A Tradition Like No Other: The Story Behind the Augusta GreenJackets

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Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia has hosted The Masters since 1934. It’s the only of golf’s four major championships to be held at the same location every year, and it is home to arguably the most famous ugly piece of clothing in sports.

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In 1937, officials at Augusta asked their members to wear green jackets during the Masters so that guests would recognize who was a member and who was not. Twelve years later in 1949, when Sam Snead won the famous tournament, he was the first Masters champion to be awarded a green jacket as a de facto trophy, a tradition that has continued ever since.

h6jkakj2eeic12gkcdgyemik8More than four decades later, Augusta’s single-A baseball team adopted the name GreenJackets as an homage to their town’s sports heritage. Their logo, a yellow jacket in a green jacket, is a simple play on words, and completes the unusual cross-pollination (as it were) between golf and baseball.

“Obviously, it’s touching on the history of golf in this area and what it is renowned for, and then obviously with a touch of minor league flair,” said Tom Denlinger, the Augusta GreenJackets’ general manager. “It’s a moniker. Just like any of the names across the country. It does tie in with that history and the pageantry of the Masters, but puts our little own spin on it.”

With the 2015 Masters golf championship taking place this weekend and minor league baseball getting under way just days ago, GreenJackets are revving up all over Augusta.

“The Super Bowl of golf, to coin that phrase, happens here,” Denlinger said. “If you think of the Augusta area, everyone thinks of the Masters. I think that’s probably nationally and maybe even globally so.”

Photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan, Augusta Chronicle
Photo by Jon-Michael Sullivan, Augusta Chronicle

While Augusta might be known for golf, the history of baseball in the city dates back to 1885, when it played host to the Augusta Browns. Since then, teams called the Electricians, Tourists, Dollies, Georgians, Tygers, Tigers, Wolves, Rams, Yankees, and Pirates have called Augusta home. The Georgia Peach himself, Ty Cobb, played his first professional season as an Augusta Tourist in 1904.

“Baseball in Augusta, there’s over a 100-year history,” Denlinger said. “The Yankees used to way back when have their Spring Training here before it moved down to Florida. There’s a wealth of baseball history in this area.”

The GreenJackets and Augusta National do not have a formal relationship (though the golf club does hold season tickets for the baseball team). “They’re a sports entity here in town. We’re a sports entity in town,” Denlinger said. “We’re fortunate to be able to kind of resemble the name of the Augusta National, but at the same time we have to stay clear of them a little bit because they’re their own entity.”

“It’s our job to create our own identity,” Denlinger continued. “We do that through 70 home games offered through a three-hour experience that we like to think is unlike any other, similar to when you go to the Masters, but there you’re only there for a week.”

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o6f114h4e1l21a08hy0snr087The cartoon, bee-themed logo creates a substantial amount of distance between the fancy golf tournament and the baseball team. The GreenJackets’ first logo, which was used from 1994 to 2005, featured a yellow jacket with oddly feminine legs and pink wings wearing a green jacket. In 2006, a major rebrand initiated by the team’s new owners at the time, the Ripken Baseball Group, introduced actual golf clubs into the team’s visual identity, making it unique in minor league baseball.

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The GreenJackets’ yellow jacket mascot was also introduced in 2006. “Auggie is the face of our franchise,” Denlinger said. “Those are his golfing clothes. He wears plaid pants and a green jersey.”

Obviously, the major difference between minor league baseball and golf is that the former goes out of its way not to take itself too seriously, whereas in golf, let’s just say that’s less the case. Even though they are paying homage to a major golf tournament, the GreenJackets, with their punny name and plaid-wearing mascot, are no different. “It’s a minor league moniker, so we’re trying to create something fun.”

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Speaking of fun, the team plays up its connection to golf with a wink and a nod to another of the sport’s iconic traditions. “We started a Caddyshack race last year with our own Caddyshack figures,” Denlinger said. “It’s similar to the president’s race in DC or the sausage race with the Milwaukee Brewers, something of that concept. But we wanted to kind of tie in, to bring in some of the golf levity, if you will, to the ballpark.”

The GreenJackets, a South Atlantic League affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have been around for more than 20 years and do not show signs of going anywhere anytime soon. If any rebranding does happen in the future, Denlinger said, it would most likely be in the form of additional alternate logos rather than a name change.

“The name is entrenched. It is one of those iconic names,” he said. “It’s catchy and unique, and that’s what minor league baseball is all about.”

Like most successful minor league teams, the GreenJackets have seized on something unique and interesting about the place where they play. Unlike most minor league teams, the GreenJackets reference a completely different sport in their visual identity. They succeed by making it their own, having fun with it, and not taking any of it too seriously.