History: John Deere ClassicJuly 10, 2008
Cindy Elliott, Special to PGATOUR.com
A $4.2 million prize purse, an outstanding field of players and the unwavering support of title sponsor Deere & Company have propelled the John Deere Classic at the PGA TOUR's award-winning TPC Deere Run to great heights as the launching pad for the British Open. But the tournament's journey from small-town tournament to a favored spot on the PGA TOUR wasn't an easy one.
The tournament was established in 1971 by founding members of the Crow Valley Country Club as the Quad Cities Open, a satellite tournament sanctioned by the Chicago District Golf Association. That year, touring pro Deane Beman defeated Dow Finsterwald to claim the $5,000 first prize.
Buoyed by its inaugural success, the Quad Cities Open became an official PGA TOUR tournament in 1972 featuring a $20,000 first prize and a $100,000 purse. Beman returned to defend his title, beating Tom Watson by two strokes to claim the second of five tournaments he would win during his short six-year career as a PGA TOUR player.
In 1973, Beman ended his playing career and succeeded Joe Dey as PGA TOUR Commissioner. In need of a mid-July tournament to accommodate the many PGA TOUR players who weren't exempt for the British Open, Beman scheduled the Quad Cities Open for the same week -- a move that would prove to be the first of many challenges to come for the fledgling event.
By 1975, it appeared the tournament's fairytale ascension had come to an end. With Hardee's Restaurants unable to continue serving as a supporting sponsor and tournament organizers unable to afford the $125,000 purse mandated by the PGA TOUR, a press conference was called to announce the end of the tournament.
Shortly before the press conference was scheduled to begin, though, a series of fortunate events took place that ensured the tournament's continuation. First, the Quad Cities Council of Jaycees stepped in to take control of the tournament and move it to the Oakwood Country Club in Coal Valley, Ill.; then, Beman granted the tournament permission to offer a one-time purse of only $75,000; and finally, TV star Ed McMahon of the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" signed on as the tournament's official host, bringing with him a cavalcade of big-name celebrities that helped boost interest from spectators and sponsors. The 1975 event went off without a hitch, with Roger Maltbie claiming the title.
Despite exceptional fields that included the likes of Illinois native D.A. Weibring and Payne Stewart, by 1980 the tournament was badly in debt and once again on the brink of being canceled. Last-ditch fundraising efforts by the Jaycees and sponsorship support from the Miller Brewing Company helped the tournament stay afloat until 1984, when its precarious position on the PGA TOUR seemed all but hopeless.
With no title sponsor from 1971-1981, purses had lagged well below the average of other tournaments, and the TOUR was insisting that the purse increase from $200,000 to $300,000 -- an amount organizers were unable to pay. Four local cities rallied to support the tournament, contributing tax donations totaling $84,000 -- $16,000 short of what was needed. Enter Deane Beman and the PGA TOUR, who once again saved the tournament from extinction by making up the difference.
In 1986, Hardee's signed on as title sponsor and the tournament became known as the Hardee's Golf Classic. By 1990, the purse had reached $1 million, and the tournament was televised on Ted Turner's WTBS cable station.
Hoping to improve the field by avoiding competition with the British Open, organizers moved the tournament to September. Though the tournament did enjoy top fields in the years that followed, the cold, rainy weather took its toll on the character of the tournament, and in 1994 Hardee's ended its tenure as title sponsor.
That same year, Tim Finchem succeeded Beman as PGA TOUR commissioner and introduced the Presidents Cup competition. Needing an existing PGA TOUR tournament to accept dates opposite the Presidents Cup and the enormously successful Ryder Cup, Finchem formulated a deal in which the Quad Cities tournament fill that spot in exchange for funding and a four-year extension to secure a title sponsor.
1996 would prove to be a momentous year for the tournament, when 20-year-old Tiger Woods made headlines by pulling ahead of the field in only his third event as a professional. Though Ed Fiori would go on to win the tournament, Woods made an indelible mark on the long and storied history of golf in the Quad Cities.
Behind the scenes, three-time Quad Cities winner and golf course architect D.A. Weibring was making history as well. In a move that would change the trajectory of the tournament forever, Weibring met with tournament organizers, PGA TOUR executives and leadership at the Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Company -- the world's leading manufacturer of agriculture and forestry equipment and a leading manufacturer of construction equipment -- to discuss the possibility of building a new golf course that would serve as home to the tournament.
In 1997, after a year of negotiations, plans were announced to build TPC Deere Run on the Friendship Farm property owned since 1928 by the ancestors of John Deere. Deere & Company signed on as title sponsor of the John Deere Classic, forming one of the longest standing sponsorships in PGA TOUR history. John Deere also became the official equipment supplier for the PGA TOUR's TPC Network of private and resort clubs.
Since that time, the John Deere Classic has evolved into one of the most successful and exciting tournaments on the PGA TOUR, as well as one of its most charitable. In 2007, the John Deere Classic donated $4.6 million to more than 600 local charities, up from $3.9 million in 2006 -- making it No. 1 in charitable donations on the PGA TOUR per capita in the U.S. Charitable vehicles include Birdies for Charity, a program that has raised more than $16 million since 1993 through pledges for every birdie made during the John Deere Classic.
In addition to providing charitable support, the John Deere Classic has a direct and indirect economic impact on the local economy, estimated at more than $25 million annually.
At the same time, TPC Deere Run has significantly elevated the daily fee golf experience in the Quad Cities, offering everyday golfers the unique opportunity to test their skills on the same exceptional layout where the world's best players compete. Named the "No. 8 Best New Public Golf Course in America" by Golf Digest when it opened in 2000 -- the first year it hosted the John Deere Classic, TPC Deere Run's par-71, 7,213-yard championship layout was designed by Weibring to fit seamlessly into the terrain above the Rock River Valley.
The course features dramatic pitches and rolls, extreme elevation changes and a variety of small ponds, deep ravines and stands of mature hardwoods, creating a serene but challenging test of golf. More than 70 bunkers varying in depth and shape are strategically placed throughout the course, providing golfers with a multitude of options. Its foursome of finishing holes provide a dramatic ending to this Quad Cities gem, including two long par 4s that cut through trees and a ravine.
Complementing TPC Deere Run's magnificent golf course are a host of upscale amenities including an expansive TOUR quality practice facility; an elegant clubhouse featuring an array of dining and hospitality options; and a golf shop consistently named among the "100 Best Golf Shops in America" by Golf World Business magazine.