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AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s a jacket like no other.
With its rich shade of green known the world over simply as “Masters green,” an Augusta National logo on the crest and brass buttons, the jacket symbolizes all the pomp and pageantry of the year’s first major in a 42 Long.
It is as exclusive as it is coveted, and all those college bowl game officials who try adding a little class to their shindigs by donning lemon yellow or tangerine jackets wind up looking like tacky copycoats. It takes a major title or a major pile of money to get a green jacket, and unless you’re the current Masters champion, you can only wear it when you return to that little corner of heaven known as Augusta National.
Like the game itself, the tradition of the green jacket is borrowed from overseas.
When Bobby Jones had dinner at Royal Liverpool during the 1930 British Open, the second leg of his Grand Slam, the red jackets worn by the club’s captains caught his eye. When Jones and Augusta National co-founder Clifford Roberts began their tournament, they remembered those classy jackets and decided their members should have something similar. That way, if patrons had any questions, all they’d have to do was approach one of the “Green Jackets.”
Members began wearing their jackets at the 1937 Masters. Twelve years later, the club extended the honor to Sam Snead, that year’s winner, and the Masters champion has been presented with his very own ever since.
In a well-choreographed and timeless ceremony that speaks to the genteel nature of golf’s first major, the man who won the jacket the previous year helps the newly minted winner slip into his distinctive blazer.
To be sure, it’s not the kind of jacket most men’s clothing stores would stock — a bit too loud for a Tuesday business meeting; ditto for a night out on the town. But at one of the world’s greatest golf courses, where colorful azaleas and tall Georgia pines are as much a part of the show as the players, it’s perfect.
“When you’re able to don the green jacket, it’s the highest privilege in golf,” Zach Johnson once said.
Nothing is left to chance at Augusta National, and the awarding of the green jacket is no exception.
Though the Masters is sometimes not decided until the 18th hole — and then some occasionally — it simply wouldn’t do for a champion to jam his arms into a too-tight jacket during the presentation ceremony, watched by millions around the world. As the tournament winds down, possible winners are noted and someone goes to work pulling out jackets in appropriate sizes. Their real measurements will be taken later and their jacket custom-made.
The Masters champion can keep his jacket for a year, and can wear it wherever he pleases. Phil Mickelson sported his as he rolled through a Krispy Kreme drive-thru last year. But when he returns for the next year’s tournament, the champion has to bring the jacket with him. It will be stored in a special room, never to leave the grounds again.
Unless, of course, he wins another Masters title.