If you win the Masters, do you actually own the green jacket you get for your victory?
The men who run Augusta National Golf Club say no. They've gone to court to try to block the sale of one of those jackets, and the case will be heard in a district court in Dallas on Monday.
The short version of the story is this: In February, golf memorabilia collector Stephen Pyles of Tampa, Fla., tried to sell the champion's jacket won by the late Art Wall Jr. in 1959 for as much as $90,000. The sale, handled by Heritage Auctions of Dallas, was stopped when Augusta National asserted that it owns all the jackets, and the one Pyles has is considered stolen.
Ultimately, Steve Hummer wrote in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the case tests one of the enduring romantic notions of the Masters: that the green jacket is an inviolate symbol of achievement; the sole property of those who belong to a most exclusive club; a garment found only within the cloister of Augusta National.
The Masters winner is allowed to take his jacket off the grounds for a period of one year after his victory, according to documents Augusta National Inc. (ANI) filed in court. ''Thereafter, it must be stored on ANI premises for use only on the grounds and during the annual tournament. Thus, a champion's Green Jacket is owned by ANI, with a champion having possessory rights when on the premises of ANI.''
But possession is 9/10ths of the law, Pyles contends.
''I have owned six, maybe seven, green jackets,'' he said. ''I can go on the Internet right now and buy you a member's green jacket.'' And, he added, he bought Wall's jacket just last year for $62,000 in an online auction.
Augusta National claims that Wall's jacket was accounted for as recently as 2010 when the club took an in-house inventory, but that it was among four champions' jackets stolen after that by former employees. The other three have since been recovered.
However, Pyles argues, there was no police report to back up the claim of the theft, and that many jackets won by players from Doug Ford to Gary Player to Seve Ballesteros can be found far outside the gates at the Augusta National. Even a member's jacket belonging to Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones was sold at auction in 2011 for $311,000.
''There are plenty of green jackets that are out there, both members' and champions' jackets,'' said golf memorabilia expert Ryan Carey, a co-owner of GreenJacketAuctions.com, which sells a variety of Masters items. ''I’m not sure if Augusta National really realizes that, but I guess for the first time it is going to try to assert that it is the rightful owner of them.”