The Masters Tournament is still a month away, but the green jackets that grace the winners' shoulders are already in the news, thanks to a lawsuit over a proposed auction of a former champion's jacket.
On one side is tournament host Augusta National Golf Club, which says the jacket, won by Art Wall Jr. in 1959, was stolen; on the other is Florida doctor Stephen Pyles and Heritage Auctions of Texas, who insist the jacket was obtained legally and can thus be sold to the highest bidder.
The sale was put on hold Monday, after Judge Emily Tobolowsky ruled that the ownership of the jacket should be settled before it goes up for auction.
Speaking in a Dallas district court Monday, Augusta National official Jim James said the jacket is one of several that were stolen from the facility. And he added that the Masters green jacket is an icon that must be protected.
"The green jacket to Augusta is the Statue of Liberty to New York or the Mona Lisa to the Louvre," James said, as reported by The Dallas Morning News.
Here's how the paper's Haley Thayer reported on the testimony:
"James said that in June, he discovered four green jackets had gone missing from Augusta — those belonging to Fuzzy Zoeller, Gay Brewer, George Archer and Wall. He said the jackets were taken from the premises by employees, who then sold the jackets to an auctioneer in Florida. All but one were returned to Augusta — Wall's, which Pyles said he bought at auction last April for $61,452.55."
Augusta National says it has always maintained ownership over the jackets it gives to Masters winner, via verbal agreements. But Pyle and the auction house counter that only last year did Augusta put its requirements in writing. And they note that the green jackets have been sold before.
As Steve Hummer writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"Even a member's jacket belonging to the sainted Bobby Jones, a founder of the Masters feast, was sold at auction in 2011 for $311,000. The green jacket was Jones' design, initially just for Augusta National members. In a gesture meant to confer honorary membership upon the Masters winner, Sam Snead was given the first champions green jacket in 1949."
That would be 10 years before Wall won his jacket. The garment is being held by the auction house until the story of its ownership can be unraveled.