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Columnist/Reporter

John is a columnist and reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

Chaos surrounds them. Calm and humor guide them.

It is Pro-Am Wednesday at the John Deere Classic and by 8 a.m., Carts is four hours into its day. Only worms wake earlier than the Carts volunteers during tournament week.

The Arkie Mahal — a makeshift picnic shelter with netting around its edges — is home to hundreds of tournament-needed golf carts. Portable battery charging stations, fresh tires, and assorted tools dot the area. The Arkie Mahal is just as fancy as the Taj Mahal to the Carts family.

Dubbed as much by a local beer salesman, the Arkie Mahal is in honor of Carts veteran Steve "Arkie'' Lovell. It plays host to three shifts of loyal, dedicated and fun-loving volunteers during tournament week. The nearly 60 strong Carts crew works hard and plays the game with a smile.

The serious side of Carts is this: If there are no carts, there is no John Deere Classic. Volunteers, tournament officials, PGA officials, media and anyone or most anything that needs to get from one end of TPC at Deere Run to the other, goes through Carts. 

It's a "logistics nightmare if you do not have (golf) carts and the right people getting them to the right spot,'' said Tony Carpita, the 2018 volunteer chair of the JDC. "And we have the best group to handle as much. They don't miss a beat. If you need something, they take care of it and they do it right.''

The draw to being a Carts volunteer is the same as the 2,000-plus who give their time to make the John Deere Classic an amazing community event. There is a healthy element of work — of giving back — and a great sense of closeness with whom you work.

"You find out in a hurry that everyone here is in this for the right reason,'' said Kevin Miller, who with Lovell, Jim Bradley, and Susie Archer, share Carts chairmanship. Miller is serving in his ninth JDC, while Archer, Bradley, and Lovell have two and three decades of service to the JDC, respectively.

"Every volunteer is here for the right reason; it's what sets this golf tournament apart from others,'' added Miller.

Bradley, like Lovell, Miller and Archer, is a laugh-a-minute type and guardian of all Carts secrets. Volunteer retention, he says, tells you what you need to know about being on the Carts' team.

"At least 70% in the long run, but 80% most of the time,'' Bradley said of those who return for more than one volunteer go-round as a member of Carts. "There is a ton of room to cover with this golf course, and it is our responsibility to make sure we do what's needed. We are no different than the other volunteers other than, I believe, we have the most fun.''

It must be noted, Carts never strays from its mission of providing a much needed course-wide service during tournament week. From keeping the hundred-plus carts running and ready to deliver meals to volunteers, business always comes first.

Fun, however, is not far behind.

"Let's just say there is a "flower fund," though I cannot confirm or deny there is such a fund,'' Bradley said, as a huge grin — and a monster eye-roll —  fell over Miller's face. "And let's say you meet your flower fun obligation and everything goes smoothly for you tournament week. Let's say you forget your flower fun obligation and you come out some Sunday after an important meeting and the wheels for your cart are missing and it's up on blocks. Let's just say that happens.''

Miller, sensing too much information has been shared, chimes in.

"A good practical joke never hurt anyone,'' he said. "All in fun. All business 99.9% of the time. It really is rewarding to know you can help make something special run smoothly.''

And the chaos?

"Course evacuation,'' Miller says of what usually is a weather delay. "You have got to get to people and get then of the course. Safety of all involved is first and foremost. You prepare the best you can and execute the plan. It's all business. But think about assisting a full golf course get to safety when an issue arises. That's our biggest challenge.''

To a person, Archer, Lovell, Bradley, and Miller, say the people make the week.

"Everyone's just like you,'' Lovell said of the volunteers that make the JDC come to life. "They truly want to be here and make the tournament a success. They take a vacation from work to volunteer, they come here in retirement and have the time of their lives giving back. You joke, but we are all family and there is no place we would rather be. And it's fun.''

Boy is it ever, especially at the Arkie Majal.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

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