The Green Jacket Club is an invitation-only group comprised of 40 highly successful businessmen who gather once a year at one of the most beautiful shotgun sports destinations in America: The Homestead. Members include acclaimed surgeons, entrepreneurs, attorneys, NRA executives, sons of the South, titans of Wall Street, board chairmen and self-made millionaires who use clays shooting as a setting to catch up and rib each other relentlessly about their shotgunning prowess.
Laughter is a high priority at the Green Jacket shoots. Whether the participants are retired or still thriving in their high-pressure careers, possessing a rapier wit seems a prerequisite to receiving that coveted invitation. Equally, one of the most valued criteria to membership is whether or not a candidate is “a nice guy.” If both sound mutually exclusive, it’s the art of integrating those qualities that distinguish the character of a Green Jacket member.
“Every member has to like you,” explained Green Jack member, Hank Guarriello, as we hung out after the buffet lunch on the expansive porch of The Homestead Shooting Club lodge. “If there’s one dissenter, you don’t get in.”
The membership policy must work, because I can’t recall the last time I had such a hoot hanging out with fellow shotgun enthusiasts. Everyone was there to win the competitions, but even more importantly they gathered to really enjoy each other’s company and have fun.
While some of the Green Jacket members are unequivocal hard-core businessmen, as club Chairman Carl Behrens told me, “All that gets left at home.” Professional networking is discouraged. Political rants are checked at the door, although partisan wisecracks proved inevitable.
Rather, the Green Jacket weekend is a celebration of fellowship, sportsmanship and mutual respect – virtues that seem increasingly endangered in the global spew of headline sensationalism, cell-phone journalism and digital narcissism.
I had first heard of the Green Jacket Club in 2009, during a visit to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. Guests holiday at this historic destination to play golf, tennis, fish, hike, take in the spas, ride horses, enjoy the food or just relax in the sumptuous tradition of Southern hospitality. But I went there to shoot its spectacular sporting clays courses managed by the legendary David Judah, the Shooting Club Manager.
Mr. Judah’s 20-year tenure at The Homestead has elevated it to the benchmark of resort shooting facilities. The Shooting Club includes two sporting clays courses, four skeet fields, trap and five-stand, along with a .22 rifle range.
In addition, as an NSCA Level III instructor, Mr. Judah has served as an inspiration to countless people who started their shooting careers with him and achieved greater success under his tutelage. He became an honorary Green Jacket in recognition of his contributions to the club.
Mr. Judah is also a dazzling target setter, and that’s one of the reasons The Homestead’s sporting clays is not to be missed – especially during autumn. As luck would have it, my invitation to be a guest at the Green Jack Club shoot during a peak foliage weekend in mid-October came about by fortunate happenstance.
A few weeks prior, I had been at the Beretta Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side. The occasion was the announcement of two new resorts added to the Beretta Trident Program – Cabin Bluff and Dover Furnace. The New York Beretta Gallery is a three-story townhouse on Madison Avenue. Wine, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres enhanced the festivities. As the evening wound down, I found myself on the top-floor gun room admiring the collection.
A gentleman in a well-tailored suit with an alluring tan and silver hair wandered nearby. I asked him if he owned a Beretta, and he told me that he shot a Beretta shotgun given to him by General Norman Schwarzkopf – also known as “Stormin’ Norman” – the retired United States Army General who served as Commander of U.S. Central Command and commander of the Coalition Forces in the Persian Gulf War. I cracked a joke and a conversation ensued.
Turned out the gentlemen’s name was Andy Sherwood, chairman and founder of Goodrich Capital in New York. As chance would have it, he was also a co-founder of the Green Jacket Club. I guess I came across as a “nice guy” because he invited me as his guest to the upcoming Green Jacket get-together that was only five days away. Recognizing a rare opportunity, I gladly accepted.
I was to find out that the relationship between the Green Jacket founders and General Schwarzkopf started in 1990, when he retired from the Armed Forces. A media celebrity, General Schwarzkopf entered civilian life as a high-profile hero with surprisingly few connections in the business community. His first order of business was to plan a fundraiser for an organization dear to his heart called The Miami Project.
Based in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, The Miami Project’s mission is to cure paralysis – a tragedy the General experienced first-hand from his combat troops. At an Orvis reception for General Schwarzkopf’s retirement in Tinmouth, Vermont, The Miami Project fundraiser team started to take shape. The nucleus included General Schwarzkopf, Mr. Sherwood, Bill Kearns, Jr. and William E. Simon.
Mr. Kearns was a Wall Street powerhouse. Mr. Simon, also a prominent figure in the financial community and a leading philanthropist, served as Secretary of Treasury under President Nixon. Mr. Simon and Mr. Kearns were close friends. Together, the four men decided on something different: a fundraising event involving clay targets. It took place at Orvis in Vermont.
In due course, some of the men’s friends and associates who attended that fundraiser constituted the charter members of The Green Jacket Club. The idea for the club sprung from a conversation between Mr. Kearns and Mr. Simon who were sitting around one evening talking about their love of clays shooting. Mr. Simon raised the suggestion of an invitation-only group modeled after the Masters, the preeminent golf fraternity whose members are distinguished by their green blazers.
The motto of the new group was straightforward: “Enjoy the smell of gunsmoke, a walk in the woods, and cigars and brandy at the end of the day with good friends.”
The following year, founders of the Green Jacket Club negotiated with The Homestead to move their annual meeting there – a tradition that has endured for the past two decades. The Green Jacket Club rents the entire facility for a weekend in October.
In August 2004, The Homestead completed a new Shooting Club lodge that included a loft dedicated to the Green Jacket Club. It’s distinguished by an expansive green rug with the club’s logo. The space is furnished with comfortable chairs and club memorabilia.
The last Miami Project fundraiser by the Green Jacket Club took place in 1997. Since then, the organization has been primarily a social group. After Mr. Simon’s death in 2000, the Green Jacket Club launched The Simon Cup competition – a 50-bird shoot on the Friday of the weekend. It precedes the 100-bird, Virginia Cup shoot on Saturday of completely different targets during morning and afternoon sessions. A formal dinner follows the Virginia Cup where members don their eponymous green jackets for a raucous awards ceremony and congratulatory inductions.
The Green Jacket Club is limited to 40 active members. The process involves showing up as a guest for two to three years, at which point you enter the queue for another four to five years. Key is active participation and the ability to be “a nice guy.” That said, however, women are welcome as guests. The weekends are an opportunity for the Green Jacket Club to expand its roster by allowing each member to invite a maximum of two guests. And that’s where the sporting clays competitions became interesting.
There were two types of competitions over the weekend. Individual contests took place on the skeet and wobble courses, with a long-bird shoot wrapping up Saturday’s Virginia Club shoot.
In regards to sporting clays, scores are a compilation of a five-person team. A committee tries to balance out experience levels during squad assignments. So a squad can include three good shooters and two lesser shooters. Out on the course, the camaraderie is impressive. I didn’t see a single inexperienced shooter take heat for their performance from fellow squad members.
Although Mr. Judah is a Green Jacket, he cuts no slack when it comes to target presentations. The stations take full advantage of the undulating, wooded terrain. Targets go flying into ravines or hillsides from elevated platforms. Some trap machines will throw birds from underneath, others from overhead. Long, fast quartering birds racing through trees toward the far end of a ravine are de rigueur. Then throw in the orange foliage. For some shooters, all you can do is laugh. And that’s what we did all weekend.