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The Jacket & I - The Masters Green Jacket

Augusta National decrees that only the reigning Masters champion is permitted to remove his green jacket from the premises. So why is Dominic Pedler wearing one for his insight into golf's definitive garment? He reveals his tale of the Holy Grail along with other rarified trivia.

I've always had a thing for memorabilia, especially where there's a romantic story attached. And for golfers they don't come much more romantic than the one I read in the Augusta Chronicle as I sat in the press room of the Augusta National on the final morning of the 1994 Masters Tournament.

A rather familiar-looking green garment had been found, some months earlier, lying in a stack of old blazers in a second-hand shop in Toronto. The fortune finder was a Canadian media man who immediately recognized the ‘flag-through-Georgia' breast- pocket badge, and intricately matching buttons, as the crest of the Augusta National Golf Club.

He didn't haggle over the $5 asking price. With the editor of the Canadian golf magazine, Score, he set about trying to track down the provenance of the garment which also bore the mark of Cullum's Men's Shop, Augusta (though the ‘etiquette label', on which the members name is traditionally stitched, had been neatly snipped out).

They started by contacting the club itself. Having been described the jacket in detail, General Manager James Armstrong admitted that it “sounds like one of ours,” before refusing any further lines of enquiry.

After further discussions with the gallery curator at Glen Arbor Golf Club (home of the Canadian Open) and the Canadian PGA, the theory remained that the jacket had belonged to a Canadian member who had returned home with it in the days before the club's rigorous rules on jacket ‘internment'.

“If it had been the Turin Shroud, the secret society known as the Augusta National Golf Club could not have been more furious,” wrote the late, great Ian Wooldridge in the Daily Mail, a few years later, when speculating that the jacket had “presumably been flogged by an Augusta member who'd fallen on near-inconceivable hard times.” The story struck a chord with me as my own Augusta adventure unfolded, later that same morning in 1994, with a formal note from the club – ironically signed by the same James Armstrong – inviting me to play 18- holes at Augusta National at 9am the following day. I had got lucky in the annual press lottery in which the club traditionally grants a mere ten fourballs (from the typically 200-strong media contingent) the privilege of playing the course the morning after the final round. As a perennial loser in even the church tombola, I had written off my chances, but ticket 089 had somehow come out of the hat.

That afternoon I sat by the 15th green and watched José Maria Olazábal's do-or-die approach defy gravity on the slippery fringe bordering the guarding pond – to be followed by the outrageous 50-foot eagle putt that defined his victory that week.

The next morning, as my fourball gathered, Ollie himself strolled out of the pro shop wearing the latest addition to his wardrobe over a casual, collarless T-shirt and a pair of jeans. In suitably jovial mood, the Spaniard chatted with us in his incongruous ensemble, explaining he was swapping the member's jacket he had borrowed for the formalities the previous evening for a more suitable size.

Having admired Ollie's jacket at close quarters (too bad that his name was spelt incorrectly on the etiquette label), I enjoyed a magical day on a golf course (the setting rather than score) before guzzling the last peach cobbler of the week and stocking up on official Masters memorabilia.

But the green T-Shirt is not quite the same thing as the green jacket, and as I drove off down Magnolia Drive, I resolved to try to track down the real thing.

It took some time to locate the fortune finder and make him an offer he couldn't refuse (he did); and several more months before I had a deal and a logistical plan to take safe possession of the plunder. But eventually there was the satisfaction of slipping it on to find that the estimated size 42 Regular could indeed have been made for me.

Not that the jacket was tailor-made for the original owner, either. For as any Augusta anorak knows, the vast majority of the club's treasured garments down the years have been off-the-peg models, albeit with minor alterations, as required.

Since 1967, the club's standard single-breasted, centre vented garments have been supplied by the Hamilton Tailoring Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. Most have been fashioned from a two-and-a-half yard, tropical-weight mix of wool and polyester, lined with a smooth Bemberg rayon. The defining club badge is matched by the brass buttons made by Waterbury Companies, Inc., of Connecticut. Note: the word ‘Masters' now appears on the champion's buttons.

Most Masters fans understandably regard the hallowed Hamilton (whose label can sometimes be seen in photos of the prize-giving ceremony) as more than a sporting symbol.

“It is the ultimate sign that you've made it,” says Alan Shipnuck, the author of The Battle for Augusta National: Hootie, Martha, and the Masters of the Universe. However, the fact that it is not a bespoke garment (and reportedly costs a mere $250-$300 apiece) has made the Hamilton an easy target of derision in some quarters.

