SILVIS, Ill. — On a sweltering Tuesday evening, still a few hours before sunset, a silver pickup rolls up to a secluded pond in rural Illinois. The truck bed is loaded down with fishing poles, bait and plenty of cold beer, and it's all smiles as the three occupants pile out and trek down the hill to a rickety old dock.
Finally, the fishiest tradition of the John Deere Classic is about to get underway, once again.
Arkie Lovell has been volunteering at the tournament for 39 years. These days he's the head of the cart barn crew, along with his fearless sidekick, Susie Archer.
Volunteering at the Classic - in any capacity - can take a toll. While it's a week of laughter, golf and comradery, it's also long hours and lots of exercise during one of the hottest few days of the year.
It's why Lovell has a long standing ritual: once it hits 5 o'clock on the Tuesday of JDC week - the night before the Pro-Am - he packs up and leaves the course to go fishing.
For the past nine years, he's been accompanied by Scott 'Scooter' Wilkerson and James Posey.
"It just kind of gets them away from the hotel, the casinos, all that you know. Gives them a little piece of home," Lovell said.
A little piece of home - something that's difficult to come by when you spend most of your time on the road.
Wilkerson is a shaft rep for UST Mamiya. He's traveled the world for nearly two decades, testing and fitting golf club shafts at anywhere from 35 to 42 events a year. Likewise, Posey is a PGA tour technician for COBRA PUMA GOLF, making sure his sponsored player's equipment is at peak performance.
While he also attends more than 30 events each year, Posey says there's something special about coming out to the John Deere Classic.
"I love the speed of the Quad Cities. The people here are super friendly and it's always a bonus to see Arkie and get together and do some fishing," Posey said.
Out on the dock, all the hustle and bustle of the tournament is far, far away. Wilkerson and Posey tease Lovell for being the last to catch a fish. All around, bullfrog croaks and bird chirps compete with the snorts from a nearby hog farm. The light turns golden, then begins to fade as the heat of the day slips away with the slowly sinking sun.
"It's nice and quiet," Posey smiled. "This is a beautiful thing."
We promised we wouldn't reveal the location of their fishing spot, as it's on private land. Trees line the banks, with cornfields surrounding even that. There's not a passing car or other human being to be heard for miles.
"Like everything in life, there's always somebody pulling you one way or another, you know," Lovell said. "We need a little downtime."
Nearly every other day of the year, these guys live, eat and breath golf. But out on the pond, talk of the sport is forbidden.
"We're kind of used to being on the other side of this. We take care of players. This is nice to be treated, like how we usually do for others," Wilkerson said. "This is very unique."
Each caught fish is placed in a waiting cooler. Eventually they'll all be cleaned and eaten. But for the evening none of the gathered men are worried about quantity or quality.
It turns out, sometimes the most magical parts of the John Deere Classic don't take place on the course at all. If you ask these three, they'll tell you it isn't found within the fairway, the fringe or even in the fish.
It's in the fellowship of friends, joyfully spending a quiet evening together.
"The tournament does a great job at making it feel comfortable and like home for us. It's why we love coming here," Wilkerson smiled. "But Arkie... he makes it extra special."
Photographer Jenny Hipskind contributed to this story by shooting the attached video.
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