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Tractor Pull
Ivan Maisel
August 06, 2001
To save the endangered Quad Cities tournament, D. A. Weibring helped seed a deal among the area's first family, its biggest employer and the Tour
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August 06, 2001

Tractor Pull

To save the endangered Quad Cities tournament, D. A. Weibring helped seed a deal among the area's first family, its biggest employer and the Tour

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Given the size of the company—it is by far the area's largest employer, with a workforce of 8,000—and its longstanding relationship with the community, it's a surprise that the manufacturer of farm equipment didn't dive in sooner. The names of Deere and his descendants are everywhere in Mo-line: the John Deere Middle School; the Deere-Wiman House community center and the Butterworth Center, which were the homes of family members; and the Tish Hewitt House, a long-term nursing facility named for Patricia Wiman Hewitt, the great-great-granddaughter of Deere and the wife of William Hewitt, CEO of the company from 1955 to '82. Bill Hewitt not only brought Deere to the world, building it into the corporate behemoth it is today, but also brought the world to Deere. In 1963 Hewitt hired Eero Saarinen, the Finnish architect best known for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., to design the company's Moline headquarters, in which he displayed his world-class art collection.

In Tish, Hewitt found a woman of equal energy and vision. Tish Hewitt was born in Chicago but was a progressive force in the Quad Cities community. She marched with the area's African-American leaders after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and opened her home for meetings of civil rights leaders. Tish Hewitt couldn't have hidden if she had wanted to. "She was tall, over six feet," says Bazy Tankersley, a lifelong friend. "She had flaming red hair and black eyebrows and she dressed with flair. Tish and I grew up in farm culture—what you see is what you get."

Tish had loved horses since she was a child, and in the early '50s she converted a 375-acre family farm on a bluff overlooking the Rock River into Friendship Farms, which she used to breed Arabian horses. "The farm was very important in our lives," says Anna Hewitt Wolfe, 46, one of Bill and Tish's three children. "The farm was where we spent all our leisure time. My mother didn't push riding. We would have to want to go, and we did. We would trail ride. It is a beautiful spot—the ravines, the woods, the pastures." Today Wolfe raises Arabians with her husband, Joseph, and their three children at Mandala Center, a 10,000-acre cattle ranch and spiritual retreat founded by her mother in Des Moines, N.Mex.

In 1992, five days after receiving the Rodania Award, the highest honor given by the Arabian Horse Owners Foundation, Tish Hewitt died of a heart attack. She left Friendship Farms to the Rock River Trust, overseen by Wolfe: her identical twin, Adrienne Hewitt, who lives in Middleburg, Va.; and their brother, Alexander Hewitt, 44, of Denver. None of the children was in a position to take over Friendship Farms, so after spending three years selling stock to other breeders, the three siblings entertained offers for the land from developers. Before long, though, they realized that they didn't want to see the property turned into a subdivision. "One day my sister and I went up to the overlook, where one can see the river from the woods," says Wolfe. "The Native Americans had appreciated the beauty of that spot long before we came along. Hopefully, the beauty will remain long after we're gone. We thought, What do we do? I was passionate about preserving the land. We are so temporary."

The family did not know that the Quad Cities tournament was near extinction—the Hewitts weren't golfers ("My father used to joke that when he met my mother, she told him she had better not become a golf widow," says Wolfe)—and the Deere Co. did not know the Hewitts were shopping the farm. Weibring knew. In July 1996 a developer had approached Weibring and his partner in Golf Resources Group, Sam Swanson, about the possibility of building a course on Friendship Farms, and they had toured the property. The deal had fallen through, but the designers couldn't forget the land.

Two months later, during the Quad Cities tournament, Butler, Deere executive Bob Combs and tournament officials met with Swanson and Weibring, who filled them in about Friendship Farms and the Hewitts. When representatives of the tournament and the Deere Co. approached the Hewitt children about building a course on the land, the heirs warmed to the idea. "We were excited about all the people who would be outside and enjoying the property without its being developed," says Wolfe.

The trust deeded the land to the John Deere Co., and in April 1997 the deal between the company and the Tour became official. In addition to sponsoring the Quad Cities tournament for nine years, through 2006, Deere would supply the Tour's 24 TPC courses with maintenance equipment. In exchange the Four would build a TPC course, designed by Swanson and Weibring, on what was Friendship Farms.

In an era when golf courses are built primarily to enhance real-estate sales, the TPC at Deere Run is an anomaly. No housing tracts surround the 7,183-yard, par-71 course, and the land, with its stunning vistas and beautiful hardwoods, is the antithesis of the type usually used for a new course. The site was so pristine that Weibring's peers joked that there was no way that he could mess up this one. "All we did was pull back the blanket, clean up a little bit, mow the greens and say, 'Let's go play,' " he says.

Typical of the course is the 454-yard 4th hole, a dogleg right built on high ground near the old horse barns (now maintenance buildings). The hole has a lone oak smack in the middle of the fairway. The safe play is to the wide side left of the tree. Going to the right is a shortcut to the green, but a ravine hugs the edge of the fairway. "The hole makes you make decisions," Weibring says. He named the oak the Hewitt Tree.

More than 140,000 fans came out to see Gossett win last week, which is remarkable considering that the population of the Quad Cities area is only 360,000. The Tour was thrilled. The community was gratified. Wolfe was pleased, too, although her appreciation had its limits. "The course is beautiful," she says, "but personally, I'd rather ride a horse across it."

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