Take Alan Flusser, the New York-based menswear designer, historian and author, who scoffed at a prize so prestigious being “machine made” when he was interviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the run up to last year's Masters.

“The Masters jacket is significant only by virtue of its association with that tournament, not the item of clothing itself,” he pronounced. “In any other circumstances, it is probably unusable…and as an article of clothing it's almost as outdated as the ideals [Augusta National] upholds.” Far from being stung by the criticism, the club members and officials probably gave a knowing smile. For, over the last 10 years, the club has worked meticulously on every detail of their defining symbol.

This is poignantly illustrated by what is surely the most esoteric item of Augusta National trivia. The option of a special bespoke green jacket, tailored exclusively on an individual made-to-measure basis by Henry Poole of Savile Row, London, whose client list over their 200-year history includes Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and a full range of royalty. “We are very proud to have been working since 1996 with Augusta National, who we visit twice a year and carry out special bespoke orders,” explained a director, Simon Cundey, whose family have been working for the tailors for several generations.

“Jackson Stephens took steps to improve the quality of the blazer so that it would consistently embody the spirit of the club for future generations of members,” says Cundey describing how, on his first visit to the club, he was struck by the myriad variations on what many assume has always been a single, unflinching shade of green.

“There were blazers in many different shades, including Laurel Green, Forest Green as well as Hunter Green,” he remembers. “This was due both to the various different manufacturers and tailors down the years, and also to a lack of quality control over the many individual bolts,” he explains, referring to the roll, or ‘piece', of cloth which can accommodate several years of orders. (A UK standard 60-metre bolt would typically yield some 30 blazers. However, past articles on Hamilton Tailoring refer to a 500-yard roll – enough for some 200 jackets – sourced back in the 1990s from the textile mills of Victor Forstmann, Inc., Dublin, Georgia.)

Cundey's first task was to standardize the colour following the chairman's search through dozens of club jackets in search of the appropriate template. “He finally picked one out and said: ‘That's the one!'. We took it home and established the exact shade in which all blazers are now made.”

Golf geeks often refer to Hunter Green or No. 342, as defined by the catalogue of Pantone, Inc., the internationally acknowledged colour standardization service based in Carlstadt, New Jersey. But Cundey confirms that the precise colour of what is now referred to as Masters Green is technically distinct from Pantone 342 – which renders redundant those jokes about Augusta sharing the shade with Cleveland and Colorado state universities, Ralph Lauren's Polo fragrance and the national flag of Turkmenistan.

But colour co-ordination was only part of the brief for Henry Poole who, as long-standing private tailors to some of the club's VIPs, were obvious candidates for the rag trade's most prestigious sporting consultancy. “The quality of the polyester in many of the blazers was dismal. We were asked to source a fine fabric for bespoke orders in keeping with the high-quality values of the club,” explains Cundey, who remembers the presentation of alternative fabrics he made in 1996.

“It was a 90-degree June day and we went outside to go through some 20 samples of fabric. This was narrowed down to three and we went home and made a blazer in each, from which to make a final decision.” The green light went to what is known in the rag trade as the Super 100, a pure wool, twill weave with a superior serge finish, weighing 9 oz (per-square-inch). So while many members and champions still opt, more conveniently, for an off-the-peg Hamilton, golf's ultimate status symbol is weaved in the private mills of West Yorkshire.

As well as their twice-yearly visits to the club itself, Henry Poole tailors travel elsewhere in the United States for personal fittings at the homes of Augusta National members, who include “CEOs of the great companies of the USA”, though surprisingly few Masters champions. Arnold Palmer, however, illustrated the level of detail afforded by both club and tailors, when mentioning to Hootie Johnson a few years ago, that that he found his 9 oz blazer too warm.

“We then worked on developing an alternative, lighter blazer – a Super 120 serge with an even finer,more fragile, yarn that requires a lot of precision and care to tailor effectively,” says Cundey, who now offers members a choice of both medium-light and super-light versions. (Henry Poole also supplies club blazers for The Country Club, Brookline, in a more substantial 10 oz fabric suited to the more northerly Massachusetts climate.) The finished article usually requires two fittings and, given the international logistics, takes three-six months to complete. As well as the fabric (and the fit), the Henry Poole blazer differs from the Hamilton in a few other subtle ways.

