Growing Golf at The John Deere Classic

     Visiting the Quad Cities is a dip in the best of small, tight-knit communities. I was there yesterday to keynote Executive Women’s Day at PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic tournament. The brainchild of Donna Fiedorowicz, Executive Women’s Day attracts female business leaders from the community—who have likely never played golf.

Donna Fiedorowicz with Sarah Gardial, a panelist at Executive Women's Day

Donna Fiedorowicz with Sarah Gardial, a panelist at Executive Women’s Day in Silvas, IL

     At first blush this doesn’t seem to make much sense. I think many of the 100 or so receptive, spirited women in the audience were like me: we see golf as a bit of a benign mystery. My husband adores it. In my house we often hear the soft tones of golf announcers piping through the television. It’s not an overtly aggressive sport, but golf always seemed loaded with testosterone.

     And yet, looked at through a different lens, the PGA Tour’s golf tournaments are intense community builders. Todd Raufeisen, who drove me in a golf cart from the clubhouse to the tented venue, was last year’s Volunteer Chairman of the tournament and proud to tell me that they had raised $6.79 million for 493 Quad Cities charities in 2012. That placed the John Deere Classic in first position in per capita giving among all regular PGA Tour events.

      Just as impressive, the tournament staff was made up almost entirely of volunteers—who pitch in every year, sometimes with their sons or daughters. They love showing off their part of the world and giving back at the same time. Golf just happens to be the vehicle for marshaling this gigantic effort.

      When an organization can create this kind of tightly entwined union between civic pride, doing good and a sport, as the PGA Tour and John Deere have, it becomes compelling. The event becomes an opportunity to enlarge golf’s tent—as Donna so adroitly recognized. This year she’s pulling in local businesswomen leaders at 17 tournaments. Next year she’ll add programs to pull in college students and families.

      Inclusive golf? Yup. Hats off to Donna Fiedorowicz and her business creativity!