How do you surprise fans at the John Deere Classic with something unexpected, something they’ve never seen before? If you’re John Deere, the possibilities are endless — and big, sometimes really big.
How about a 17G compact excavator transformed into a giant PING putter that fans can use to putt a larger-than-life Bridgestone golf ball into an oversized cup? Or how about a feller buncher — a forestry machine used for harvesting logs — holding up a giant wooden “pin” with an enormous John Deere Classic flag?
Those are just two of the unique displays John Deere employees have created for this year’s tournament, which starts Thursday July 11 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois.
Jason Cherry, manager of Brand Communications and Corporate Identity at Deere, hopes this year’s displays — this is the second year in a row in which Deere has debuted golf-themed equipment displays at the Classic — will excite fans at the tournament and those tracking the action on TV, online, and through social media.
“We were awarded Best Title Sponsor Integration award from the PGA last year, in large part because of the non-traditional equipment displays that were introduced throughout the course,” Cherry said. “The displays are intended to surprise and delight attendees and give them something a little unexpected, something more than golf. It highlights our equipment and brand in a different way.”
Last year Deere wowed fans with an excavator that featured a giant golf club head attached in place of the machine’s bucket, and a rustic Gator UTV displayed to look like it was rising out of the pond by the 18th hole green. Both displays, along with a few others from 2018, will be back at this year’s tournament. But this year the Deere team will introduce new experiences to the event.
Coming Up with New Ideas
This year, Cherry said his team decided to ask employees to submit their ideas for equipment displays at the Classic.
“Last year at the tournament, I was inundated with texts and emails (from employees) saying, ‘You know what you ought to do next year …,’” Cherry recalled. “I heard from people all over the enterprise. People in accounting, engineering, HR.”
What these ideas emphasized, Cherry said, is that Deere has a lot of creative people working for the company, which he said isn’t a surprise given one of the company’s core values is innovation.
“We have great creative talent all across the enterprise,” he said. “But I had no idea what to expect in terms of participation. I thought if we got even 20 great submissions that would have been outstanding.”
What the brand team received was close to 350 display ideas.
“A lot of them were really, really good; really creative,” he said. “The way employees expressed the ideas surprised me as well. We received simple text descriptions, napkin sketches, 3D renders, and even scaled physical mockups using toy tractor models.”
Cherry said he also could tell which areas of the company some employees worked in from the way they presented their ideas.
“You could sort of tell what department a person worked in based on the descriptions,” he said. “One person in engineering calculated how many golf balls could fit in a round hay bale while still maintaining the structural integrity of the bale. He even detailed out all the modifications you’d have to make to the baler to ‘harvest’ balls from the range.”
Choosing the Best
Of the ideas submitted by employees, two were chosen for this year’s tournament. One idea was submitted by 28 employees who each — coincidentally — came up with variations of the same concept on their own. Their shared idea: take a feller buncher and have it hold up a pin flag. All 28 employees will have their names engraved on the pin flag pole, forever memorializing their contribution.
Andrea Fitzpatrick, an IT analyst, was one of the employees who came up with the shared idea.
“I’ve always found feller bunchers to be a quirky and fun piece to see, and the thought occurred to me that a flag pole is very similar to a log,” she said. “I was surprised and excited to see it got picked as I submitted the idea in a moment of spontaneity as something that at least seemed interesting enough to share.”
Craig DeDecker, an engineering standards analyst, also submitted the feller buncher idea.
“I just thought it would be so cool to have one of those (machines) grabbing a flag stick, topped with a giant John Deere Classic flag,” he said. “The picture of the display is exactly what I thought it would look like, even cooler!”
The other winning idea was contributed by one employee — James Edwards, a quality engineer at John Deere Seeding — who suggested transforming seed hoppers, which are used to hold seeds as they’re planted, into coolers to keep beverages cold on the course.
“When I was looking at our seeding hoppers, I could envision a vendor sliding open a lid, reaching down through the ice, and pulling out a cold water or soda,” Edwards said. “It was that image I wanted to stick in the minds of all who visit the John Deere Classic, who are quenching their thirst.”
The Displays Come to Life
The 17G compact (or mini) excavator with the putter head was one of the ideas the brand team came up with. Cherry explained that last year they wanted to use the large excavator to have its faux driver head hit a large golf ball down a fairway. For many reasons, it wasn’t feasible.
That’s where the idea to turn a mini-excavator into a putter, which fans can actually operate to try to putt a ball, came from. The company could have simply created a large putter and golf ball on its own, but it was more exciting to make them as authentic as possible, Cherry said.
Deere reached out to PING and Bridgestone, and they were onboard with partnering on the displays. Industrial designers from Deere and PING met at PING’s headquarters in Phoenix to come up with a plan for the giant putter head, which merges PING’s flagship Anser putter design with Deere’s machine styling.
“There are certain things about the Anser putter, some of the details, that have to be on this putter, that’s what makes it an Anser putter,” said Tony Serrano, senior design engineer at PING. “It’s important to PING that we keep those details in the design, but also get some of the details from a John Deere excavator (the 17G) that make it a John Deere excavator. It’s the important details that make those products what they are.”
In addition to John Deere’s construction equipment trade dress (yellow and charcoal), the putter includes the “brick” pattern from the front grille of John Deere articulated dump trucks (ADTs), Cherry said.
Troy Maddox, a senior design engineer at Deere, said the project was a thrill for him to work on because of how unusual it was.
“The project with PING came out of left field for me, and I think it’s going to come out of left field for a lot of people, and that’s exciting because in working together we found our companies have so much in common,” Maddox said. “The things that we care about — working with customers, the precise engineering of our products, and the constraints we have to operate under — have pushed us each to perfect something special for our customers.”
Both the putter and the balls were fabricated in a very short timeframe, with dozens of people collaborating to turn the concept into reality.
“The engineering geometry was done in-house,” Cherry said. “The forms for the putter and golf ball were produced in our Waterloo facility then cast in aluminum at a foundry in Wisconsin. It was important for us to highlight our engineering and manufacturing capabilities … even though super-sized mini-golf isn’t exactly a core competency.”
Additional balls were rotational molded — or “rotomolded,” a production process used to create large hollow plastic parts — by a Deere supplier.
“We weren’t sure how the pieces were going to perform when hit by the giant putter,” Cherry said. “So, we tried a few different fabrication methods for the balls. I guess we’ll see, come game time.”
Cherry said he hopes fans enjoy the displays, especially the ability to interact with the putter.
“Introducing some literal crowd participation really brings it to life,” he said. “But it’s tasteful. We don’t want it to start to feel like a carnival out there. I’m really excited to see how fans react to all of the displays at this year’s tournament.”