Tracing the fabric of the Green Jacket, golf's ultimate prize

Origins of the jacket are mysterious, but the mystique is clear: 'It's almost like touching a Rolex'

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Green Jackets can only be worn by Masters champions or members of Augusta National Golf Club. (Credit: Getty Images)

A couple hours east of Atlanta sits the United States' version of the Vatican.

A renowned 365-acre haven, detached from the rest of reality. Pomp and circumstance displayed in radiant greens and decadent infrastructure. And a troubled history often forgotten and disregarded, due to the lore of the venue and the magnitude of its signature event.

Augusta National Golf Club is a private sanctuary for some of the nation’s most elite. The inner workings of ANGC are shrouded in mystery, saturated with nearly century-old tradition.

And its greatest prize is no different.

When Sunday’s winner is draped in that famous green, woolen blazer, he will be immortalized in Masters’ history forever, sitting atop golf’s summit, having conquered the sport’s most momentous feat.

“You don't come to Augusta looking for your game,” Masters historian Greg Lamb said. “You come to Augusta because you have game.”

And while every Masters winner has been awarded this honor in the post-tournament ceremony since 1949, more is known about the winners than the jacket itself.

The Masters winner gets a trophy, here sported by Hideki Matsuyama in 2021, but the Green Jacket is clearly the tournament's real prize. (Credit: Getty Images)
The Masters winner gets a trophy, here sported by Hideki Matsuyama in 2021, but the Green Jacket is clearly the tournament's real prize. (Credit: Getty Images)

What little info is known, even less is publicized, and the club declined to comment on this story.

Here is what we do know about the Green Jacket.

The tradition is born

The origins of the Green Jacket date back to the beginnings of Augusta National. Theories are split between two stories, one of Bobby Jones, and one of Clifford Roberts, the two co-founders of Augusta National Golf Club.

Jones was the greatest golfer in the world during the 1920s and early 1930s, becoming the first man to win what were then the four majors: the U.S. Open, the U.S. Amateur, The Open Championship and the British Amateur. Roberts served as ANGC’s first chairman and built the club into the mystical powerhouse it is today.

Some suggest it was Jones who established the Green Jacket, citing his experience attending a dinner at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England, where club captains wore matching red jackets. Others suggest it was Roberts, who wanted a way to delineate members from non-members for waiters when presenting checks at dinner.

According to Augusta National historian Greg Lamb, it was a mutual decision. Roberts had the idea, Jones had the solution, and thus the Green Jacket was born in 1937.

The decision to make the blazers green, according to Lamb, was likely a nod to Augusta’s stature as “the garden city,” due to its vibrant springtime flora.

Secrecy that adds to the mystique

Per the Masters website, the Green Jacket was initially designed by the Brooks Uniform Company in New York, beginning in 1937, but was changed shortly after. The original jacket was a much darker green than the current “Pantone 342," and the wool was much heavier.

The original jackets also featured an exterior breast-pocket, which led to an urban legend about Roberts.

“There was kind of an old joke that Clifford Roberts liked those jackets,” Lamb said. “Because if you had done something (bad) as a member, he could just go up to your jacket and rip that pocket off ... and say you were no longer a member here at Augusta National.”

The fully exterior pocket no longer exists, and the Australian wool is much softer. Hamilton Tailoring Company in Cincinnati began producing the Green Jackets in 1967 and has been a producer since.

Phone calls to Hamilton Tailoring go unanswered. Several different numbers can be found online, but none lead anywhere. cllct made multiple attempts to contact Hamilton Tailoring Co., using every number found online, and trying through directory assistance. Little has been said from Hamilton Tailoring Co. over the years, and the few public comments come from longtime chairman Ed Heimann, who died in 2021.

The self-described “golf nut” told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2000 that, “They (ANGC) like to keep things low-key. 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.”

Heimann was quoted as recently as 2016, also by the Cincinnati Enquirer as saying “We can’t talk about it. I wish I could tell you more. It would be good for our business, but I can’t.”

There are conflicting reports online about whether Hamilton Tailoring is the sole producer of Green Jackets. While several publications state it to be true, Ryan Carey says he knows it to be false. Carey is the founder of Golden Age, a golf-only auction house, and he told the Alliance for American Manufacturing in 2018 that Hamilton Tailoring created “90-plus percent of the jackets since the '60s, but there are other companies that do make them.”

cllct managed to contact Dorsia Atkinson, who worked as the plant manager for the Victor Forstmann Inc. mill in Dublin, Georgia. The mill produced the cloth for Hamilton Tailoring to make the jackets.

Multiple previous reports, which obtained Forstmann plant records, indicated the plant supplied Hamilton Tailoring with a 500-yard roll of the Pantone 342 fabric, enough to make 200 jackets.

