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When worlds collide: Meet the pickleball club taking over the John Deere Classic

The Quad Cities Pickleball Club filled roughly 100 volunteer shifts at the 2023 JDC, making it the largest community group at the tournament.

SILVIS, Ill. — Golf courses are known for stillness, serenity and silence. On the other hand, pickleball courts are notoriously noisy. 

But at the 2023 John Deere Classic, the Quad Cities Pickleball Club is using comradery to combine the two, becoming the largest community volunteer group on the course. 

When they're not out at TPC Deere Run, it's not hard to track down the pickleball fanatics. Boasting nearly 600 members, the club can be found dinking, smashing and volleying any time of the day, any day of the week. 

"There's somebody here almost 24/7! It's fun, it's a lot of fun," said Susie Archer. 

A longtime pickleballer, Archer has also spent years volunteering at the John Deere Classic, heading up the cart barn crew with her co-captain Arkie Lovell

"Ever since COVID, it's been a little bit tough getting enough volunteers at the tournament," Archer said. "So I thought, well, let's ask some of the pickleball people!" 

It turns out, it didn't take much convincing to bring the club members from the courts out to the course. 

By the time this year's tournament comes to an end, the pickleball club will have covered about 100 volunteer shifts. That makes the club the largest community group of volunteers, beyond John Deere Co., at the Classic. 

"It warms my heart," Archer said. "I told them there's a need, and they were like, 'Okay, we'll help.' They're just wonderful people!" 

Out on the course, nearly all of the pickleball players could be found on Hole 15. 

Brad Dye was posted up near the bridge connecting the tee box to the fairway, signaling to his counterparts down the way which hitter was about to take a swing and keeping the crowds back while the pros passed through the walkway. 

"Hey, anything that's community involved, pickleball's gonna be there," Dye said. 

He refers to the sport as a combination of tennis, racquetball, ping pong and badminton. And his love for the club is hard to ignore. 

A welcoming, friendly group, Dye says members frequently go out to restaurants and community events together. But it goes even further, he says, with the crew regularly sending cards and well wishes to anyone having a baby, getting married, graduating or even experiencing a loss or going through an illness. 

"We've become family," Dye said. "My wife calls it a cult - pickleball! But a friendly cult, because we just get along and we do so many things on and off the court." 

Out on the courts there's no set time or schedule for who should play and when. Instead, members come and go as they please, with groups randomly assembling whenever a court opens up. 

It's a sport that fosters friendships, Dye laughed, since play is in such close proximity, it's easy to spark up a conversation. 

While there's less conversing out on the golf course, Dye says he and his fellow club members were taking advantage of morning meetings, lunch breaks and passing times to catch up with one another. 

"Most of us are here on the fifteenth hole, so a game could break out at any minute now," Dye laughed. Although, we're not sure how much he was joking, since he then admitted he had his pickleball paddles in his car. 

"Always bring your paddles! You never know," he said. 

Just down the fairway, we found Laurie Ochs, Sue Chambers and Janet Parks posted up as course marshals. The friends have been playing pickleball together for years and said it was a no-brainer to join the volunteer efforts out at the Classic. 

"It's just another day of camaraderie," Parks said. "It's great to be part of a group that's really interested in doing good for the community." 

The ladies also joked that their pickleball experience had been the perfect training for their work out on the course. 

As marshals, they traded their paddles for quiet signs, keeping the crowds controlled while the players advanced. But when we stopped by to meet them, several of the balls had missed the fairway, ending up in the woods or among fans milling about on the sidewalk. Even during our interview, we all had to duck and cover three separate times to avoid stray balls. 

"You gotta keep your head on a swivel," Parks laughed. "Pickleball has prepared me! Keep your eye on the ball!"

But volunteering wasn't the only way this group tried to help out with the Classic. 

The crew made shirts depicting a half golf ball, half pickleball circle that proudly proclaims the club serves up fun both off and on the course. All together, the shirts raised about $1,500 for Birdies For Charity

"They're just a great, great group of people," said Archer.

Now the club has its eyes trained on next year, hoping for an even larger volunteer turnout. 

Photographer Jenny Hipskind contributed to this story by shooting the attached video.

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