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John Deere Classic offering private jet

Clair Peterson has his sales pitch down pat.

"If you're going to the British Open, you need to be at the John Deere Classic,'' said Peterson, the tournament director. ''Because there's no easier, more hassle-free way to get there than what we're providing.''

As a way to strengthen the field for the John Deere Classic, to be played July 10-13 at TPC at Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., Peterson has spent $300,000 to charter a 767 jet with 100 first-class seats that will fly the players non-stop to England for the season's third major.

Each player has the right to three seats on the plane, used by the Dallas Mavericks during the NBA season. There is no charge, though Deere requests a $1,000 donation per seat be made to the tournament's charity fund.

Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson might not have a problem writing a check to leave on their own jet plane, but they're in the minority.

"You're not going to leave from the East Coast on a first-class ticket and have a better experience than you're going to have on this non-stop, first-class 767,'' Peterson said.

The plane will leave Quad City International Airport on the Sunday evening of the final round and fly to Manchester, England. There, ground transportation will be provided to Royal Birkdale, which hosts the British Open starting July 17.

If weather forces the Deere to end on Monday, a clause in the charter agreement agrees to pay the crew an extra day.

"It was a bit of a gamble, because we had to sign the charter agreement before we got any commitments,'' Peterson said. "But it looks like it's going to pay off.''

Eight players from last year's Deere field went overseas to play in the 2007 British Open.

"Our hope would be that we at least double that,'' Peterson said. "And we've got commitments from guys already that I'm sure we wouldn't have gotten otherwise.''

Players like Tom Lehman, Woody Austin, Boo Weekley, Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes and Brett Wetterich.

Peterson also has commitments from former major champions Zach Johnson, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and Todd Hamilton. He's also received a yes from five 2008 PGA winners: Weekley, Wagner, Holmes, D.J. Trahan and Sean O'Hair.

"It's a commitment list that I'm sure would be different if we didn't have the guarantee of a non-stop, hassle-free experience to the British Open,'' Peterson said. "There are a lot of guys that aren't on that list that we know are seriously considering it. So I think it's only going to get better.''

Peterson feels a $300,000 check is well worth it. Even if that figure increases because of rising jet fuel costs.

"Our feeling is that we could put twice as much into the purse and not have an affect (on the field) whatsoever,'' Peterson said.

One bonus is that the John Deere Classic is the final British Open qualifier. If the winner isn't already in the field at Royal Birkdale, they would qualify with a victory at TPC at Deere Run.

A limo will take this year's Deere champ to the airport, where he'll be escorted to the front row of the jet.

That jet will spend the week in England. The Canadian Open, which is played the week after the British Open, will fly players back to Toronto if they want to play in that event.

Falling the week before the British Open isn't exactly a way to get the world's best players to visit the Quad Cities for a John Deere green weekend.

But instead of crying and complaining about the date, Peterson has compensated with some forward thinking.

"We want a summer date,'' Peterson said. "We don't want it exactly in front of the British Open, but that's where it is. You just try to make the best of it. We try and present ourselves proudly on a world-class golf course in a community and region that loves golf and has always supported us.''

May 20, 2008


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