On the Fringe: Transforming the Course at TPC Deere Run

Preparing for a renowned golf tournament takes hard work on and off the green. Just ask the crew behind the John Deere Classic.

For more than 40 years, the Quad Cities region of Illinois and Iowa has hosted the John Deere Classic, a key stop on the PGA TOUR. Thousands of fans turn out each year to witness the much-anticipated competition near John Deere’s hometown, and they give back to local organizations through Birdies for Charity. But none of the spectators witness the meticulous work the course requires to make the event come together.

So, how does it all come together?

Superintendent Alex Stuedemann and assistant superintendents, Tony Gustafson and Jonathan Graham, review course conditions and finalize plans 70 days prior to the tournament.

Meet Alex Stuedemann. As the Director of Golf Course Maintenance Operations at TPC Deere Run, the home of The Classic for the past 16 years, Alex and his staff care and maintain this 7,256-yard, par-71 course. With unexpected elements challenging the team each day, Alex remains dedicated to keeping the course immaculate because of its one-of-a-kind legacy. “I’ve had the opportunity to be at a number of other courses, but TPC Deere Run is unique in its history and foundation in the community. It was operated by descendants of John Deere, which goes back into the Native American history of the upper Midwest,” he says.

Supported by knowledgeable staff and a team of dedicated volunteers, Alex makes TPC Deere Run more than just a majestic setting. It becomes the meeting place of the community’s generosity and charity, which allows The Classic and the Quad Cities, to flourish – all year round.

Two-and-a-half months before The Classic, the crew is hard at work to ensure dense, thick playing conditions.

Addressing the Course

With an award-winning design to upkeep, maintaining TPC Deere Run is a consuming yearlong job. Because of its rich history, the staff preserves its beauty in unique ways, like incorporating native flora and fauna throughout. Alex says that 50 days before The Classic is when their focus shifts solely to the tournament, as the team begins setting up structures of what will be in play, classified as “inside the ropes.” “We bear down and look at details that impact playability for PGA TOUR players,” Alex says, “If weather is cooperative, we closely scrutinize moisture of surfaces and adjust maintenance for those. If the course is dry, we mow it everyday.”

But the best-laid plans can go awry, even during The Classic. Alex says, “Mother Nature throws us curveballs. You can have a plan in place, but trees come down during storms, so you have to adjust and be flexible. We’ve had to move trees or trim tree limbs because they aren’t good for camera angles. We also had to rebuild the bunker on the 18th hole … it wasn’t in the original plan but we realigned and took care of it.”

Knowing what to do when the unexpected happens comes from proper education and training. Alex attended the University of Minnesota for Environmental Horticulture and other team members have bachelor’s and associate degrees in related fields, like turf management. With such a wealth of knowledge backing them, the staff adapts to unforeseen circumstances with ease. “By the time the event gets here, it’s automatic for them,” he says. “The staff can face challenges that, eight weeks ago, they may not have been able to do independently.”

Two months ahead of the tournament, Alex and his crew fine-tune the course with small diameter core aeration and topdressing.

The Driving Force

While proper course care is crucial, it’s not the most important element. Alex says, “The most important thing is our staff. If the staff is not prepared, the course won’t be prepared. If the staff isn’t engaged in the tournament; if they’re stressed, tired, hungry; it will show through.” That’s why a positive outlook remains the backbone of his team. “We can counter any challenge and exceed it by encouraging our team and cultivating a good atmosphere with our staff,” he reinforces.

It’s this positive foundation that attracts additional volunteers every year to help with such a tremendous mission. And volunteers come from local clubs, other Tournament Players Clubs and even from Horry Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We provide a 360-degree experience for volunteers and staff because we want to showcase our operations to both industry peers and average citizens looking to help out,” Alex explains. “We want to show off what we do for the community.”

Only 40 days before the tournament, Alex and crew install a floating Gator XUV at the 18th and final hole.

An United Community

Once The Classic is underway, the efforts of all involved influence the tremendous success of the tournament. “From our piece of the world in agronomy, we can have representatives from 10 different states and every vendor that supplies our operation is contributing,” Alex notes. As the volunteers and staff monitor real-time adjustments needed to keep the course playable for the golfers, the dedication to continue working lies in The Classic’s charitable mission. “There’s no better motivation than the charitable piece … volunteers want to be a part of that, and it really comes together during tournament week,” he adds.

The generous efforts of the volunteers say something much greater about the Quad Cities. With more than 1,000 volunteers donating time and energy to course maintenance, it’s a sign there’s great pride within their community, not only for this tournament, but for the greater good of helping fellow neighbors. “We’re bought into the same mission of giving back,” Alex says. “A lot of us volunteer our time in the community and this tournament is the apex of that.”

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On the Fringe: Transforming the Course at TPC Deere Run

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