Birdies for Charity has taken flight.
The annual fundraiser, tied to the John Deere Classic golf tournament, officially launched Monday. Sponsored by John Deere and Smart Lexus of Quad Cities, money raised through the program will help more than 400 organizations in the area.
Tournament Director Clair Peterson said there are two components to the John Deere Classic: the golf tournament and the Birdies for Charity fundraiser.
"We stand here today with great enthusiasm because we can officially say we are having the athletic contest; we are having the John Deere Classic," Peterson said. "It will be in July, as always, a week before the Open. And today, we are kicking off the Birdies program."
Peterson said Birdies for Charity is one of the most successful fundraising initiatives on the PGA Tour. The program raised $12.2 million last year, benefiting 465 organizations, despite the cancellation of the golf tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Volunteer Chairman Lee Garlach said Birdies for Charity has raised more than $133 million since the inception of the program.
"I think those numbers are amazing and it really is no surprise to me that the PGA Tour has recognized the Quad Cities as the most engaged community for six of the past eight years of the PGA Tour," Garlach said. "Today truly is an exciting day."
This will be the 50th anniversary of the golf tournament, scheduled for July 7-11.
This year's tournament will allow a limited number of spectators at TPC Deere Run, 3100 Heather Knoll, Silvis. Peterson said it's likely there will be no grandstands or other seating set up where crowds could gather. He said tournament organizers are waiting to hear from the PGA and the state of Illinois on what the allowable percentage of attendees will be. Peterson anticipated the number could be capped at around 25% of crowd capacity.
Spectators wishing to attend the tournament can purchase tickets through the John Deere Classic website.
"Like other summer events, we are going into this with flexibility," Peterson said. "We have made a decision there are going to be no enclosed air-conditioned specific areas because people aren't going to feeling safe or be safe in an enclosed environment. Everything is going to be open-air.
"It will still be a great experience. We'll have the same show — 156 of the best athletes in the world here."
Peterson said 2019 JDC champion Dylan Frittelli will return to defend his title. The tournament will still depend on the work of 1,200 to 1,500 volunteers to help everything run smoothly.
Donors to the Birdies for Charity program will be able to guess the total number of birdies tournament professionals will record in the Wednesday Pro-Am and the 72-hole tournament for a chance to win a two-year lease on a 2021 Lexus NX. Donation amounts will no longer be tied to the number of birdies recorded by tournament contestants.
"The Birdies program last year just blew us away," Peterson said. "We couldn't believe it. Not that it was a total shock, because the community is very generous. But to do over $12 million without a tournament was really moving and we cant wait to see what that number is going to be like at the end of October and see who wins the vehicle."