Thursday, April 06, 2000

Masters jacket: Made in Cincinnati

For 33 years, Avondale firm has tailored tournament's green symbol of golfing greatness

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Basic in design and gaudy green in color, the Masters jacket still has a cachet all its own.

        Though better suited for the fairways than the fashion runways, few sport coats are more coveted than the Masters green. Only members of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia and Masters champions get to wear them.

        As the 64th Masters golf tournament tees off today, we take a look at “the jolly green jacket” and the mystique surrounding it.

        “It's a really big deal because of the tradition and prestige associated with owning one,” says Ed Heimann, local golfer and chairman of the board at Hamilton Tailoring Co. The Avondale-based company has tailored the Masters winner's and the Augusta National club members' jackets for 33 years.

        John Fischer, United States Golf Association committee member and delegate to the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association, agrees that this is a big deal.

        “It's the symbolism surrounding it that makes it so special,” says Mr. Fischer of Hyde Park, who golfs at least once a week, weather permiting.

        “From a fashion standpoint, I don't think anyone would reach for it based solely on color or style,” he says. “The green looks a little off to me. It might be difficult to match a tie to it.”

Flash or flair?
        Golfer Taylor Metcalfe, two-time Cincinnati Metropolitan and one-time Ohio Amateur champion, says while there's some debate about which among the “big four” golf tournaments — the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, British Open, and Masters — is considered toughest to win, there's no disputing which jacket most golfers would love to own.

        “Everybody wants the green one,” says Mr. Metcalfe of Wyoming. “But if I had one, I wouldn't wear it just any place. People who aren't in golf circles wouldn't know what it meant. They'd just think I was some crazy guy in a flashy green jacket.”

        What's flashy to some, however, is a mark of flair to others. That three-button, single-breasted, center vent jacket has received kudos from the most unlikely source. Fashion police chief Richard Blackwell, who creates the annual celebrity Worst Dressed List, gave the Masters design top honors when he critiqued several tournament jackets for Golf Illustrated last year.

        He described it as “perfectly cut and tailored . . . simple, stylish and sporty.”

        He noted that the jacket would flatter Michael Jordan, Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin.

        While the green jacket generates a lot of buzz, Mr. Heimann refuses to add to the lore. He's more prone to zip off on every golf tangent unrelated to the making of the green jacket.

        “Describe me as noncommittal,” says the businessman and scratch (zero handicap) golfer.

        Why so tight-lipped?

        “They (the Masters powers that be? The CIA?) like to keep things low-key,” says Mr. Heimann, who has been a lot more talkative regarding the green jackets in past articles.

        “They (Augusta National brass) 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.”

        He admits that he doesn't want to slip and reveal something that would cost him the green jacket contract. Mr. Heimann's custom tailoring company does jackets for several other golf clubs and tournaments, including the navy coat presented the winner of the Bay Hill Invitational. He lists Arnold Palmer, Ernie Els and Gary Player among clients who have ordered custom sports ensembles.

        Mr. Heimann, who left for Augusta Sunday, has been attending the Masters for 33 years, each year Hamilton Tailoring has been providing the winner's jacket. He says he still gets just as excited about the trek as his first time there. He's especially honored to be the official tailor of the green jacket.

Snead wore it first
        “I think it's Cincinnati's best kept secret,” he says.

        According the Masters press material, the green jacket tradition began in 1937 when they were purchased off-the-rack from the Brooks Uniform Co. in New York. Augusta National members were encouraged to wear the coats to stand out. Visitors to the club could find them, like ushers of sorts, for reliable information.

        Initially, the members weren't pleased because they thought the coats were too hot and uncomfortable. And the color hardly thrilled them. Several years later, a lighter weight, made-to-order jacket was available at the club's golf shop.

        The first green jacket was awarded to a Masters champion in 1949. Sam Snead put that one on at tournament's end.

        Traditionally, the champion takes his jacket home with him for one year, then returns it to the cedar closet on the lower level of the Augusta clubhouse.

        Near the conclusion of the Masters tournament, several members' jackets are selected that could fit the possible winner during the presentation ceremony. The winner has his measurements taken that night or the next day and a custom-fitted jacket is sent to him later.

        A multiple Masters winner will have only one green jacket unless his size changes drastically. (Jack Nicklaus has won the Masters six times and rumor has it that three green jackets have his name on them.)

Kind of Kelly green
        The jacket's hue closely resembles Kelly green, but has been dubbed “Masters green.” It was selected to match the rye grass that Augusta National uses on its fairways.

        A Masters jacket takes about a month to cut, assemble and sew. It's made of 21/2 yards of light tropical weight wool from J.P. Stevens. The custom-crafted brass buttons inscribed with the club's insignia are from the Waterbury Co. and the emblem, which also has the insignia, is by A&B Emblem Co. according to framed Golf Illustrated articles that line the paneled walls of Mr. Heimann's office.

        Mr. Heimann declined to reveal how much it costs to make a Masters jacket.

        “That's something you can't really put a price tag on anyway,” he says. “It's not about how cheaply or expensively it's made, but what it stands for to the person wearing it.”


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