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Why caddies say there's no tournament like the John Deere Classic

Golf tournaments could not function the way they do without the caddies. And one tent out at the John Deere Classic is making sure they have everything they need.

SILVIS, Ill. — Golf tournaments could not function the way they do without the caddies. At the John Deere Classic, there are some very passionate people at TPC Deere Run making the game go round.

As the caddies take care of the pros, the caddies need someone to take care of them.

That's why the tournament's Caddie Concierge, Ron Keener, has made it his mission to do just that.

"It's something that I just enjoy being a part of," he said. 

Related: See which caddies are paired with which pros for the 2021 John Deere Classic

In 2018, the John Deere Classic introduced a new Caddie Lounge. That lounge gives caddies the chance to take a moment, grab a bite, and recharge. 

All of the food and amenities inside - over $100,000 worth in 2021 - are donated by local restaurants and businesses. 

"We don't want them to come in and feel like 'oh, we're at another golf course with another country club that's serving us very the same stuff that comes out of concession stands,'" said Keener. "I don't want that. So we always try and give a local feel and flavor to the whole thing." 

It's something he says is drastically different from every other tournament on the tour. 

Every day is a new spread - from breakfast with different styled potatoes every day to lunches from new establishments throughout the week. There's also a huge emphasis on fresh, healthy meals after the caddies walk the course all day long. 

"Where other tournaments might have bananas set out for the caddies, we have bananas, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, strawberries - everything you could think of," said Keener. 

RELATED: Geneseo native who loves JDC got to play with the pros

He's traveled all over the country to make sure tournaments have a space just for caddies. He's been motivated by what he has witnessed at other tournaments, where caddies had few or no amenities available to them.

"I've seen the days as recently as 17 years ago in Kansas City where it was over 100 degrees. They had a snow fence set up and it was the caddie pen. They weren't allowed to walk freely, they had to stay there until their player came and got them," he lamented. "There were no amenities for them. No meals, no food, no nothing. So we started doing whatever we could for them." 

In 2009 the PGA Tour's Champions Tour chose Keener as its Volunteer of the Year. He was recognized for making major improvements to caddie hospitality in West Des Moines, developing a committee that turned into the "Caddie Concierge services;" a labor of love which he brought with him to the Quad Cities.

"The caddies are treated very well this week," said Butch Peiffer, one of the caddie tent's volunteers. "That's good for us in the community because it makes them want to come back. They talk to their pros and hopefully it makes a difference for our tournament." 

On the morning we caught up with him, Peiffer had scrambled eggs, tator tots, ham steaks, doughnuts, pastries, fresh fruit, fresh smoothies, bagels and more set out for the caddies. 

RELATED: Local pair leads volunteer efforts at JDC cart barn

"We want the tournament to be successful. We want our small market to be known as one of the better tournaments on tour and our part is to make sure they're happy. I mean, our Birdies For Charity does such a great job, we just want to be that same thing to the caddies." 

Peiffer says working in the Caddie Tent is about making people happy - something he's got a passion for.

"I volunteer. This is their job, you know. And we're just trying to fuel them up so they can go out and do what they have to do. It's not an easy course to walk and carry that big bag on your back," he said. "So yeah, whatever we can do to make that better for them... that's why we're here." 

He says the tent makes the caddies so happy, that the John Deere Classic has been voted the second best tournament for them in the country. 

"But the only way this would work," said Keener, "Are the local people are here." 

Many of the restaurants that work with the tent do it year after year. One of the regular favorites is Fresh Blends, a family-owned business with locations in Bettendorf and Davenport. 

Every morning they deliver fresh fruit juice and smoothies to the tent. It's something Keener says means even more this year, after all that Covid did to their business. 

"Covid hit them hard... it's family-run with the daughters, family members and people helping run the two stores. Then here comes Covid, closing the stores and making them wait for PPP. It's taken a long time for these small businesses to get people to come back into them." 

He started getting emotional while recounting their past year, noting that through all of the struggles, Fresh Blends chose to continue donating to the Classic. 

"That's the kind of people you got in this town," he said. "There's no way we could run this kind of food and quality product through here without them." 

   

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