The Quad Cities Open was a struggling golf tournament trying to stay afloat in 1985.
That’s when Michael Jordan came to town.
“The celebrity Pro-Am kind of fueled the Quad Cities Open through the early Oakwood years,” said former sportswriter Craig DeVrieze. “There were a lot of famous athletes out on the golf course, mostly famous former athletes.”
It was a Wednesday for the ages at Oakwood Country Club.
Jordan had just won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award when he came to the Pro-Am.
“During the summer, I’m playing a lot because I wanted to get away from the game of basketball for a while. And this is the only way I can take up some time, so I’ve been out playing golf,” Jordan said.
A connection to the Western Open in Chicago brought him to the Quad Cities.
“We were actually his first Pro-Am,” said Jim Epperly, the 1985 Tournament Director. “They personally knew Michael. So Tom [Lenz] put it together with their tournament director, to be in contact with Michael. Then we made that arrangement.”
DeVrieze covered the tournament for the Moline Dispatch.
“I’m sure he didn’t know what he was getting into. Moline, Illinois, Coal Valley, Illinois…sure, I’ll take whatever, $15,000, to play a round of golf,” DeVrieze said via Zoom interview. “He’d never played before crowds like that, and he was just intimidated by having galleries lined up along side him.”
Dozens of autograph seekers met Jordan at the airport. His following became a throng of people by the time he got on the golf course.
20,000 fans showed up to Oakwood to get a glimpse of the Chicago Bulls star. It would be his only appearance at the Quad Cities Open.
“He had said he’d be back next year, and then when we were talking to him he said ‘I can’t do it’,” Epperly said. “10 years later when Hardees dropped out, I called and said ‘you made the phone call haven’t you?’. You’ve got to get a hold of Michael. He promised he’d be back.”
Hardees became the event’s sponsor. Jordan had signed with McDonalds.
“I think the Classic at that point was more than happy to trade a Wednesday with Michael Jordan for nine years of real title sponsorship,” DeVrieze said. “That ended up being the bridge that ultimately carried them to the John Deere Classic.”