Tucked away in the back of the Augusta National Pro Shop is an unmarked wooden door. Behind it is a staircase that used to lead to an underground storage room.
Now, it is a portal to an inner sanctum.
The ultra-exclusive golf club has created a secret space for storytelling and green jacket tailoring that’s as lavishly appointed as a Savile Row designer clothing and has the high-tech touches of a Disney attraction.
Built in 2021, the “Green Jacket Experience” and “Green Jacket Vault” were until now only accessible to club members and their guests. But on Thursday, on the first day of the Masters, Augusta National gave The Times an exclusive, never-before-seen look. No photos or videos allowed.
The green jacket is worn by club members and teachers champions, who donned it for the first time during the traditional winner’s ceremony in the Butler Cabin, just steps from the 18th green. The jacket is golf’s answer to the Lombardi Trophy or the Stanley Cup and is so closely linked With the most watched tournament in the world many fans don’t realize there is actually a Masters trophy, a sterling silver clubhouse replica.
So synonymous are the coats and the club that members are referred to simply as “green jackets.”
“Everybody knows what the jacket is,” said Jordan Spieth, who won the 2015 Masters. “You’re wearing a trophy, and if you’re not a golf fan, you can get confused. But even non-golf fans know what the jacket is.”
There are all kinds of stories surrounding the green jackets, from jack nicklaus he didn’t receive his until over a decade after he won his record-breaking sixth Masters, to Gary Player suggesting the club come “get” him after he unknowingly broke the rules by taking it home to South Africa, to which a Toronto thrift store: Not knowing what it had, it sold for $5.
Thousands of customers spend millions of dollars a day in the various Masters stores around the field, structures that range from emporiums (jackets, shirts, ties, chairs, toys, glassware) to concession booths, selling mostly hats.
But the vault is located under the pro shop, which is accessible to members and their guests. On the other side of the door are 24 steps down, with motion-sensitive lights gradually illuminating the room below.
At the bottom of the stairs is an exposed brick wall, curved like a cellar ceiling, with Byron Nelson’s green jacket under glass and museum lighting. On each side are two large touch screens. They use video and 3D graphics to tell the story of how the jacket tradition came to be.
The other half of this space is a glass shop that requires fingerprint entry. On display is the club’s oldest green jacket in its archives, which dates to the 1930s, has a different logo, a much cruder outline of the United States with a golf flag planted in Georgia, and appears to be made of a thick felt.
Also in the room are two leather armchairs, decorated with small Augusta logos, and the bust of a mannequin draped in a checked and deconstructed green jacket. The club has a tailor in advance.
Behind it are two neatly arranged stacked rows of green jackets, about 100 of them, from large to small, with a section dedicated to green jackets for female members.
When a new member joins the club, he or she meets with club president Fred Ridley and a tailor in the vault and is fitted with a jacket, which features the logo on a patch above the left breast pocket. Behind two panels are hidden liquor cabinets, one for scotch and one for bourbon.
The members’ ready-made green jackets are stored elsewhere in the club.
Members buy their own jackets and there are different levels, tailors and fabrics depending on the price. They usually own more than one, which comes in handy on those warm Georgia days. The original reason for the jacket was to make club members easily identifiable to tournament sponsors who were looking for information on the ground.
And jackets are not supposed to leave the club. Only the current champion can take it home for his reign.
Spieth’s jacket was too big for him because he refused to hand it over for alterations. He left for New York shortly after winning and wanted to keep the jacket.
“After that, I had it with me everywhere and I never fixed it,” he said. “I think they’ve done it here ever since because the arms definitely fit a lot better. I left some space in case he put on a few pounds over the years.”
His jacket was billowy enough to remind Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne in his big suit. However, Spieth still wore the jacket to NBA games, NHL games, and football games at his alma mater, the University of Texas. When it wasn’t wrapped around him, it was slung over his shoulder.
“Maybe the coolest part is that everywhere I went I was traveling with a little hanging bag, and on the bag that holds the jacket it says, ‘2015 Masters Champion’ or whatever,” he said. “So it was great to look in my closet every week and see that. I would love to have another one, maybe a little bigger and fit my size.”
Nicklaus didn’t have a green jacket until 1998.
“I had a long 46 that they put on me, and it was a regular 43,” he recalled of his first Masters win in 1963, as a pudgy 23-year-old.
Although defending champions usually have a green jacket waiting for them when they return next year, somehow Nicklaus didn’t get one. So he borrowed one from Tom Dewey, a member of Augusta, former governor of New York, and presidential candidate. He fits perfectly.
So, Dewey didn’t beat Truman, as the Chicago Daily Tribune eventually found out, but he did outfit Nicklaus.
When Nicklaus won his fourth Masters in 1972, a year after Dewey’s death, his borrowed jacket looked a little threadbare. So the Golden Bear, who had an endorsement deal with Hart, Schaffner and Marx, asked that Cincinnati tailor to make him a green jacket.
Nicklaus once said that he was not satisfied with the material or the color, even though they made those jackets in 1949 and did so for decades to come. The Hamilton Tayloring Co. of Cincinnati made the jackets between 1967 and 2004, and today manufacturers include Henry Poole & Co. of London, Oxxford Clothes of Chicago, and Hickey Freeman of Rochester, NY
The jackets are a very specific shade of green, Pantone 342, and the color is a trademark. It is a different shade from everything the club sells.
It may not have been his favorite, but Nicklaus wore that jacket shortly after his fifth win in 1975, and went back to borrowing coats from members afterwards. He never told the club that he didn’t have one of his own.
“Finally, in 1998, a week before the tournament, I was having lunch with [then chairman] Jack Stephens, and I told him the story that I didn’t have a green jacket and I never had a green jacket,” Nicklaus said. “He said that?’
“I said, ‘No, I’ve won the tournament five times, six times and no one has given me a green jacket.’ So I went home, came back for the weekend, and there was a note in my locker that said, ‘You’re going to the pro shop and you’ll be in shape for your green jacket.’ Thank you so much.”
Player, a three-time winner and first-ever international champion, got his own jacket…and quickly made off with it. Times were different then. Even the current champions were going to leave the jacket at the club.
“I was extremely excited to say the least,” he said of his first win in 1961. “So I take the jacket, go to South Africa the next day and take it with me. … I took the jacket home.
“Three days later, the phone says, ‘Good morning, Gary. This is Clifford Roberts. Did you take the jacket home? ”
“I did it,” Player told the Augusta National co-founder.
“Well, nobody takes the jacket off the floor.”
Remembered player: “I thought very quickly. I said: `Mr. Roberts, why don’t you come get him? He saw the funny side of this. He told me: ‘But he never wear it in public.’ ”
The player complied, putting the jacket in a plastic bag and storing it for the year.
Among the club’s rigid rules: The green jackets may not be sold or given to third parties under any circumstances, and to ensure authenticity, each jacket is marked for identification.
Regardless, some have slipped through the cracks. Some have sold at auction, including the one found at that thrift store, which in 2017 fetched $140,000.
Billy Casper, the 1970 champion, loved Augusta so much they buried him in her green jacket.
It is logical. It is an exclusive jacket for members that will always be in style.