Local golf courses see business upswing from the John Deere Classic

The annual John Deere Classic is billed as the biggest week of golf in the Quad Cities.

The local PGA Tour stop more than lives up to that hype by both generating $54 million in economic impact locally, according to Visit Quad Cities, and raising $12.5 million in funds last year for nearly 500 local charities participating in the Birdies for Charity program.

With some of the biggest names in the sport playing this week at TPC Deere Run (June 23-26), the JDC also delivers massive exposure for the community in terms of media headlines and highlights from coast-to-coast, as well as globally televised weekend rounds on CBS.

Still another measure of the tournament’s value, though, will be seen far away from the event host as the other local golf courses experience an upswing in business – either this week or next.

“We actually see a decrease of rounds played by members this week because many of them are either volunteering at the JDC or they have tickets to watch it,” said Marc Struelens, general manager and COO of Coal Valley’s Oakwood Country Club – which hosted the JDC from 1975 to 1999.

“However, we see an increase in non-member play. Non-member play might be pros wanting to play to keep up their game, pros who haven’t made the cut, or out-of-town guests wanting to take advantage of their visit to the Quad Cities to play some of the local courses.”

That experience is typical at the other courses in the area – whether private or public — although Milan’s Pinnacle Country Club sees increased traffic as the host of the JDC’s Monday qualifier, with the top four finishers earning a spot into the 156-player field.

“For us, we also see an increase in traffic, but that is mostly from Deere & Co.,” said John Panek, the general manager and COO at Pleasant Valley-based Davenport Country Club.

“They host some events and do some entertaining out here at the club, so that makes a difference.”

Mr. Panek said the biggest of those events annually is on the Tuesday of tournament week, sandwiched between pro-am fundraisers Monday and Wednesday at TPC Deere Run.

“Typically, they have superintendents of golf courses from all over the world come play here Tuesday and they also will play in either the Monday or Wednesday pro-am at Deere Run,” Panek said of the corporate business event.

“It’s a mix of people this year – some agricultural, some construction, some turf – so we’ve got a wide variety of different people that do business with Deere playing here.”

Jon Waddell, the longtime pro in charge of Bettendorf’s Palmer Hills Golf Course, said he also sees a lot of new faces during JDC week.

“Seems like many of those traveling to the Quad Cities to take in the tournament also want to set aside some time to play a little golf,” Mr. Waddell said. “It’s certainly one of the busiest weeks of the golf season for us.”

However, the week following the tournament might be the biggest week annually on the calendar for the public courses, said Todd Winter, the assistant director of the Rock Island Parks and Recreation Department.

“Generally, during tournament week, we see pretty much the same sort of traffic,” added Mr. Winter, who heads up efforts at both of the city’s public courses, Highland Springs and Saukie. 

“(But) most courses get a bump immediately following the event due to the increased advertising that many courses do during the JDC.”

Local newspaper headlines and TV highlights also help generate more interest in the game, said Brant McGivern, the director at Red Hawk Golf & Learning Center, one of three public courses in Davenport.

“People are motivated when they see how the pros do it and they want to try it themselves,” Mr. McGivern said. “So, we’ll see increased business not only on the driving range, but because of the golf they saw this week — and they’re going to try it themselves next week.

“We will probably be down in rounds played this week because of volunteerism and spectating at JDC,” he added. “But, you’ll have that one family that will show up here tonight at 8 because they were at the John Deere Classic all day and they want to hit balls because they saw the pros doing it.”

Mr. Panek said the public courses see more of that foot traffic.

“It’s a little different for us, because we see our members coming back after volunteering all week,” Mr. Panek said, noting that numerous JDC volunteer chairpersons, JDC board members and JDC committee chairs are in his membership ranks. “They are already into golf as club members, so they already love golf and play a lot of golf.”

But both local public and private courses see benefits from the game continually growing because of the JDC, said Mr. Winter.

“It helps us with the rest of the year. It’s a great advertisement for the game,” agreed Mr. McGivern.

In fact, Mr. McGivern marries Red Hawk’s focus on developing young golfers with the JDC’s free Youth Day activities on Wednesday. He will be bringing a bus load of 46 children to the Youth Clinic hosted by pros.

“Also, it helps put the region on the map for people who are not familiar with what the QC can offer,” Mr. Struelens said. “As a result of the JDC, we have from time-to-time groups of Chicago golfers who come and spend mini golfing vacations in the area. We are on their radar for two reasons — the JDC and the low cost and easy access to great courses in the area.”

And sometimes, the pros themselves offer some additional business to the other local courses during JDC week.

“We’ll usually get a couple (PGA) Tour players that’ll come over with their caddies,” said Mr. Panek, who played in the JDC in 2006.

“Sometimes they come over on Wednesday if they’re not playing in the pro-am, or they drop in some other time to get out of the craziness that surrounds the tournament and just have some fun with not very many people around.”

Mr. Struelens remembers PGA Tour icons Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler visiting Crow Valley Country Club during his 2005-2012 stretch as the GM of the Davenport facility.

“They were driving their carts in reverse the length of some of the fairways,” Mr. Struelens said laughing at the memory. “And Bubba, hitting one of his trick curved shots to avoid the power lines on hole No. 15. That was incredible to watch.”

Mr. McGivern also used to work at Crow Valley – which served as the original host of the JDC from 1971-74.

“We’d get some of the caddies out there to play, and they said, ‘Man, you guys could host the tournament here today, the greens are so good,’” he recalled.

“They also knew about Davenport Country Club, but they didn’t know about the other great private clubs in the area – and some of our public courses are just as good as some of the private clubs.

“That’s what the JDC helps showcase,” he said.