SILVIS, IL. – What a difference a year makes.
The John Deere Classic had been announced as the first PGA Tour event in 2020 to welcome spectators after play was shut down by pandemic concerns on March 12. The JDC had July 6-12 dates for what was to be its 50th anniversary staging.
Unfortunately, the announcement was short-lived. After studying the facilities at TPC Deere Run and giving consideration to PGA Tour and local government policies in place, the tourney was canceled.
“While we considered several alternatives, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad Cities community at large,’’ said JDC tournament director Clair Peterson. “The only alternative was to have the event without fans, and no one felt that matched up with what people here wanted to happen.’’
The clubhouse, small by PGA Tour standards, made social distancing difficult. So did available parking. Not much was available on the club grounds. The cancelation was a downer, but it’s in the past with the 50th anniversary staging, delayed a year, coming up next week (TOURNAMENT ROUNDS ARE JULY 8-11).
Over the years the PGA Tour stop in the area around Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, has fought for survival. The pandemic was just the latest challenge. Few tour events in small markets have survived as well as the JDC has.
Created in 1971, its first two tournaments were won by Deane Beman who later served a long term as PGA Tour commissioner. Very few of the next 47 were won by players of that high a profile. First-time PGA Tour winners were in abundance, but the tourney’s pork chop sandwiches became a tasty trademark for the event.
The tournament was played under a variety of titles, mostly at Oakwood Country Club on the Illinois side, until Moline-based John Deere hooked up with the PGA Tour as its Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier and took charge of the tournament in 1998.
By 2000 the tourney had a new home at TPC Deere Run, an open-to-the-public course designed by Illinois native D.A. Weibring who won the tournament three times before focusing on course architecture. TPC Deere Run, well-received by PGA Tour players, is a source of pride for the community’s golfers and it’s also hosted the Advocate Professional Golf Association, a feeder circuit for minority golfers to get on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the National Assocation of lntercollegiate Athletics national championship.
The par-71 course that Weibring designed hasn’t changed much over the last two decades. The tee box on the fifth hole was extended to give the course more length. That was about it. The routing and greens never changed and the bunkers were simply updated to improve drainage. Paul Goydos holds the course record of 59, set in 2010, and Michael Kim has the tournament scoring record with his 27-under-par 257 that produced an eight-stroke victory in 2018.
Peterson made a successful strategic move to improve the quality of the fields when – rather than raise the purse – he hired a jet to take players from the Quad Cities Airport on the night after the final round directly to the British Open site. Such a travel benefit made players less reluctant to make the expensive trip across the pond early.
This year, because of the pandemic, a report surfaced that the JDC wouldn’t be offering a British Open exemption to its champion. That was later dismissed so the tourney will go on as usual with Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson its top stars. Johnson has long been on the tourney’s board of directors. Ryder Cup captain Stricker had the only three-peat in tourney history, winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Defending champion this year is South African-born Dylan Frittelli, who starred on an NCAA champion University of Texas team that also included Jordan Spieth. Spieth and Frittelli are among 23 players who earned their first PGA Tour victory in the Quad Cities. Spieth won in 2013 and 2015 and hasn’t been back since.
The big winner at the John Deere Classic, though, has been the area charities. Since 1971 the tourney has raised over $120 million for charities, and over 90 percent of that came since John Deere became the title sponsor. Even with the tourney not held in 2020 the event’s Birdies for Charity program made a $12.2 million donation to 465 charities.