Although it looks like a garish garment that could have been purchased off the rack during a clearance sale, the green jacket that’s given to every Masters winner reigns as the ultimate symbol of golfing greatness.
In terms of rich history and worldwide recognition, its peers include the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medals and not a whole lot else.
But take a very close look at the jacket the Masters field will pursue this week, and it also reveals a lot about the close-knit fabric of the organization that created it, the Augusta National Golf Club.
Placing a phone call to the company that makes the green jacket, the Cincinnati-based Hamilton Tailoring Co., provides an immediate reminder that Augusta National loves guarding its traditions and secrets.
The person who answered my call last week didn’t say “Hello” or “Hamilton Tailoring, how may I help you?” He merely recited the phone number of the company in a monotone and waited for a response.
Perhaps that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that Hamilton Tailoring doesn’t even have a website, even though it has been making green jackets for Masters champions and Augusta National members since 1967.
The only information I could drag out of the gentleman on the phone was that, yes, longtime company chairman Ed Heimann is still alive, and no, Hamilton Tailoring doesn’t divulge any details about its work for Augusta National.
“They don’t want any information about anything given out,” he told me before hanging up.
Heimann gave a rare interview to The Cincinnati Enquirer in 2000 and explained he had a firm agreement with Augusta National not to disclose information about the green jacket.
“They like to keep things low-key,” Heimann told the Enquirer. “They don’t like us talking too much about this sort of thing. It’s a club of highly disciplined people who like to keep certain things private. It adds to the mystique.”
But thanks to the two men who own and operate Tampa-based Green Jacket Auctions, Ryan Carey and Bob Zafian, it’s possible to stitch together an understanding of the green jacket’s trivia and mythology.
Last year, they made international headlines when they sold the green jacket of Horton Smith, the winner of the first Masters in 1934, for $682,229. (Smith might be rolling in his grave, considering his winner’s purse was a mere $1,500.)
“That really sent shock waves through the memorabilia industry,” said Carey, a 33-year-old attorney who regards the green jacket with near reverence.
“There’s a reason why we named our company Green Jacket Auction,” Carey said. “It’s not only the pinnacle of golf. I consider it the most iconic piece of golf memorabilia, or in all of sports. To me, the green jacket was always the symbol of the very best in sports. I think it’s the fact that it’s something different; it’s a jacket and not another sterling silver trophy. My grandmother knows what the green jacket is.”
But it should be noted that Smith didn’t slip on his green jacket immediately after winning the inaugural Masters, nor did he wear one after winning again in 1936.
The green jacket ceremony didn’t begin until Sam Snead’s victory in 1949, when he and all previous winners received jackets that matched those that Augusta National members began wearing at the 1937 Masters. That tradition started as a way of making club members easily identifiable and available to answer questions for visitors.
Green Jacket Auctions has sold the jackets of about 30 members, plus those of three champions—Smith, 1957 winner Doug Ford and 1959 victor Art Wall Jr.
Ford’s jacket sold for $62,000, and Wall’s went for $63,000, both within the last five years. Member jackets typically go for $12,000-$20,000, Carey said.
With Ford, Carey said: “He’s not all that sentimental about the item. He was happy to have it be in a collector’s hands.”
Zafian, Carey’s partner, states the obvious when he says the two highest-priced jackets would be those won by Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
“With Tiger, boy, I would say anywhere from $600,000 to a million,” Zafian said. “For Jack, I think a little bit less. Maybe $500,000.”
Getting a hold of a green jacket is no easy task. By club rule, green jackets are supposed to be returned to a cedar closet on the lower floor of the clubhouse at tournament’s end and never leave the premises. The only exception is made for the reigning champion, who is allowed to take his on tour for one year.
But there are at least three green jackets of champions that are known to have been taken away by their owners.
Three-time winner Gary Player took the one from his first championship in 1961 back home to South Africa, and his excuses for not bringing it back became a running joke at Augusta National.
The 1938 champion, Henry Picard, removed his and had it put on display at the “Picard Lounge” at the Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio.
Seve Ballesteros, the winner in 1980 and 1983, added his to the decor of his home trophy room.
But the rule about not removing green jackets from Augusta National didn’t always exist, which is why some older member jackets have been available. Those are usually put up for auction by heirs of the original owner, Carey said, and the name tag almost always has been removed.
“Yes, a lot of times there is a big confidentiality factor,” Carey said.
Augusta National has about 300 members, and the household names include Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Lou Holtz. Carey said the only jacket he’s aware of that varied significantly from the norm belonged to John DeLorean, the eccentric automobile engineer, who had a paisley lining in his jacket.
The jacket that each winner puts on at his victory ceremony isn’t actually his. Augusta National officials naturally keep an eye on the leaderboard during the final round and then get as good a fit as they can for the winner with a member’s jacket.
Then the winner is properly measured and a jacket is soon delivered from Hamilton Tailoring, unless the winner opts to have his personal tailor do the honors.
“Nick Faldo had his custom-made at Nordstrom’s,” Carey said. “Augusta National will send the raw materials wherever the winner wants.”
Those “raw materials” include Pantone 342 fabric from the Forstmann Company mill in Dublin, Ga., buttons from the Waterbury Button Company of Cheshire, Conn., and the Masters Patch from the A&B Emblem Company in Weaverville, N.C.
The Pantone 342 fabric is the current version of “Masters green,” but several different shades have been used over the years, Carey said.
Carey described his relationship with Augusta National as “reasonable.”
“They’ve never filed a lawsuit against us,” the attorney said. “As long as we do everything on the up and up, and make sure to authenticate everything, they let us do our own thing.”
But, Carey added: “Augusta National does not answer questions about its memberships or its golf club. We have to learn that on our own.”
Carey said Hamilton Tailoring has given him the same brush-off I received, but he believes the high-security attitude is probably a good thing for the green jacket’s integrity.
“They won’t even sell you a regular jacket of the Masters color,” Carey said. “But it’s not a bad thing. It prevents anybody being able to buy one out of their backdoor.”
It also makes phony green jackets easier to spot.
About once a year, Carey said, he’s offered a green jacket that has no ties to Augusta National or the Masters.
“We’ll get a phone call and it sounds amazing,” Carey said. “We of course ask them to send us pictures, and it’s so bad that we don’t even need to see it in person. Fortunately, it’s a different kind of jacket, and it’s the kind that’s not replicated all that easily.”
But even as special as the green jacket is, Carey says he wouldn’t add one like it to his wardrobe.
“No,” he said, “I think I would stand out in the crowd a little bit.”
But for the people who dreamed up the green jacket, isn’t that the idea?
Tom Weir covered two Masters as a columnist for USA Today. All quotes in this story were obtained by firsthand reporting unless otherwise indicated.