The cornucopia of closures due to coronavirus keeps growing, as what was planned to be the 50th PGA Tour event in the Quad-Cities, the John Deere Classic, is canceled this July.

Because of the continuing Covid-19 restrictions around events and public gatherings in the surrounding area, the 2020 JDC at TPC Deere Run in Silvis was canceled, tournament officials announced Thursday.

The tournament will, however, continue its commitment to the 2020 Birdies for Charity campaign, including a promise to deliver at least a 5-percent bonus to all participating organizations. Last year, the tournament raised $13.8 million for 542 organizations.

“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the difficult decision was made to cancel the 2020 John Deere Classic,” said tournament director Clair Peterson. “While we considered several alternatives for the Classic, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad-City community at large.”

A spokesman for John Deere, which has been title sponsor of the tournament since 1998, echoed Peterson’s comments.

“Our top priority is the health and well-being of players, fans, volunteers and support staff of the John Deere Classic,” said Mara Downing, Vice President of Global Brand and Communication. “We know this announcement will come as a disappointment to the Quad-City area and to the broader golf community. We look forward to celebrating the 50th playing of the tournament in 2021.”

“John Deere is proud of the longstanding partnership with the PGA and the John Deere Classic – not only for the world-class golf it has brought to sports fans everywhere, but also for the role the tournament has played in raising millions of dollars for local charities over the last two decades,” added company spokeswoman Jennifer Hartmann.

“In light of all the challenges this year, we’re proud of the tournament’s commitment to the local community and look forward to joining them in support of their charitable efforts through Birdies for Charity,” she said.

“We understand and deeply respect the very difficult decision that was made by the John Deere Classic, John Deere, and the PGA TOUR, said Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities. “The event and its positive impact on our community is profound and we are confident that the 50th playing of the tournament next July will be the best year yet.”

In 2015, Deere said a study estimated the Q-C economic impact of the JDC is approximately $54 million annually. This estimate includes money spent on ravel, food, and lodging by visitors, the purchase of goods and services to support the tournament, and other purchasing that would not be needed if the tournament did not exist.

This year’s JDC was scheduled for July 6-12 at TPC Deere Run, and would have been the Quad-Cities’ 50th PGA Tour event and the 21st played at Deere Run. Dylan Frittelli is the defending champion.

Dylan Frittelli

Last year, the 29-year-old South African became the 23rd first-time winner at the Classic, taking home a $1,080,000 first prize (among a $6-million purse). This year’s JDC total purse was estimated to be $6.2 million.

The JDC, which includes Birdies for Charity, is a nonprofit organization based at 15623 Coaltown Road, East Moline. Since its founding in 1971, the tournament has helped raise $120 million for charity, 99 percent of it since Deere assumed title sponsorship in 1998.

That has allowed the JDC to annually top the PGA Tour in per-capita charitable contributions — or $33 for each of the Quad-Cities’ 375,000 residents, according to tournament officials.

Starting from a $5,000 top prize

The golf 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, according to pgatour.com.

The Quad Cities Open became an official PGA TOUR tournament in 1972 featuring a $20,000 first prize and a $100,000 purse, according to the history. 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, the site says.

By 1975, it appeared the tournament’s 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, 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.

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 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, the history says.

Deere extension through 2023

In 2015, then-PGA TOUR Deputy Commissioner Jay Monahan announced Deere officials to announce the Moline-based manufacturing giant would extend its sponsorship of the Classic through 2023. Financial details were not disclosed.

“When we first entered a marketing agreement with John Deere, the PGA TOUR was confident this would be an exceptional association,” Monahan said then. “The two organizations have similar corporate values and we are pleased with the direction this relationship has taken. We’re naturally delighted to announce a continuation of this valued collaboration through 2023.”

John Deere became title sponsor of the tournament in 1998. As a result of the agreement, Deere will celebrate 25 years as a PGA TOUR title sponsor in 2022.

“The Board of Directors for the John Deere Classic are thankful for the tremendous support provided by Deere & Company,” said tournament director Clair Peterson. “We want to provide not only great sports competition but also an event which the community can be proud of, be involved in, gain benefit from and support as a spectator or volunteer.”

Deere retains its designation as Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier to the PGA TOUR, Official Golf Course Equipment Supplier of the TPC Network, Official Landscape Product Supplier of the PGA TOUR, and Official Golf Course Equipment Leasing Company. John Deere equipment is used at all TOUR-owned TPC facilities.

