Originally created 04/07/01

Hats top off tournament attire

Some hats are for fashion's sake - complete with animal prints, floppy bows or lace trim.

Others are more for function - to shield the sun, protect the head or keep the wearer cool.

But Rick Van Frank wears his straw weave hat solely for bragging rights. With more than three decades worth of consecutive Masters Tournament badges fastened to his floppy chapeau, he's often the center of attention walking the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club course.

The hat belonged to his father, who has since passed away. But for the past three years, he's continued the tradition.

"I'm taking up for my father," Van Frank said. "There's two layers on here, but it's 33 years at the Masters."

The downside is that the hat droops when it rains. But wet weather doesn't deter him from wearing his unique headgear: He keeps a clear shower cap in the pocket of his jacket, and when inclement weather approaches, he simply slips the plastic wrap on top of the badges.

Although few hats are as interesting as Van Frank's, about one in every three spectators at the Augusta National wears one.

The most popular is the traditional baseball cap with the Masters logo, which is available in a new color this year at Augusta National's pro shop.

In addition to the eight standards - red, khaki, white, yellow, navy, royal blue, stone and green - pro shop employees say the hat now is available in a deeper yellow color, called mustard.

Historically, some of the most noticeable yellow hats on the course have been the hard hats worn by gallery guards. Some guards complain that the hats, which are worn for safety's sake in the event of a loose ball, are hot and itchy and hard to keep on the head.

Al Voelkel, an 85-year-old volunteer from Columbus, Ohio, said he disagrees.

"I like it - it's comfortable," he said.

But the discount popcorn store owner is quick to add that he much prefers his trademark cherry-red driving cap to the Augusta National's yellow plastic one. As soon as his day is over at the course, he reaches into a blue nylon bag and pulls out the wool Payne Stewart-style cap to top his head.

"So when I go anywhere, people know it's me," Voelkel said.

Visors are another increasingly popular choice, allowing the sun through to lighten up hair while still protecting sensitive facial skin.

Susan Murphy of Birmingham, Ala., said she selected her cheetah-print sun visor because, "It's an animal print, and I'm a golfer."

James Blackmon of Warrenton, Ga., prefers his Pinehurst label fishing hat because he can roll it up and put it in his pocket when it's not on his head. Blackman has bought 15 different Masters hats for each year he's attended the tournament, but he hasn't yet selected the hat to buy this year.

"It's like a lady buying a dress," he said. "Only, with a hat, it has to fit the personality of the old dude wearing it."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.


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