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Few Tour Stops Survived the Pandemic Better Than the John Deere Classic. Now the Party is Set to Resume

The 2020 John Deere Classic was supposed to be the first post-pandemic event with fans, but it was eventually canceled. It returns in 2021 for its 50th anniversary with a field that boasts 23 first-time Tour winners.

SILVIS, Ill. — What a difference a year makes.

The John Deere Classic was to have been first PGA Tour event in 2020 to welcome spectators after play was shut down by pandemic concerns on March 12. The July 6-12 dates were to celebrate the tournament’s 50th anniversary.

Unfortunately, the party never started. After studying the facilities at TPC Deere Run and giving consideration to PGA Tour and local government policies in place, tournament officials canceled the event.

“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 Clair Peterson, John Deere Classic tournament director. “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. While some accommodations are being made for the ongoing pandemic, little is slowing this year’s celebration.

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 John Deere Classic 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. In 1998, Moline-based John Deere hooked up with the PGA Tour as its official golf course equipment supplier and took charge of the tournament.

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 has also hosted the Advocate Professional Golf Association, a feeder circuit for minority golfers to get on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the National Association of lntercollegiate Athletics national championship.

Zach Johnson, John Deere Classic

Zach Johnson is a past champion and member of the John Deere Classic's board of directors.

The par-71 course that Weibring designed hasn’t changed much over the last two decades. The tee box on the 5th hole was extended to give the course more length, and that has been about the extent of changes. 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 Atlantic Ocean 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 Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker as two of its top draws. Johnson, a two-time major champion and 2012 Classic winner, has been a longtime member of the tourney’s board of directors. Stricker, the United States Ryder Cup captain, has the only three-peat in tourney history, winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

South African-born Dylan Frittelli, who starred on an NCAA champion University of Texas team that included Jordan Spieth, is the reigning champion. 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 area charities.