It’s green, uncomfortable looking, and totally unnecessary in the warm Georgia springtime. Yet, one of the most iconic trophies in sports is the green jacket awarded to Masters Champions each year. It is the ultimate symbol of golfing success.
This week, golfers from around the world will tee off in search of this elusive prize. If you’re like us though, you might be wondering why a jacket and why green? We decided to do a little research to get to the bottom of it.
Bobby’s Big Idea
The Masters Tournament is held each April at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. The course was the brainchild of golf legend Bobby Jones, who sought to create the perfect course after retiring from the game. With advice from partner Clifford Roberts, Augusta National was opened in 1933. The first Masters Tournament was held in 1934, then called the Augusta National Invitational.
Green jackets would come on to the scene shortly after in 1937, but not as trophies. They were given only to members of the club. Members were encouraged to wear them during the yearly tournament to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Patrons could then have easily identifiable resources to ask for information. Club officials also thought that the green jackets would help waiters know who got the check at dinner.
The Green Jacket and Augusta
The idea for club jackets came to Jones back in 1930. He was invited to a dinner at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club while playing in the British Open. At the dinner, he noticed a handful of men wearing red coats with brass buttons. Jones was told that only captains of the club wore them, but he was promised he could have one if he won the Open (which he did on his way to golf’s ‘Grand Slam’).
The first green jackets were manufactured in New York by Brooks Brothers, where Roberts often shopped. He made a bulk order of heavy wool jackets for club members to wear. No one is exactly sure why the now iconic green was chosen. Initially, members were not too thrilled about the jackets. They were heavy and impractical during the warm Georgia golf season, but they would catch on eventually.
Since those initial jackets, numerous companies have been tasked with making them. The jackets have even become more comfortable over the years. Today, jackets are more lightweight and cool, made with a blend of tropical-weight wool and polyester. The style has remained the same though – ‘Masters Green’ with the Augusta National logo on the left crest.
The First Green Jacket Winner
Up until 1949, only club members wore green jackets. When Sam Snead won the Masters that year, he was made an honorary member and awarded his own green jacket. Officials at Augusta National also retroactively awarded green jackets to each former winner. The tradition of awarding a green jacket to the Masters champion continues today.
To ensure the green jacket fits the winner, Augusta National officials will estimate measurements for all golfers in contention on the final day of the tournament. The green jacket awarded to the winner is only temporary though. Each victor will eventually be awarded their own customized jacket that they can keep for one year. After that, the green jacket must remain at Augusta, and past champions can only wear the jacket while at the club. Multiple Masters champions only receive one jacket.
Following the Rules
If it sounds like there are a lot of rules surrounding these jackets, there are. Not everyone always follows them though.
Gary Player won the Masters in 1961. The next year, he forgot to bring back his green jacket from his home in South Africa. He ended up losing in a playoff to Arnold Palmer in 1962. Soon after, he got a call from Clifford Roberts asking him to return his jacket. Player allegedly responded, “Well, you can come fetch it.” Roberts apparently appreciated the lighthearted response, but assured Player that he could not wear the jacket in public.
Sometimes, it is the officials at Augusta National that make the mistakes. After Jack Nicklaus won the first of his record six Masters titles in 1963, he was awarded a green jacket that was extremely over-sized. Nicklaus thought it looked like an overcoat.
He was even more surprised the next year to find that the club still had not provided him with a properly sized jacket in his locker. He ended up borrowing a jacket from another member, and continued to do so until he eventually had a fake jacket made to wear to Masters events. It wasn’t until 1998 that the Golden Bear, perhaps the Masters greatest champion, was finally given his own properly fitting jacket.
An Expensive Prize
Today, the green jacket remains one of the most exclusive and well protected trophies in sports, and for good reason. Although the jackets only cost a couple hundred dollars to make, they can fetch big pay-days at auctions. In 2013, the relatives of Horton Smith, who won the very first Masters back in 1934, put his green jacket up for auction. Someone took it home for $682,229.45, a record price for golf memorabilia. That’s a lot of green!
Now that you know a bit more about it’s history, why not see how many green jacket winners you can name: Masters Winners Quiz