Golf on the Iowa-Illinois border: John Deere Green with envy
Although golf courses aren't the first things that come to mind when you think of the Quad Cities, the sport here is bigger than just the yearly John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.
July in the Quad Cities area is all about green - and greens.
The corn's knee-high. Abundant tee times make for a green-light special compared to long lines in the next nearest major metropolitan area, Chicago. And, most conspicuously, the Quad Cities area - made up of Bettendorf and Davenport on the Iowa side of the river and Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois end - becomes the envy of mid-sized golfing communities up and down the Mississippi in July as the TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., plays host to the Borderland's only PGA Tour tournament, the underrated John Deere Classic.
America's longest inland water hazard, the Mississippi, and its many tributaries, make golf in the Iowa-Illinois border region a continuous pleasure for naturalist and linkster alike. A case in point is the 7,213-yard, par-71 TPC Deere Run, where the Rock River slithers into view on fully half of the holes. The stadium layout, created from a one-time horse farm dotted with oaks, earned a designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International for its efforts to preserve wildlife habitat and conserve water.
What could be greener than that?
Deere Run beautifully represents a region known for its subtlety and modesty. The golf course challenges golfers of every level with multiple tee boxes, closely shaved, eminently fair chipping areas, and gentle doglegs that favor the consummate shotmaker over the master blaster.
Low-mow prairie restoration areas, graced with flowering milkweed and flowing, native grasses by midsummer, may lack the otherworldly drama of "waste area" moonscapes on courses in the Southwest, but here birds, bees and butterflies reap the benefits in perfect symbiosis with golfers. Overhead, waterfowl following the river make the award-winning D.A. Weibring design a splendid if not unlikely flyway in what the rest of America often dismisses as fly-over country.
The TPC Deere Run is bound to both surprise and impress those tone-deaf to the allures of golf along the Mississippi River. Though they hug the Illinois-Iowa border, area golf courses are anything but Iowa-flat. And though the surrounding areas are primarily agricultural, the TPC at Deere Run is emphatically natural, even wild. Weibring and design associate Chris Gray altered only a third of the course's 170 acres while managing to extract less than 20 percent of the site's existing trees.
And perhaps the biggest shock of all to those who find Midwest golf an overly domestic ho-hum: The TPC is utterly nonresidential. With the exception of a few homes abutting the course on the par-4, 428-yard eighth hole, no McMansions impinge on the pastoral dream that is Deere Run.
Reaping small-town rewards at the John Deere Classic
Though the Iowa-Illinois border lies hundreds of miles north of the golf-centric South, it's shockingly rich in golfing tradition. Most recently, Cedar Rapids, Iowa-native Zach Johnson, a fixture at the John Deere Classic, put Heartland golf on the map with an unlikely green jacket at the 2007 Masters.
Still, only the most diehard golf trivia buffs remember the area's other recent major champ and John Deere Classic regular, Todd Hamilton. The former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and pride of the Mississippi river town of Oquawka, Ill., stole the 2004 British Open at Troon in a playoff with Ernie Els. Add to the mix former PGA Tour stand-out Weibring, an Illinois native, and it's clear ... there's something in the water in the Quad Cities area producing unlikely golf courses and champions - both courses and horses.
In fact, though the John Deere Classic gets perennially overshadowed by the British Open the week after, this year's event drew three players in the top 20 in the FedEx Cup standings and was ultimately won by Kenny Perry, who vaulted to No. 2 behind Tiger Woods.
Golfers who find themselves in the Quad Cities area during the first half of July will want to take advantage of the immaculately planned, spectator-friendly John Deere Classic, where your day-pass provides unparalleled access to world-class golfers, mouth-watering Iowa pork chops and close-up views of the John Deere equipment of your fantasies, including a Z-Trak, 27-horsepower mower suspended in the pond beside the downhill, par-4, 476-yard 18th.
Perhaps that John Deere lawn tractor hovering pond-central is emblematic of the most wonderful thing about golf in the Quad Cities area - its off-the-beaten-path, diamond-in-the-rough brand of humility. Where else can you play a Tournament Players Club for a mere $60, with cart, on a weekday afternoon? Where else can you attend a PGA Tour event sans fuss and sidle up to within arms-length of the leaders as they march down the 18th fairway on Sunday in a tournament that has produced 18 first-time winners and more than its share of nail-biting finishes? Where else can you unashamedly ogle a dreamy John Deere while the winning putt drops?
Be honest, you'd take the new John Deere over the Buick anyhow.
August 19, 2008