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Brent Kelley

Augusta Sues to Stop Auction of Champion's Green Jacket

By March 6, 2013

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How would you like to own one of the Green Jackets presented to the winner of a Masters Tournament? You can, if you place the winning bid for 1959 Masters champion Art Wall's Green Jacket (Wall himself died in 2001).

Or at least, you could have, had Augusta National Golf Club not filed for an injunction to halt the auction, and had a U.S. district court judge in Texas not granted a temporary restraining order this week stopping the auction. Judge Emily Tobolowsky ordered a trial to determine ownership of Wall's Green Jacket.

Does Augusta National own the Green Jackets it has made for the winners of its Masters Tournament? Augusta National says yes. Heritage Auctions of Dallas says no, and so does Florida doctor Stephen Pyles, who purchased Wall's 1959 Green Jacket at an auction last year for $61,452.55.

Why didn't Augusta challenge that auction? Augusta National claims it had not yet discovered at that point that the jacket was missing. Augusta says that four Green Jackets were stolen from the premises. The other three were for Fuzzy Zoeller, Gay Brewer and George Archer, and those three were eventually recovered and returned to the club. Wall's was not, the club claims. Wall's jacket eventually found its way to an auction house, which is how Pyles acquired it.

Pyles and Heritage Auctions claim there is no proof that Wall's jacket was stolen, and that, anyway, Augusta National has no proof of ownership, and perhaps no right to even claim ownership.

Does Augusta National own the Green Jackets it presents to Masters winners? Here's how it works: There's a new Masters champion, and he slips into an already existing jacket taken from the Augusta lockerroom during the post-tournament ceremony. Afterward, the new champ is fitted for his own jacket, which is then custom made.

That new jacket is given to the reigning Masters champion. But the new champ only gets to keep it for one year. When he returns to defend his title at the next Masters, he brings the jacket back, and it remains from that point inside the Augusta National clubhouse. The champ has visitation rights - any time he is at The Masters or at Augusta National for another reason, he gets to slip into his Green Jacket. But the jacket remains at Augusta.

The club says that tradition makes it clear that the club, not the golfer, is the owner of the jacket. But until last year - when Bubba Watson got a letter from the club informing him he had to return the jacket - that's all it was: a tradition understood and adhered to by both the club and the Masters champions.

Well, almost always adhered to. There are a few Masters champions Green Jackets outside the walls of Augusta. Some past champions have admitted to taking theirs off-premises and never returning it. Gary Player has one in his possession, for example. Doug Ford's Green Jacket was sold at auction (without incident) in 2010. And other Green Jackets have turned up outside Augusta over the years, without any legal claims being staked by the club.

So, back to the question: Does Augusta National own the champions' Green Jackets? A judge in Texas is going to answer that question for everyone.

For more, see articles in USA Today or the Dallas Morning News.

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