The ‘working' button holes are finished with distinctive ‘twists' and the under-collar material is of Melton felt. While the buttons themselves sport the same ‘flag through- Georgia' crest as the Waterbury, they are tooled especially for Henry Poole, with a subtly different finish (the raised ‘map and flag' area being brightly polished). It's no surprise that on occasions Henry Poole has had to decline politely requests from its regular clients for a tailor-made jacket in the same premium Augusta National cloth – even without any club identification.

This fascinating ‘dual jacket' culture could arguably be seen as creating an elitist club-within-a-club. However, in an interesting touch of egalitarianism, Jackson Stephens ruled that the defining breast-pocket badges be only offered in a single style, with each of the hallowed three inch diameter discs supplied by the club to the tailors on a carefully controlled, individual basis.

But whichever tailoring route you choose, there is one unbreakable rule: the blazers never leave the club premises. The only exception is that the reigning Masters champion is permitted to use it “for golf associated functions” only. Even Jack Nicklaus required special dispensation to take his to a Sports Illustrated photo-shoot when winning their Sportsman of the Year title in 1978. The club likewise permitted Olazábal to wear his at a function hosted by the King of Spain after his win in 1994.

But then ‘springing' the jacket from club premises is not that straightforward even if a member wanted to. For, contrary to what is widely assumed, club jackets not in regular use are not kept in lockers, with reports of a mysterious “cedar closet” just part of the story. “There is a special room at the club where blazers are kept carefully at the appropriate temperature and humidity,” describes Simon Cundey. “The blazer is then made ready for the member on his arrival and returned when he leaves,” he says, explaining how the garments are effectively ‘logged' by the valets, with any absentee (perhaps due to occasional off-premises repairs) immediately noted.

However, in explaining the small number of jackets that have escaped over the years, it appears that security wasn't always so Fort Knox.

“I've spoken to many former members, employees and Masters champions and they confirm the jackets weren't nearly so tightly guarded by the club in the early days,” says Ryan Carey, President of Green Jacket Auctions, which specialises in online sales of Augusta National and other golf memorabilia.

“The rule was probably made in the early 1960s, with Gary Player allegedly the first person to be asked to bring it back. Before then, champions always got to keep them,” he says, explaining that Doug Ford's 1957 jacket is among around ten Augusta National jackets he has encountered in private collections over the years. (The Observer Sports Monthly reported in April 2002 that Seve Ballesteros had refused to return his jacket.) In trying to date my own, the Doug Ford jacket provides a useful reference point. For while the latter was made by Hart, Schaffner & Marx (one of the official suppliers prior to Hamilton Tailoring), my Spring Weave/Palm Beach label (a famous brand of men's clothing from that decade) appears to place it prior to 1957.

The sewn-on (rather than integral, ‘with flap') pockets also suggest a less refined design, while the relatively heavy, 11-12 oz Hopsack weave appears consistent with reports of thicker early jackets. Augusta National itself refers to the warm coats of the earliest supplier, the Brooks Uniform Company of New York (examples of which may survive at the club, though have proved elusive to collectors ‘on the outside').

Meanwhile, the Cullum's Men's Shop connection (also present in the the Doug Ford) refers to the local Augusta tailors who co-ordinated the fittings and alterations of various Augusta National jackets in the 1950s.

My research unearthed a James Curtis Cullum, a local civic leader and war hero who went into business in 1949, becoming President of Cullum's, Inc., whose portfolio included six retail stores in the Augusta area. He was known to be an established member of the neighbouring Augusta Country Club, and may well have held membership at both clubs (as did some of the original investors in the fledgling Augusta National concept).

Despite the club's wrath over the provenance of my jacket, they can rest assured that, apart from occasionally appearing in golf magazines to illustrate a Masters preview, it is has been treated with suitable respect. I have never let Terry Wogan wear it on his TV chat show (as Nick Faldo notoriously did in 1989, which so incurred the club's wrath), nor worn it to bed (as Phil Mickelson allegedly decided to do on the night of his 2004 win).

Admittedly, I do dust it off once a year to watch the Masters on TV while my wife rustles up a peach cobbler. The rest of the time it lives in a bank vault, along with my Henry Cotton scrapbook and the 1974 Daily Telegraph Junior Golf trophy of a certain N. A. Faldo.