Peterson emphasized Thursday that the tournament and Deere remain committed to providing organizations that participate in Birdies for Charity with a five-percent bonus over what they raise.

“Thanks to John Deere’s ongoing support, we are able to promise a five-percent bonus even though we are not having the tournament,” he said.

The Birdies for Charity program already has instituted procedural changes because of the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, instead of the Birdies staff physically passing out pledge forms, charities may access printable forms on birdiesforcharity.com.

In addition, donors are encouraged to make their pledges electronically to reduce the number of paper touch points normally involved in the process.  Each penny pledge received will be converted to a flat $20 donation, and all donors will be eligible for a random drawing for the traditional prizes, including the grand prize of a two-year lease on a Lexus NX sports utility vehicle.

Previous tournaments use the total number of birdies logged to translate how much each donor will contribute, a penny per birdie. That traditionally has averaged between $19 to $22 per year, said Andrew Lehman, assistant tournament director.

Last year, they also gave a two-year lease on a Lexus NX – courtesy of Lexus of Quad Cities – to one of five finalists who correctly guessed the exact number of birdies in 2019 (which actually was 2,091).

The free Lexus lease program annually serves as an incentive to potential donors to participate in the Birdies program. Lexus of Quad Cities also provides courtesy cars for John Deere Classic contestants and on-course evacuation vehicles.

Other Tour schedule changes

The JDC looked at many different options to continue offering the PGA TOUR event, including a TV-only alternative – with players but no spectators, Lehman said. Other PGA tournaments this year have made that choice.

“We explored all options,” he said Thursday. “Ultimately, it was just decided it was best, given our circumstances, it wasn’t going to be possible to be held here.”

Even without the general public (which brought in about 100,000 to see last year’s JDC), there are least 1,500 people required to be on the course to set up, operate and broadcast the tournament, Lehman said.

In mid-April, the PGA TOUR had targeted the week of the Charles Schwab Challenge (May 18-24) as the restart of the TOUR season, which was suspended since THE PLAYERS Championship was canceled on March 12. For health and safety reasons, the announcement last month delayed that timeline three weeks – to June 8, starting with the Charles Schwab Challenge in Ft. Worth, Tex., June 8-14, which still is on the schedule, but with no on-course fans.

The 149th British Open in July (right after the JDC) was canceled on April 6.

“The Open was due to be played in Kent from 12-19 July but it has been necessary to cancel the Championship based on guidance from the UK Government, the health authorities, public services and The R&A’s advisers,” the Royal and Ancient Golf Club said in a statement.

The 2020 Travelers Championship in Connecticut is currently scheduled as a TV-only event, broadcast by CBS and the Golf Channel, June 25–28. The late May Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit was moved to July 2-5, which also will go forward without fans present as a TV-only experience.

Big financial impact of Birdies for Charity

The John Deere Classic delivers most of its profits to participating charities. In addition to the straight Birdies for Charity dollars, in 2019 the JDC donated an 7.25% bonus to every participating charity (above the 5% promised). This bonus came directly from tournament profits, Birdies for Charity Bonus Fund contributions, and a John Deere Foundation match to Birdies for Charity Bonus Fund contributions.

The bonus is a true “unrestricted match” to each charity, which it can use as they see fit. In 2019, over 100 individuals and businesses saw the value of this and made gifts in excess of $10,000 each through the Birdies for Charity Partner program. In total, the Partner program generated over $7.25 million.

Despite being the smallest market on the Tour, the JDC is in the top three in charitable dollars generated.

“Our charitable success has been a major factor enabling us to stay on the TOUR’s schedule while other larger cities have dropped out or been passed over,” according to johndeereclassic.com.

Lehman said despite the massive unemployment and shutdowns caused by Covid-19, he predicted charitable giving this year would continue.

“We’ve proven time and time again, the Quad-City market is so generous,” he said. “I think Quad-Citians will rise to the challenge and support our local nonprofits.”

“In terms of national prominence, tourism promotion, and economic impact the John Deere Classic is by far the largest charitable event in the area,” the site says. “We help keep the Quad-Cities a destination for the rest of the country, through national television coverage and publicity. John Deere Classic is broadcast to over 300 million homes domestically and 800 million more around the world for a total of over 1 billion—including 200 countries and territories.”

Lehman said it would likely not be a problem to have the 2021 event again the second week of July, when it will truly celebrate its 50th anniversary.

“Everybody’s got a level of sadness when something like this happens, but we’re going to be back next year,” he said.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.