inside and Augusta National logos emblazoned on both the chest pocket and brass buttons.
As a result, the jacket slipped onto the shoulders of winners on Sunday is simply for presentation, with the real one handed over later.
Yet newly crowned champions can’t simply walk away and find a lifetime spot for their new prize in their wardrobe – terms and conditions apply.
For starters, the jackets cannot be removed from – and can only be worn on – the grounds of Augusta National, though winners are permitted to take theirs home for a year on the condition they bring it back at the next edition of the tournament to hang in the Champions Locker Room.
When the defending champion returns a year later, they – along with a host of former victors – will don their jacket for the Masters Champions Dinner. The reigning winner decides the menu, with Scottie Scheffler serving up cheeseburger sliders, ribeye steak, and chocolate chip cookies for this year’s meal. Their final responsibility is to help the new winner slip into his new jacket during a ceremonial “passing of the torch” presentation outside Butler Cabin.
But what if a champion successfully defends his title? That was a question Masters co-founders Jones and Clifford Roberts hurriedly answered in 1966 when Jack Nicklaus became the first back-to-back champion at Augusta.
The pair decided that “The Golden Bear” should put the jacket on himself, and in the two repeat occasions since – Nick Faldo in 1990 and Tiger Woods in 2002 – the Masters chairman assumed responsibility for helping the golfers into their jackets.
There is one infamous exception to the rule of returning your jacket.
When Gary Player became the first international golfer to win The Masters in 1961, he jetted home to South Africa with his green jacket tucked away in his luggage. The following year, when he was defeated by Arnold Palmer in a playoff, he didn’t return it.
“I didn’t know you were supposed to leave it there,” said Player. “Next thing you know, there was a call from Mr. Roberts. And I said, ‘Well, Mr. Roberts, if you want it, why don’t you come and fetch it?’”
Roberts saw the funny side, Player added, and allowed the South African to keep it on the condition that he didn’t wear it in public. “The Black Knight” would go on to win two further Masters in 1974 and 1978.
Given how hard it is for the game’s finest to get their hands on a green jacket, it’s borderline impossible for non-golfers to do the same – but that hasn’t stopped a select few from trying.
In 2013, the jacket owned by Horton Smith, winner of the inaugural Masters in 1934, sold for $682,229 to an unnamed buyer at an auction hosted by Green Jacket Auctions.
In 2017, Augusta National filed a lawsuit to stop the memorabilia company from auctioning another winner’s green jacket, as well as two members’ green jackets, according to the Associated Press.
The champion’s jacket was purported to have belonged to 1966 winner Byron Nelson. His blazer was marked in an inventory check at Augusta in 2009 before going missing, the lawsuit said.
In January 2019, Augusta National and Green Jacket Auctions agreed to drop their legal dispute, according to the Augusta Chronicle.
One jacket auctioned by Green Jacket Auctions was reported to have been first discovered in a Toronto thrift shop. Purchased for a measly $5, the jacket, whose original owner was undisclosed, was sold at auction for $139,349 in April 2017.
From letting friends – and even newborn children – try it on for size, to donning it for barbeques, Masters champions have found various uses for their green jackets during their limited-time home ownership.
“I didn’t take it for granted whatsoever,” 2015 champion Jordan Spieth told reporters upon his return to Augusta the following year.
“I think that I could have taken advantage of having it in my possession more than I did, but you learn and next time I’ll do a little bit better.
“Some of my favorite memories were certainly back home, having a bunch of my friends over and just having the jacket on while you’re grilling out … it was certainly a lot of fun and I don’t want to have to give it back.”
For others, the satisfaction of turning rivals green with envy is enough.
“It’s a great way to give the other guys grief, give them a little jab here or there,” said Phil Mickelson, champion in 2004, 2006, and 2010.
Charl Schwartzel, who mounted a stunning final day charge to seal victory in 2011, said: “To have it with you and to see the people’s faces when you walk in … they always take a second look like, ‘that’s the jacket!’”
Zach Johnson described dressing his four-month-old son in his 2007 winner’s jacket for a picture session, following in the footsteps of Bubba Watson, who did the same with his adopted son after triumph in 2012.
“I wrapped Caleb up in it, that was the only thing I did with it,” a tearful Watson told reporters in 2013.
“Out of respect and honor for Augusta National and one of the greatest clubs we have, one of the greatest tournaments … I didn’t do any of my funny antics that I normally would do.”