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Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Updated: April 5, 11:13 AM ET
The real story behind the green jacket

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Every guy is taught that he should always help a woman on with her coat. But if you're a guy putting a coat on another guy, it can mean only one of three things: You work in a men's clothing store; you're a butler; or you're last year's Masters champion and you're putting the green jacket on the new champion.

Uni Watch
For some reason, photographers love to document this rare moment of man-on-man haberdashery assistance. It's like, "Yo, wanna see two guys getting way too excited about clothing, or a millionaire being forced to act like a menswear clerk at JCPenney? Look here." Also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The garment at the center of all this fuss is, let's face it, pretty tacky, what with all the brass buttons and the green lining (although that patch on the breast pocket is pretty cool). Its history dates to 1937, when Augusta National management urged the club's members to wear green coats during the Masters so that fans in attendance could easily spot them if they needed to ask questions (like, say, "Dude, do you realize you look like a freakin' leprechaun in that thing?"). According to this page, the emerald apparel "was also useful in letting Augusta waiters know who got the check at evening's end." The tradition of awarding one of the jackets to the tournament champion -- and thereby making him an honorary Augusta National member, complete with his name embroidered in the jacket's lining -- didn't begin until 1949, when Sam Snead became the first winner featured in the jacket ceremony. All previous champions received retroactive green jackets soon thereafter.

Of course, there's more than one shade of green out there. The particular pigment used for the green jacket was originally chosen to match Augusta's rye grass fairways. These days it's been standardized as Pantone 342 -- the same hue used by by such notable golf-oriented institutions as Ohio University, the California Department of Transportation, and the countries of Turkmenistan and Kenya. The jacket's components come from a variety of sources -- the fabric from a mill in Georgia, the buttons from Waterbury Button in Connecticut, and the patch from AB Emblem in North Carolina -- and are then assembled by the Cincinnati-based Hamilton Tailoring Company, which has been the jacket's exclusive manufacturer since 1967 (and whose president, Ed Heimann, apparently has a serious jones for jade attire).

Since the champion often isn't determined until the final hole, tournament officials try to have a wide range of jackets on hand for the ceremony -- but sometimes not wide enough. When Snead won again in 1952, the sleeves on the presentation jacket barely extended past his elbows. And in 1963, Jack Nicklaus was given a jacket so much larger than his normal size that he had to keep his arms bent during the ceremony so the sleeves wouldn't droop past his hands.

Once the champion is paired with a properly sized jacket, he's allowed to take it with him, but he's supposed to bring it back the following year and then leave it at Augusta after the next champion is crowned. The one exception was in 1962, when '61 champ Gary Player took his jacket back home to South Africa, much to the annoyance of Masters chairman Clifford Roberts. "Next thing you know there was a call from Mr. Roberts," Player later recalled. "[He said] 'Gary, have you got the jacket?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' He said, 'Well, no one ever takes the jacket away from here.' And I said, 'Well, Mr. Roberts, if you want it, why don't you come and fetch it?'"

Player managed to keep the jacket for more than 40 years (he eventually sold it, along with the rest of his memorabilia, in 2003), under one condition: He gave his word to Roberts that he wouldn't wear the jacket in public -- no doubt an easy promise to keep.

Paul Lukas' favorite color is green, but he knows where to draw the line. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.