From its beginning, it was a professional golf tournament that created great memories. Bob Hope played in the celebrity pro-am when his friend Ed McMahon was a tournament sponsor. The late Payne Stewart won the event in 1982 before later winning the U.S. Open. And Tiger Woods played in the third tournament of his professional career at this classic.
For its first 26 years, the hard work and commitment of community volunteers kept the tournament marching forward despite a long list of title sponsors that had come and gone.
On April 2, 1997, the pro golf tournament in the smallest market on the PGA Tour took a giant step forward when officials from John Deere, the PGA Tour, and the Quad City Classic gathered for a major news announcement.
“Certainly in the Quad Cities it was one of the most important news conferences I ever attended,” said Craig Cooper, a veteran sportswriter at the time. “There had been quiet talk about a big deal for the Quad-City Classic – the little tournament stuck with dates opposite the British Open. I was surprised by how big a deal it truly was. Twenty years later, we now understand what this day meant not only in the history of this event, but in the history of sports in the Quad-Cities.”
The announcement grabbed the headlines a day after the news conference. “A hole-in-one for the Q-C” exclaimed one local newspaper in large bold type on the front page.
Hans Becherer, Deere’s chairman and chief executive officer at the time, announced that Deere had entered a nine-year agreement under which Deere became title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s annual Quad Cities tournament; provided land for the construction of TPC Deere Run; and became the Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier and the Official Golf Course Equipment Leasing Supplier of the PGA Tour.
Craig DeVrieze, a sportswriter when Deere made its announcement in 1997, said, “As the tournament steadily moves toward the unimaginable sum of $100 million raised for charities, it is important to remember that this event’s future once was very tenuous. Deere has delivered upon its promise to make the Classic bigger and better over the ensuing 20 years. The John Deere Classic is successful also, of course, thanks to the thousands of unsung volunteers who are the backbone of an ongoing story that reflects all the best of our Quad Cities.”
The ground-breaking sponsorship agreement announced that day in 1997 provided the John Deere Classic with a firm foundation that has resulted in the Quad Cities’ tournament now boasting the third-longest title sponsor relationship on Tour. Since the initial agreement under CEO and Chairman Hans Becherer, Deere has renewed its sponsorship during Bob Lane’s nine years as chairman and CEO and in Sam Allen’s tenure at the company’s helm.
And the tournament has become a profound success. In 2016, the John Deere Classic was selected as the PGA TOUR’s Tournament of the Year and was recognized for having the Most Engaged Community and the Best Social Media Activation.
In 2016, the tournament helped raise approximately $10.5 million for some 500 community organizations, ranking first on the PGA TOUR in per capita contributions and among the top four overall in charitable contributions. Since John Deere became title sponsor two decades ago, the tournament has generated approximately $80 million in charitable giving for hundreds of community organizations in the region.
According to Cooper, “The announcement gave the golf tournament instant credibility and instant stability. That was a huge step for a tournament I had come to admire and love for the people who kept finding ways to keep pulling off another tournament even when it appeared there was no way that could happen.”
D.A. Weibring, a professional golfer who had won three times at the Quad Cities event and would later design TPC Deere Run, was involved in early discussions to get Deere involved with the Tour. “I remember getting a call from [PGA Tour Commissioner] Tim Finchem and he told me the Tour had negotiated a long-term deal with Deere,” Weibring said. “I was thrilled. I always felt that the best thing would be to get Deere and the Tour together as partners.”
“After the announcement, I had the opportunity to walk the grounds of what would become TPC Deere Run with course designers D.A. Weibring and Chris Gray,” said DeVrieze. “Together they imagined, conceived and invented the tremendous course that accomplished champions such as Ryan Moore, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker would conquer. The John Deere Classic is a thriving QC institution whose story becomes more memorable with every passing year, with every magical finish, with every one of the tens of millions of dollars the tournament continues to generate for local charities.”
Samuel R. Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of Deere & Company, said, “The John Deere Classic has become one of the Midwest’s signature sporting and entertainment events. Year after year, the tournament provides millions of dollars of support for local charities and serves as a global showcase for the John Deere brand and its products.”
Allen said the John Deere Classic is an important venue for building relationships with customers and supporting the growth of John Deere’s golf and turf business. In addition, the company has an opportunity to enhance recognition of the John Deere brand through a telecast that reaches a worldwide audience of 925 million households.
Beyond business and charity, the tournament has a major impact on the local economy. A 2015 study by Western Illinois University quantified the John Deere Classic’s annual economic impact to be $54 million.
The 2017 John Deere Classic will be played the week of July 10-16 at TPC Deere Run, where defending champion Ryan Moore will compete with 154 other top players for a purse of $5.6 million, with $1 million for the champion.