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Len Ziehm On Golf

Here’s why the John Deere Classic is so successful in the Quad Cities

Just how good can things get for the John Deere Classic?

Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event will be played for the 47th time from July 10-16 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, IL., on the outskirts of the Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa.

That’s the smallest market on the PGA Tour but its tournament is the circuit’s best. Some may want to argue that, but the 2016 JDC was named the Tournament of the Year by the PGA Tour and the event also received first place awards for Most Engaged Community and Best Social Media Activation.

And that’s not all. The tournament received those accolades despite being pushed out of its usual July dates to avoid conflict with the Olympics golf competition in Brazil. The schedule conflict also hurt the tournament’s field, but that had little effect on the event’s success either.

Last year’s JDC, played in August, raised a record $10.54 million for charity and 491 participating charities benefitted from that. The tourney, known under various titles and played at different locations, has raised $81.3 million since its founding in 1971. Last year the tournament ranked first in per capital contributions at $28.10 for each of the 375,000 residents of the Quad City area.

The tourney’s volunteer base has grown nearly 30 percent over the last two years with 1,700 offering their services to the tune of 22,000 hours in 2016. And that doesn’t count the 750 boys and girls who participated in the tournament’s annual Youth Day on Tuesday of tournament week.

On the social media side the JDC’s Facebook page generated more than 150,000 “Likes’’ – more than any other event page on the PGA Tour—and the 38,000 combined followers on Twitter and Instagram was second on the circuit.

Most of the tourney’s great numbers came after locally based John Deere signed on as the title sponsor, and that event will be celebrated this year. John Deere will mark its 20th year with its name and financial backing on the tournament and the company has signed on through 2023.

Sam Allen, the chairman and chief executive office of John Deere & Company, earned an Evans Scholarship for his efforts as a caddie and played golf in college. His passion for the game are a big reason why John Deere and tournament golf are such a great fit but he insists that the event’s success isn’t just due to good sponsorship.

“You’ve got to recognize everybody that’s been involved with it,’’ said Allen, “and for the first so many years it was all about survival. It’s a great story from that perspective, that they were able to keep this tournament going without a title sponsor or the same title sponsor. That part of the journey was the hardest.’’

Now it’s not like that. Allen spent time on the tournament’s executive board when the partnership was evolving. John Deere was all in right from the start. The first contract signed 20 years ago was a nine-year agreement. A sponsorship agreement of that duration was unheard of at the time, but it was worth it to all concerned.

“We’ve emphasized that this is not the Quad City Open sponsored by John Deere,’’ said Allen. “It’s the John Deere Classic. The brand is first and foremost, and (the tournament) has got to end up shining the brand, not tarnishing the brand, and it has done that in spades.’’

This year the tournament is back on its familiar July dates, the week before the British Open, and it has an admirable defending champion. Ryan Moore used his victory in last year’s JDC to do even greater things. He was the last player named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team and he delivered the 15th and clinching point for the U.S. at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.

Moore has always played well at the JDC, which has called Deere Run home since 2000. Since 2012 he was tied eighth, tied 22nd, tied seventh and tied 24th prior to his win last year. This year he also played well in the first of the four major championships, finishing in a tie for ninth at the Masters.

This year Moore will bring his family – wife Nicole and two sons – to the Quad Cities in hopes of extending his run of 23 sub-par rounds at Deere Run. He shot 22-under last year with rounds of 65, 65, 65 and 67 and was bogey-free on the weekend.

“I want to go back and try to do the same thing this year,’’ he said. “(The tournament staff) has done a phenomenal job of making it a fun week, a family week, and really just a great event.’’

This year’s tournament will feature a record purse of $5.6 million with $1 million going to the champion.

Category: Features