Watch the closing ceremony of the RBC Heritage golf tournament this year.
Not to find out who won. Not to listen to the winner’s speech. Not even to see the shiny trophy.
Watch it for the jacket.
“If you look really closely, it doesn’t fit him perfectly,” said Heritage Classic Foundation spokeswoman Angela McSwain.
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For the few hours when all eyes are on the winner, he wears the iconic red tartan plaid jacket. But it’s not his to keep.
After the tournament ends, a coat is made specifically for the winner.
The jacket temporarily bestowed upon him by a representative of Boeing, the tournament’s presenting sponsor, is one of usually three or four backups — what Heritage officials call “locker stock” — that hang on plastic hangers in a locked storage closet at Heritage Classic Foundation headquarters in the Sea Pines Shopping Center.
A year passes, and another tournament begins.
Foundation officials move the jackets to the tournament office trailer in the Harbour Town Golf Links parking lot during competition week. The jacket rack remains untouched until the 18th hole when a staffer, depending on which golfer is leading, plucks one or two coats off the hanger and has it ready for closing ceremonies.
The “locker stock” is never discontinued, meaning champions of the same coat size share not just the distinction of being a Heritage tournament winner, but also, for a few brief moments, the very same plaid jacket.
How do I get one?
It’s the most common question Heritage Classic Foundation president Steve Wilmot said he fields about the plaid jackets he and other board members wear at Heritage-related events.
“You got to win it,” he tells them.
The most frequent followup question Wilmot receives — Can I get a picture with you wearing it? — is one that he happily obliges.
Winning the Heritage is the most widely known way to acquire the jacket, though it isn’t the only path to plaid.
Between last year’s tournament and this one, at least 18 jackets were cut, said Dennis Jaworski, president of Palmettoes, a clothing and accessories shop in the Sea Pines Shopping Center, which oversees construction of the coats.
No one has won more Heritage jackets than Davis Love III, who won his first in 1987 and his fifth in 2003.
So who else gets the coveted plaid jackets?
Amateur golfers who pay to compete in the pro-am event, held earlier on during tournament week, can earn a tartan jacket if they have competed in the event for 20 or more years. As of 2017, 10 amateurs have received such distinction, McSwain said.
Having certain business connections to the tournament could also help you secure a Heritage jacket. All new board members of the Heritage Classic Foundation receive a jacket. So do sponsor representatives, McSwain said.
There’s also a political path to a plaid jacket.
Become governor of South Carolina or mayor of the town of Hilton Head Island, and you’ll receive a jacket.
At the Statehouse in Columbia a couple of weekends ago, Wilmot presented a Heritage coat to Gov. Henry McMaster, who took over gubernatorial duties in late January for Nikki Haley after her appointment as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Some state senators, Wilmot noted, inquired about the jacket after the presentation.
“Here, people know the jacket and what the tartan stands for,” he said. “Around the state, it’s not as recognized.”
(But now) it’s starting to get truly recognized like the green at Augusta,” Wilmot continued, referring to the jacket that winners of the annual Masters golf tournament receive.
Simon Fraser, nephew of Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser, was a high school junior in 1969, the first year of the Heritage.
He remembers the first Heritage jacket was a yellow gold, not canary yellow, as some news outlets have reported.
Although Fraser couldn’t recall specifics of how the yellow color was chosen, he said it lasted only a couple of years.
Mary Fraser, Charles’ wife, decided to make the coat more festive, he continued. She thought the red plaid pattern would be fun and tie into the sport’s Scottish heritage.
Besides, he added, “The yellow gold jackets were not very attractive.”
Led by Mary Fraser, the early organizers asked Kinloch Anderson to design the tartan plaid.
The Scottish company’s slogan, according to its website, is “Tartan Mania!” Based in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, the business sells kilts, ties, jackets, trousers, capes, scarves, stoles, skirts, blouses and accessories. The company also sells fabric by the meter or in ribbon form.
But don’t bother requesting any item of clothing to be made in Heritage plaid.
The Council of the Scottish Tartan Society accredited the plaid on January 1, 1970, and Fraser said it was a year or two later that the plaid jackets debuted at the tournament. This means the Heritage fabric is — and never was — available to the general public.
