Uni Watch: The sports coat of champions.

The stadium scene.
April 6 2004 11:55 AM

Uni Watch

The sports coat of champions.

"You mean I can't wear this everywhere?"
"What do you mean I can't wear this everywhere?"

When is a uniform also a trophy? When it's the coveted Green Jacket, awarded to the winner of the Masters golf tournament, which gets under way this week in Augusta, Ga. With its combination of heritage, brand identity, and standardization, the Green Jacket not only qualifies as a uniform, it's also just about the only thing that makes the otherwise stultifying game of golf tolerable. The Green Jacket's story dates back to 1937, when Augusta National's management urged its members to wear a green coat during the club's annual tournament, so visitors could easily locate reliable sources of information. In other words, golf's highest prize was originally conceived as an usher's uniform. Club members didn't care for the heavy, off-the-rack coats, so lightweight, made-to-measure models were soon made available at Augusta's club shop. The tradition of presenting a Green Jacket to the Masters champion, and thereby making him an honorary Augusta member, began with Sam Snead in 1949, and all previous winners were retroactively awarded Green Jackets soon thereafter. Tournament officials keep track of the final round's top contenders and have several appropriately sized jackets on hand for the presentation ceremony —or at least that's the idea. 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 badly oversized jacket, size 46 long, and had to keep his arms bent during the ceremony so the sleeves wouldn't droop past his hands.

In any case, the champion's measurements are taken after the ceremony, and a custom-made jacket is then prepared for him. (Tiger Woods requested a generous 42 long after his first Masters title in 1997, explaining, "A lot of the guys say they get a little larger as they get older.") He's allowed to keep it until the following year's tourney, at which point he's expected to leave it at Augusta and wear it only when on the club's grounds (most do so only at the annual champions' dinner). A few golfers have flouted this rule: Gary Player mistakenly left his Green Jacket home in South Africa a year after winning the 1961 Masters and, in a phone conversation Uni Watch would dearly love to have overheard, told Augusta prexy Clifford Roberts to piss off when Roberts instructed him to send it back. But most champions readily acknowledge that the emerald blazer, with its gaudy brass buttons and breast-pocket logo, isn't exactly the sort of thing they'd wear in public anyway.

As for the garment itself, the three-button, single-breasted, center-vented jacket is made by the Hamilton Tailoring Company of Cincinnati, which has had the exclusive manufacturing contract since 1967 and whose president, Ed Heimann, is famously tight-lipped about the jacket's cost. The tropical-weight wool—about two-and-a-half yards' worth per jacket—comes from a mill in Georgia, a Massachusetts firm makes the buttons (each stamped with the Augusta logo), and a North Carolina company provides the pocket patches. The color, originally chosen to mimic Augusta's rye grass fairways, is now standardized as Pantone 342.

It's worth noting, incidentally, that the Green Jacket also influences other golf wear, since players who think they have a shot at winning the Masters often wear green-friendly outfits for the final round. But not everyone takes such a calculated approach. In 1977, for example, Tom Watson won the tournament while wearing orange pants and a white patent leather belt. "I didn't care what I looked like," he later recalled, perhaps overstating the obvious. "I wasn't thinking about anything but winning the Masters."

Update: As several readers have pointed out, Uni Watch's recent baseball preview column neglected to mention several salient details regarding last week's Yankees/Devil Rays series in Japan. First, both teams were wearing a cap patch celebrating the series itself—unnecessary but largely innocuous. More troublesome was the logo of the office-equipment company Ricoh, which appeared on both teams' batting helmets  and jersey sleeves. This is similar to what happened when the Mets and Cubs played in Japan in 2000, except then it was the convenience-store chain AM/PM on the helmets and the insurance company AIU on the sleeves. At the time, this seemed like the first step down a road that would inevitably lead to Visa and McDonald's sleeve patches, but that hasn't happened—yet. Granted, selling ad space on team unis is offensive, but if Major League Baseball keeps doing it on these terms—only during leap years, only in Japan, and only for games that take place when Uni Watch is asleep—it won't be the end of the world.

More subtle, and therefore insidious, is the fact that the Yankees wore their home uniforms for these games, even though the Devil Rays were technically the home team. The stated rationale for this disgraceful switcheroo is that the Japanese fans "deserved" to see the Yankee pinstripes, which tells you everything you need to know about this series—it was designed strictly as a Yankee showcase, with the Devil Rays cast in a role of cannon fodder. Fortunately, the Rays neglected to read the script and ended up thumping the Yanks in the opener. All of which must have particularly sweet for Tampa skipper Lou Piniella, an embittered ex-Yankee, who appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself, tacky road jersey and all.

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Paul Lukas writes about food, travel, and consumer culture for a variety of publications.

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