John Deere Classic Tournament Director Clair Peterson reflects on cancellation of 2020 event

For years, the John Deere Classic has used the slogan “Magic Happens Here” to promote the tournament. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that magic has vanished.


The Daily Iowan; Photos by Ben A

Iowa sophomore Alex Schaake poses for a portrait at Hoak Family Golf Complex on Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

Austin Hanson, Assistant Sports Editor

Since 1971, the John Deere Classic has brought its magic to the Quad Cities and the surrounding communities. Now, for the first time in nearly five decades, the area faces a year without the golf tournament.

On May 28, tournament officials announced the cancellation of the 2020 John Deere Classic because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s tournament would have marked the 50th playing of the event.

“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,” tournament director Clair Peterson said. “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.”

Peterson’s announcement came as a bit of a shock. On April 16, the PGA Tour announced it would resume play on June 8, and that the John Deere Classic would be played as scheduled July 9-12.

However, as the pandemic continued to develop, it became clear the tournament was going to be difficult to hold.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Peterson said. “We considered input from ourselves, our title sponsor, and the PGA Tour. Local and state restrictions were considered, obviously. Once we made the decision [to cancel] it was full speed ahead, no looking back. We’re convinced now that it was the right decision for us.”

Since Peterson and other tournament officials made the call to cancel the tournament, many states like Florida and Texas have seen a sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases. Included in the bunch is Iowa, reporting 676 new positive cases July 2.

However, the tournament is played at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Illinois.

While harsher restrictions in Illinois did play a role in the cancellation of the John Deere Classic, tournament officials never considered moving the event to an alternate site in Iowa where the restrictions aren’t as stiff.

“There was never a thought about [moving the tournament] at all,” Peterson said. “The agreement we have is signed by three people. Ourselves, the PGA Tour, and Deere and Company. That agreement has always dictated that the tournament be held [at TPC Deere Run].

“The property was built for tournament golf, so there was never any consideration to move it. First and foremost because that wouldn’t have changed anything as far as the safety part of what we’re trying to do keeping fans, players and volunteers safe.”

The decision to cancel the tournament was made in the interest of health and public safety, but a great deal of the John Deere Classic’s loyal fans will be disappointed, nonetheless.

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Ahead of the event, speculation was building around the tournament’s field, with some fans anticipating the best field in the event’s history.

“Many of [the top golfers] were in the field,” Peterson said. “… With no fans [in attendance], you’re missing out on the opportunity as a spectator to see these players anyway. Even if the top 10 players in the world committed, you were going to have to watch it from your living room, which wouldn’t be exactly the same as seeing them in person.”

With the cancellation of 2020 John Deere Classic now behind him, Peterson is already looking toward the 2021 event.

“Every year we try to make tweaks and improve,” Peterson said. “We’ve expanded the military appreciation venue up on the hillside overlooking the 18th tee. We’ll still have the same philosophies, trying to make [tickets] as affordable as possible, making it as easy as possible for people to park and get on the property. Youth day on Tuesday will be totally dedicated to families and kids. It’s little tweaks here and there. Every year is a little bit different, but our philosophy is always to make it enjoyable and spectator-friendly.”

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