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Masters memorabilia is not an antique business in Augusta, Ga.

A man stands in a store jammed with memorabilia from the Masters golf tournament
CJ Reading, a former restaurant chef known as “Crazy Johnny,” now sells Masters memorabilia at an antique shop down the street from Augusta National.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)
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The Masters is old hat.

Old hat, yellowed scorecard, weathered press badge, vintage program ... CJ Reading is looking for any of those. If they happen to be autographed by a famous golfer, all the better.

It’s a bustling business for Reading, selling Augusta National memorabilia out of Trends & Traditions Antique Mall just down Washington Boulevard from the world’s most exclusive golf course. The onetime chain restaurant chef, as with others in the area, now turns all things Masters into green.

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“People are just dying to go,” said Reading, who got the nickname “Crazy Johnny” in high school, hence CJ. “It’s like if you score a Rolling Stones ticket and you’re a music fan.”

You can’t always get what you want. Only a small percentage of people who enter the annual Masters ticket lottery actually win, so people such as Reading are there to soften the blow.

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Want a Masters shoe horn? That will cost $40. How about an $8 matchbook bearing the club logo? A paper cocktail napkin for $5? One man’s tchotchkes are another man’s cha-ching.

Consider, for instance, the Pasta Sauce Palmer.

Reading was once a cook at Carrabba’s Italian Grill across the street when Arnold Palmer came in for lunch. The four-time Masters winner gave each of the three cooks a $100 tip then happily signed an Augusta scorecard at Reading’s request.

Reading tucked the card into the shirt pocket of his chef’s coat. Only later did he discover his autographed memento looked like evidence from a crime scene.

“That’s Carrabba’s pasta sauce,” he said, pulling the crimson-spattered card, priced at $150, from a plastic sleeve. “But the autograph is still good and it’s a good collectable piece.”

For high rollers, there’s the rare and shaky signature of Bobby Jones, who helped design Augusta National and co-founded the Masters. That’s on a slip of paper and in a display that also includes a black-and-white photograph of the legendary golfer.

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Reading found that autograph in a free box of letters, cards, bills and other paper scraps at an estate sale. He had the Jones signature examined and certified.

“This is called the post-stroke autograph,” he said. “Before he had a stroke, he’d sign different ways. But when he had to learn to write again, he signed this way. I’m asking $3,500 for it. That’s a pretty fair price.”

He has a green jacket on display, but it’s not a real one that belonged to an Augusta National member or a Masters winner. It’s just an eye-catching display, a green sport coat with a club patch on the breast.

He has lots of souvenir flags and garden gnomes — those are hugely popular — along with badges and buttons from a wide range of years. Anything from 1997, when Tiger Woods collected his first of five Masters victories, comes at a premium.

Jack McKinnon, a retired firefighter from Boston, found the ideal gift for his Masters-loving teenage son: a $25 ball featuring the distinctive club logo — a rendering of the United States with a hole and golf pin where Augusta should be.

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“It’s a piece of history,” he said. “The Masters is revered. If you held up a green jacket to the average sports fan, they’d probably know what it is. If you held up the U.S. Open trophy, they probably wouldn’t know.”

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Most of the items Reading finds come from estate sales in the area.

“If there’s something I really need or I can sell or collect it, I’ll get there at 2 a.m. and sit on the front porch,” he said. “People will come by and see my van and say, ‘Aw, man, he’s here,’ and drive off.

“It’s first come, first served. Somebody can walk in the door and say, ‘Hey, I’m buying everything.’ Then they’ll shut it down. I’ve bought whole rooms before. There have been 35-year caddies who have passed away, and I’ve been to their estate sales and racked up a lot of stuff. They’ve got stuff I didn’t even know existed — 24-karat gold putters that were trophies, crystal glasses we’ve never seen before, records.”

He found a rare coffee table book that way, one signed by club co-founder Clifford Roberts.

An edition unlike any other.

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