Any golf fan has heard of the Masters Tournament. Held in the first full week of April each year, it is one of the four major international golf tournaments; the others include the US Open, The Open Championship (sometimes called The British Open because of its location) and the PGA Championship. However, the Masters, unlike the other tournaments, is always held in the same location every year – the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Attendance is lower than in other tournaments, simply because entry is by invitation only. Perhaps because of this, a number of traditions have been developed since the Masters began in 1934; the most famous of which is the green jacket tradition.
The green jacket tradition is exactly as it sounds – it involves the wearing of a shamrock green jacket, which is presented to the winner of the tournament each year. It may not be everyone’s choice of colour, but it is certainly noticeable, which is precisely why it was introduced in the first place. The green jacket first came into being in 1937, although at that time, it was not for the winners, but rather for Augusta National Golf Club members in general. They were then easily distinguishable from everyone else, so that if anyone had questions, it was easy to know exactly who would be able to help. Members initially didn’t like the jackets, because the material they were made of was too thick, but a thinner version was soon brought onto the market.
It was not until 1949 that the tradition of awarding a green jacket to the winner of the Masters was introduced. The first Masters winner to have the honour of wearing a green jacket was Sam Snead. Since then, each year’s winner has received a green jacket, given to them by the winner of the previous year’s tournament – unless, of course, the same person wins again, which has happened three times. In the case of Jack Nicklaus in 1966, he simply put the jacket on himself. In the case of Nick Faldo (1990) and Tiger Woods (2002), they were given their jackets back by the Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.
There is a further tradition surrounding the green jacket. Although the winner of the tournament is allowed to take the jacket home with him for the next year, he is expected to return it to the club the following year, after which, it remains at the Golf Club. Despite this, the jacket is still considered to belong to its owner, who then has ‘visitation rights’ and can wear it while at the Club – a sign that they have become an honorary member of the Club. No-one else is supposed to wear the jacket, and, unless the owner wins again and has changed size drastically, that jacket will always be his. As the tournament approaches its end, a number of jackets are made in anticipation of the winner (measurements are taken from players’ coats), so that whoever wins will have a more or less tailored jacket. Any final tailoring is completed in the golf shop at the end of the tournament.
There have been a couple of players who have gone against the rules and kept their green jackets. One is Gary Player, who having won in 1961, took his jacket home with him after the 1962 tournament. He has always claimed that it was a mistake. He has, however, never worn it out of respect for the Golf Club, and keeps it hanging in his closet. Seve Ballesteros has also recently shown off two green jackets to a reporter that he keeps in his trophy room. The green jacket is not all that the players receive for winning, however. They also receive a gold medal and a sterling silver copy of the Masters trophy (the original of which remains at the Club) with their names engraved and they can keep for posterity.
The champion green jacket winner so far is Jack Nicklaus, who has won six.