One fellow golf writer quipped that Greg Norman would give me a few bob for it, while another suggested I donate it to the golf museum at Valderrama, ‘The Augusta of Europe'. But if it ends up in any museum it should be that of the Argentina Golf Association, alongside the silver cigarette case (normally reserved only for Masters champions) given by Clifford Roberts to Robert de Vicenzo as a gesture following the heartbreaking climax of the 1968 tournament.

In Augusta National's darkest hour, and the cruellest rules incident in golf history, the Argentinian was denied a playoff against Bob Goalby after signing for a four at the 71st hole when he had in fact made a birdie three. “When I signed the scorecard wrong, I cried. But later on I have a nice feeling to do this mistake,” recounts the gracious de Vicenzo in The Lost Masters, Curt Sampson's poignant account of this cautionary tale of fate, responsibility and morality.

“So many good honours come my way in the US, South America, England. If I no sign the scorecard wrong, I'd never be an honorary member at St. Andrews...A green jacket you can buy.”

STITCHED UP: The Golden's Bear's green jacket mystery

One of the most famous jacket stories dates back to Jack Nicklaus' first Masters victory, in 1963, when defending champion Arnold Palmer helped the Golden Bear into an over generously proportioned 46 Long at the prize-giving ceremony. “The sleeves covered my hands,” remembers Nicklaus, who in the aftermath didn't get round to exchanging it for a more appropriate 43 Regular.

When he returned for the 1964 champions' dinner, Nicklaus apparently had to borrow another ‘loaner' at short notice, which he then used – rather by default – for the next 12 years. In the mid-'70s, Jack finally decided to resolve the situation by personally commissioning his own tailor to make him a replica.

When recounting the story to Jackson Stephens many years later, the chairman offered to have a new one made for him. But Nicklaus politely declined, saying he rather enjoyed dining out on the novelty (indeed, literally, at the champions' dinner).

“I'm the only guy to win six green jackets and I don't own one from the club. I had to buy my own,” he says. Interestingly, Nicklaus chose Hart, Schaffner & Marx as his private tailors, the clothing firm which had previously supplied Augusta National jackets and which Jack himself would formally represent.

Self-styled as ‘America's First Name in Tailored Clothing', Hart, Schaffner & Marx were among the pioneers of the celebrity clothing endorsement – starting with the Jack Nicklaus brand which once offered a rather familiar looking, single-breasted Signature ‘Sport Coat', which just happened to come in Teal. That's a shade of green.

GARY'S GREEN JACKET: The tale of another one that got away

The most famous of the few August National jackets that reside beyond the club boundaries is Gary Player's from his debut Masters victory, in 1961. Gary relived his famous anecdote when we contacted him for this feature.

“Not knowing any better at the time, I took it home to South Africa with me. About three days later, I got a call from Masters chairman, Clifford Roberts, who asked very sternly: ‘Gary, have you taken the jacket home? You know you cannot do that!'

Of course, I had absolutely no idea that what I had just done was completely against the rules. I thought very quickly and took a gamble, saying: ‘Mister Roberts, if you want the jacket, you will have to come and fetch it, sir!' No one had ever spoken to him like that, but I knew he had a good sense of humour.

He responded with: ‘Well, OK Gary, but promise me you will never wear it in public.' To this day, I have kept my vow and the jacket remained in the same cover in my closet at home.When I returned to the Masters in 1962, there was another green jacket waiting for me in my locker. That's the one that I have worn at the club over the last few decades.” There were rumours in 2003 that Player planned to include the jacket among his private collection of 300 items of memorabilia to be auctioned at Christie's for an estimated $5 million.

However, it evaded that particular fate and is currently on display, sealed in a glass presentation case, at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida (as pictured below).

The exhibition, Gary Player's Global Journey, also features his (career) ‘Grand Slam' trophy collection as well as such essential items as the scorecard of his famous 59 at the 1974 Brazil Open at Gavea. If the jacket ever finds its way to auction, it will be interesting to see what it fetches. Presumably rather more than the Hart, Schaffner & Marx-era, members jacket that went for $32,000 at the last public auction of an Augusta National green jacket a few years ago.

But would it top the one belonging to the late Bobby Jones that fetched $95,000, through Leland's sports auctions, purchased by a prominent Georgia country club in the late 1990s?

The story goes that Augusta National were understandably disappointed to let this historic memento of their founder slip through their fingers, but the family involved were able to prove that it was theirs as a gift from the great man.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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