Originally called “Hilton Champion,” the name of the fabric was changed to “Heritage Plaid” on September 5, 2000.
Kinloch Anderson sells tartan plaid in in fabric options that include velvet, tweed, wool and silk. The Heritage jackets are wool, but it’s not a heavy coat by any means.
Constructing the coat
Shipped from Scotland, the 54-inch wide fabric bolts are housed in Steve Wilmot’s office on 71 Lighthouse Road.
To get the fabric from his office, however, requires a key that can only be used when a new coat needs to be cut.
“It’s a storage closet, but we call it the vault,” Jaworski said. “That is a protected piece of fabric.”
It’s also an expensive piece of fabric: A bolt of Heritage plaid costs about $2,800.
Each coat requires four to 4 1/2 yards of fabric, depending on the size. Roughly 15 jackets can be cut from a bolt of fabric, he said.
Laying out the fabric and cutting out the pattern pieces take about an hour. Each size has a different pattern. Patterns for women are shorter in length and have a trimmer cut.
The pattern cutting is a job only Jaworski does.
“I’m the only one that touches the fabric here,” he said.
The thread count for Heritage plaid is: red (88), blue (6), black (12), light tan (4), black (4), light tan (4), black (20), red (10), black (4), red (6), white (4).
A spokesperson for the winner of the Heritage tournament typically supplies Jaworski with the golfer’s measurements. Others who receive the coat, such as the mayor or a new Heritage Classic Foundation board member, stop by the store to have measurements taken.
Jaworski sends the cut pattern pieces via U.S. mail or UPS to the Sewell Company in Bremen, Ga. There, a worker in the sample tailor shop machine sews the coat and lining, which Jaworski described as an “olive drab” color. A center vent is cut on the backside. Two buttons, always tortoise and supplied by Sewell, are sewn by hand, along with other finishing details.
The entire sewing process, a tedious task that requires precision in matching up plaid lines on the different coat segments, takes about 12 hours.
Palmettoes pays a set price, $400, per coat for the labor and trims. Alterations, if needed, are done by hand in Palmettoes.
Jaworski’s involvement in supplying the suit jackets goes back two decades.
Since Palmettoes opened in 2007, the store has overseen the sewing stages. Before that, Jaworski owned another shop in Sea Pines, Acorn, which handled the coat construction from 1997 until the store’s closing in 2007.
“We supply the fabric,” said Jaworski. “We make $0 on it. We do this as a pet project. The event generates a lot of business for us.”
Turn on the Golf Channel a month after the Heritage and you will see the winner of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational presented with an almost-identical red tartan jacket.
Played every May in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Colonial Country Club, the professional golf tournament on the PGA Tour has a plaid history that runs deeper than Harbour Town’s Heritage tournament.
Except for a few years in the late 1960s when winners received a navy jacket, the Royal Stewart has been a fixture of the Colonial tournament since 1952, said Dean & DeLuca tournament manager Dennis Roberson.
Like the Heritage plaid, the fabric is wool and imported from Scotland.
But the design isn’t Heritage plaid, Roberson said.
Nor is it custom designed, he added.
The pattern, Royal Stewart tartan, is often made into scarves and other festive accessories around the Christmas season.
The Royal Stewart tartan served as the basis of the Heritage plaid design, said McSwain, the Heritage spokeswoman. The difference, however, is the Heritage plaid has one less yellow bar compared to the Royal Stewart design.
The PGA of America, which bills itself as the world’s “largest working sports organization, comprised of more than 28,000 dedicated men and women promoting the game of golf,” also had a historical connection to plaid.
From 1977 through 1990, the Florida-based organization offered red tartan plaid jackets to its Executive Committee volunteers, said Bob Denney, the organization’s historian.
Denney couldn’t confirm whether the red plaid was Royal Stewart tartan. He said there was no reason the plaid was discontinued, noting that tournament officers now wear a navy blazer with a PGA seal on the left pocket.
As styles change over the years, will the Heritage plaid suffer a similar fate?
That’s not planned for the 50th anniversary of the Heritage tournament next year. It hasn’t even been discussed among board members, said Wilmot, the Heritage Classic Foundation president.
“The whole theme — get your plaid on, plaid nation — that’s what we’re about,” he said.