The origin of the famous "thrift store green jacket" now amounts to a $185,000 mystery.
The same green jacket worn by Masters champions and the members of the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club has certainly appreciated in value — when its story began in 1994, it had been hanging among the blazers at a Toronto Goodwill.
Its price tag then? Five dollars.
Jacket for a champion?
A Toronto sports journalist who knew its value handed over a blue bill and held on to the blazer for years before selling to a colleague, according to Ryan Carey, whose auction house sold the jacket Saturday for $139,000 US.
It's still unclear how the jacket ended up in a Toronto thrift store, a mystery that Carey said fuelled bids. Only one Canadian has ever won the PGA Masters tournament, Mike Weir, in 2003, and it's unclear if there are any others north of the border who belong to the exclusive club.
The tag on the jacket is akin to those in the early 1950s, Carey said. His Denville, N.J., firm, Green Jacket Auctions, has seen members' jackets from that era go for up to $20,000.
"We knew that the story behind this one — I mean, it's got its own name, everyone calls it the thrift store green jacket — would add a premium, but we didn't know how much," he said.
The jacket may have its own name, but the original owner remains unknown.
Missing name tag
Although the Augusta National Golf Club confirmed the green jacket's authenticity in 1994, there's no clue as to whom it once belonged, Carey said.
The jacket's name tag had been cut out when it was found at the Goodwill 23 years ago.
"That's the intrigue about this jacket," Carey said. "We understand that it was at a thrift store and we understand that we don't know how it got there, but why does it also have the name removed?"
"Those things don't seem to go hand-in-hand — because if someone didn't know what it was, or it was discarded, you wouldn't think they would take the time to cut the name out."
While Carey said the odds favour the jacket belonging to a member, there are a few Masters champions who are missing theirs. And there are others who had several jackets made throughout their lifetime as the pros changed in size, he said.
Now, only the current Masters champion can wear a green jacket in public. The Augusta National members and previous winners are forbidden from taking their jackets off the club's grounds.
Those rules evolved over time, Carey said, and in the '50s and '60s people would take their club uniforms home. That's why jackets of that era are the ones most likely to turn up at auction. Even those, however, are relatively rare: Carey said his auction house has moved about a dozen jackets in the last nine years.
"In the early days, they were not safeguarded like they are now," he said. "The whole mythology of it really has only been created in the last 30 to 40 years."
Tracking through a tailor
Members first began wearing the jackets in 1937, and Sam Snead won the right to the first Masters jacket 12 years later. (The club retroactively provided jackets to previous winners.)
All of the jackets of that era were tailor-made in Augusta at Cullum's men's shop, so Carey acknowledged that it's possible there could be a ledger, somewhere, that contains the exact measurement of the thrift store green jacket by which someone could identify its owner.
"I guess it's possible," he said. "I remember hearing about this back in the 1990s and it was so fantastic, this story that I didn't know if it was myth or it was real.
"It really is a mystery to me."