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Len Ziehm On Golf

Here’s some tips for your visit to the John Deere Classic

It’s almost here now, the only annual Illinois stop on the PGA Tour.

Yes, the John Deere Classic is something special. Those visiting the spiffy TPC Deere Run course in Silvis, on the outskirts of the Quad Cities, will realize that in a hurry if they’re first-time visitors to this July 8-14 shootout.

The JDC is one of the few medium-size markets left on the PGA Tour. Milwaukee and Detroit lost their longstanding tournaments in recent years, but that won’t happen to the JDC as long as John Deere is around to sponsor the biggest sports event near its home base, roughly a two-hour drive from the Chicago city limits.

John Deere wasn’t always the sponsor. The tourney started as the Quad Cities Open in 1972 when Deane Beman – later the commissioner of the PGA Tour – won the title by beating Tom Watson. The tourney was held at Crow Valley, a private club in Bettendorf, Ia., the first three years.

In 1975 the event moved to another private facility, Oakwood in Coal Valley, IL., and remained at the short (6,602 yards) facility until 1999. Then one of the tourney’s former champions, D.A. Weibring (1991, 1995), completed design work on TPC Deere Run. The course has immediately been a favorite of PGA Tour players.

Sponsors came and went until John Deere took over in 1999 in a match made in sponsor heaven. Not only is the well-established Deere & Company a fixture in nearby Moline, it’s also the PGA Tour’s official equipment supplier, landscape products supplier, course equipment leasing company and official irrigation supplier. Its roots in professional golf run deep.

Over the years the tourney has grown with the times. It delivers a $20 million economic impact to the Quad Cities annually and fulfilled its main goal: helping local charities.

Last year the JDC donated $6.79 million to 493 charities. That put the JDC in the top 10 on the PGA Tour in overall charity dollar donations and it ranked No. 1 on the circuit in per capita fundraising. The PGA Tour recognized that accomplishment in declaring the Quad Cities its Most Engaged Community of 2012.

In recent years the tourney has been blessed with extraordinarily good story lines, a big help for tournament director Clair Peterson in promoting the event beyond the Quad Cities area.

The popular Steve Stricker won the tournament three years in a row, from 2009 through 2011. Last year his bid for an extremely rare four-peat was followed world-wide. Though Stricker was the main attraction, the tourney also was the scene for a PGA record round of 59 by Paul Goydos during the Stricker reign and the last two championships were climaxed by spectacular finishes.

Stricker achieved his three-peat by getting up-and-down from a fairway bunker in 2011 to edge Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson, every bit as popular a winner as Stricker was, put a 6-iron from that same bunker (193 yards away) to within a foot of the cup to win a sudden death playoff with Troy Matteson last year.

This year Johnson, a long-time JDC board member who grew up in Cedar Rapids, IA., will try to become the fourth player to win the tournament in consecutive years.

Peterson can’t expect similarly spectacular finishes this year. That would be asking a lot, but don’t bet against it. The atmosphere at the JDC is always pleasant, no matter who wins. Here’s some tips to make your visit even more enjoyable:

BE PREPARED to walk at least a little bit. The views of the course from spots near the Rock River (my favorite is from the No. 4 green) are spectacular. Plus, there are plenty of players worth watching. Johnson and Stricker are the main ones, with Stricker making one of his few appearances of 2012 after deciding to cut back on his schedule.

There are some other guys who won tournaments this year – Boo Weekley (Colonial), Kevin Streelman (Tampa Bay), D.A. Points (Houston), Derek Ernst (Wells Fargo) and Sang-Moon Moon Bae (Byron Nelson). Some other recent past JDC champions – Sean O’Hair, John Senden and Jonathan Byrd – will also be competing, and if you want to see a star of the future check out Steven Ihm. He’s a junior at the University of Iowa and the first Hawkeyes’ collegian in the 43-year history of the tournament to receive a sponsor’s exemption.

EVENTUALLY finding a seat will be necessary. Obviously one behind the No. 18 green is ideal, but there are other good ones. If you can wangle admission to a hospitality tent the best viewing is behind the green at No. 16 – the par-3 along the Rock River.

On the front nine there’s good viewing behind the green at No. 4 and along the fairway at No. 9 – a par-4 that figures to be the toughest hole on the course. I also enjoy a spot near the green at the short par-4 14th on the back side. This hole is reachable off the tee for the PGA stars and the elevation changes around the green make for interesting viewing.

YOU’LL probably get hungry, too. The tournament became legendary for its pork chop sandwiches long before it settled at TPC Deere Run. Fortunately tournament organizers recognized that, and the pork chop sandwiches are still on sale around the 16th green, 17th tee and 18th green. They’re not to be missed.

Also, new this year is the Greenside Club, an air-conditioned sports bar beside the 18th green. You might want to check it out, too.

WANT A BARGAIN? Go to TPC Deere Run on Monday or Tuesday. Admission is free on those days. Tuesday is also ideal for youngsters, as Chick-fil-A Youth Day Activities will be going on all day and the Dan Boever Youth Golf Show will be staged on the driving range at 2 p.m.

Seniors (60 or older) get in for $18 on Thursday – the first round of the tournament. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a paid adult and those 13-18 can get in for half price at the gate.

Ticket prices aren’t bad anyway — $24 for any one day admission Wednesday through Sunday and $34 for one day clubhouse admission. Other ticket options are available through the tournament office.

PARKING? There’s a fee, but not a big one. General parking is $5 and you get a free shuttle to the main gate. VIP parking is $10, with the free shuttle taking you to the clubhouse.

Those money amounts aren’t hefty, but the players will be playing for big bucks. Their purse is $4.6 million with the champion getting $828,000.