While the 500-yard roll might seem large, it’s actually quite insignificant, Atkinson said. Each jacket is made from about two-and-a-half yards of cloth, and the plant regularly received orders thousands of yards long. According to Atkinson, the plant formerly produced cloth for the New Era MLB hats as well as the "blood stripe" on the pants of U.S. marines.

“You think the Masters are tough. Let me tell you, when you make stuff for the government ...” Atkinson said jokingly.

All of Augusta's Green Jackets are made from a 500-yard roll of Pantone 342 fabric. (Credit: Getty Images)
All of Augusta's Green Jackets are made from a 500-yard roll of Pantone 342 fabric. (Credit: Getty Images)

The Forstmann plant is no longer in business. After filing for bankruptcy on multiple occasions, the plant closed its doors for good in 2007 and burned down four years later. Atkinson no longer works in the textile business, now serving as a pastor. But being a part of sports history is not lost on the former Dublin plant manager.

“Thousands of people worked through that (plant) over the years, and it's just gone,” Atkinson said. “I'm glad that there's a piece of that plant somewhere. There's a part of it, we're living through this cloth.”

And the cloth is what makes the jacket special.

“I kind of tell people, it's almost like touching a Rolex,” Lamb said. “You have to touch a real one before you really understand the quality.”

The softening of the wool is completed through a process called fulling.

“If you look at (wool) under a microscope, it’s like scales on a fish,” Atkinson said. “If you put on a wool product that feels itchy or scratchy, that's because it's not been through the fulling process ... But when you run the fulling process the fiber actually shrinks, the scales balloon out, and they soften.”

This also allows the cloth to keep properties such as water resistance. Cheaper cloth would go through about 14-15 steps in the softening process, but high-end cloth like the material used for the Green Jacket, will go through close to 30 steps.

While the cloth makes up most of the jacket, there are still other elements that make it unique. Its buttons are made from Waterbury Button Company in Cheshire, Connecticut, and the breast-pocket patch is produced by A&B Emblem Co. in Weaverville, North Carolina.

Three buttons go up the front of the jacket, with two on each sleeve. Many fakes, according to Lamb, will reverse the button alignment.

“That’s a dead giveaway,” Lamb said.

Whereas it is near impossible to find a single snippet of information about Hamilton Tailoring online, the Waterbury Button Company’s website states it has completed work for the Masters. Yet, its president did not respond to an interview request with cllct, as did nearly every entity associated with Augusta National.

Rules at Augusta aren’t meant to be broken

While Augusta National and many of its traditions are shrouded in secrecy, trademarks are public information, and the club owns an astonishing 72 of them.

ANGC’s trademarks range from the “Green Jacket” to commemorative coins of the Eisenhower Tree. There’s a trademark for the phrase “A tradition unlike any other," even though CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, who came up with the phrase, didn’t know his words were trademarked. ANGC even tried attempting to trademark its pimento cheese sandwich, but that has since been abandoned.

Josh Gerben is a trademark attorney and the founder of a trademark-focused intellectual property law firm. Gerben regularly posts updated trademark info for what athletes and teams have filed. While it is common for a league, such as MLB or the NBA to have 72 trademarks, he said, a single venue to have that many is nearly unheard of.

“This is really unique as far as trophies go in sports,” Gerben said. “And the control that they're trying to exert over it.”

After initially filing for the “Green Jacket” trademark in 2019, ANGC was granted the trademark in 2020.

While the presentation of the Green Jacket dates back to 1949, the name itself took longer to take hold in the public lexicon.

Previous broadcasts of the Masters feature members of Augusta National referring to the Green Jacket by other monikers.

Legendary Arkansas football coach Frank Broyles was a member of ANGC and co-hosted the presentation of the Green Jacket in Butler Cabin from 1972-77. In 1975, when Jack Nicklaus won the Masters for the fifth time, Broyles referred to the Green Jacket as the "green coat" on the national broadcast.

“It’s customary at this time for the defending champion, Gary Player, to present you with your fifth green coat,” Broyles said on the broadcast.

Now, it would feel sacrilegious for the broadcast to say anything but the words “Green Jacket."

In addition to its trademark on “Green Jacket," Augusta National filed trademarks on the color Pantone 342 as well as the gold color of the buttons.

Additionally, Augusta National has a strict policy about Green Jackets never leaving the club. Club members are not ever allowed to take the Green Jackets off-site. The blazers can only leave club grounds when a player wins the Masters, and the champion is permitted to keep the jacket until the following year’s tournament.

Quite an accessory for a victory tour.

Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, wore his Green Jacket when he threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game. (Credit: Getty Images)
Scottie Scheffler, the 2022 Masters champion, wore his Green Jacket when he threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game. (Credit: Getty Images)

Scottie Scheffler was wearing his when he threw out the opening pitch at a Rangers game. And Jon Rahm did the same for the Diamondbacks during the World Series in 2023.

There are a few famous exceptions to that rule. Billy Casper, who won the Masters in 1970, was actually buried in his jacket when he died in 2015. When Gary Player won the Masters in 1961, he brought the jacket with him back to South Africa and didn’t bring it back, much to the chagrin of ANGC chairman Clifford Roberts. But Player had to agree it could never make public appearances.

Shortly after Rahm won the 2023 Masters, he made an appearance on GOLF’s “Subpar” podcast, where he detailed some of the rules around wearing the Green Jacket in public. Rahm stated any public appearance of the jacket must receive approval from Augusta National. It is not allowed to be photographed with alcohol, it cannot be used for promotional events, and it is not allowed to be worn with casual clothing. Golf attire is the minimum, meaning when Zach Johnson wore his blazer with jeans in Times Square after winning the 2007 Masters, it was a “big no no," according to Johnson.

But Green Jackets haven’t always been treated with the dignitary level of protection they receive now. That’s why when jackets have trickled out over the years, they’ve been from the early years of Augusta National. And when they have, they’ve made international news.

Jackets, judge and jury

While Sam Snead was the first Masters champion to wear the Green Jacket in 1949, he was the 11th winner overall.

Horton Smith won the first tournament in 1934, but originally Green Jackets were only worn by club members as a way to stand out when a waiter needed to deliver a check. But by 1949, tournament champions began being honored with the wool blazer.

Since the first 10 champions received their Green Jackets retroactively, they are referred to as the “Original 10." And what could be bigger than the very first one?

In 2013, Golden Age, then-called Green Jacket Auctions, sold Smith’s coat for $682,229.45, a record at the time for any piece of golf memorabilia. At the time, Green Jacket Auctions co-owner Bob Zafian told CBS News it was the “holy grail ... a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Four years later, Green Jacket Auctions sold another blazer for $139,000. The story goes that in 1994 a Canadian sports journalist discovered a green blazer hanging up in a Goodwill store in Toronto. The journalist purchased the familiar jacket for $5, reportedly knowing its worth. Then, 23 years later, he turned the jacket for quite a hefty profit.

No one knows how the jacket wound up at Goodwill, nor does anyone know why its name had been removed from the inside stitching. At the time, Carey said the jacket was likely from the 1950s based on the tag, and it also likely belonged to a club member, not a Masters winner.

Later that year, though, three more Green Jackets were put up for auction, including one from two-time Masters champion Byron Nelson. But none of the three were ever sold, and one was actually returned to Augusta National.

ANGC, labeled ANI (Augusta National Inc.) in court documents filed multiple lawsuits against Green Jacket Auctions in an attempt to stop any sale. The two parties eventually dropped the case in 2019, with two jackets returning to the owners who were attempting to sell them.

But one of the key notations in the lawsuit filed by Augusta National is related to property.

“A champion’s Green Jacket is owned by ANI with a champion having possessory rights when on the premises of ANI.”

For a golfer, a Green Jacket is the ultimate prize. But Augusta National is quick to remind its champions of the hierarchy of power. The prize is a lease, not a gift.

Phil Mickelson took his Green Jacket on his victory tour in 2004, here stopping by "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn."
Phil Mickelson took his Green Jacket on his victory tour in 2004, here stopping by "The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn."

What the players have to say

While humorous antics, like Phil Mickelson wearing his Green Jacket to a Krispy Kreme drive-thru, make headlines, the majority of champions treat their jackets with the reverence of Augusta.

After Bubba Watson won his first Masters in 2012, he cried during a press conference when detailing what he did with his Green Jacket after winning. Watson, who was known for snarky stunts, opted for anything but comedy.

“Out of respect, out of honor for Augusta National and one of the greatest clubs we have, one of the greatest tournaments — out of respect for them, I didn't do any of the funny antics I would normally do. The only thing I did was wrap Caleb (his son) up in it," Watson said.

After Jordan Spieth won the Masters in 2015, he kept it in his closet, away from any potential hazard. But he couldn’t help from taking a peak.

“(I) pull it out here and there and just kind of, you know, hold it up,” Spieth said in 2015, “as if it’s the greatest trophy that I’ve ever had -- because it is.”

The irony is that according to ANGC rules, none of these players own any of their Green Jackets. It’s simply a one-year rental away from its apparent rightful home. But whether these players simply idolize the spectacle before them, or have been conditioned by years of strict terms and conditions, one fact is certain according to Lamb.

“Everybody just wants that lore of a piece of Augusta.”

Matt Liberman is a reporter and video producer for cllct.