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Former Arabian horse farm is now home to golf course
Illinois Correspondent

MOLINE, Ill. — During the John Deere tractor drive in Moline at the end of June, riders were privy to a visit through the TPC golf course and a presentation about Friendship Farm.

The TPC is where the John Deere Classic golf tournament is played, and it is also near to Deere & Co.’s world headquarters.

The landscape that now serves as an 18-hole, tournament-style course once was home to an Arabian horse breeding operation owned by William and Patricia Hewitt. William Hewitt was the last Deere family member to run the John Deere Co. operations. Patricia Hewitt was John Deere’s great-great granddaughter. The Hewitts owned the farm for more than 40 years.

A note on Hole No. 4 at the TPC golf course reported, “The Hewitt family always respected this land, and felt strongly that its next use should be one that allowed the greatest number of people to enjoy it. A public access golf course fulfilled the family’s wishes. The lone oak in the middle of the fourth fairway is now known as the ‘Hewitt Tree.’ In recognition of the family’s good stewardship, it reminds all who pass it of the responsible land use that has always been a part of this property’s history.”

The presentation for the tractor drive enthusiasts was provided by Mark Saelens, who is the TPC’s supervisor. Mark is the son of the late Frank Saelens, a former John Deere dealer and avid collector of Deere memorabilia. Saelens was a strong supporter of the John Deere Tractor Drive through Moline.

With the land being inhabited in the beginning by Native Americans, there is a burial mound at Hole No. 16. Long after the Indians lived on the land, the first settlers arrived.

“In 1838, the Wilsons from Vermont were the first settlers to the farm,” Saelens said. “They started the first cable ferry crossing on the Rock River. Once the cable was finished, we know that John Deere used the ferry at least once traveling from Grand Detour to Springfield, Ill.”

Over time, the Wilsons built a stone quarry house that still stands and is used as the headquarters of the John Deere Classic and serves as the office of Birdies for Charity, which is sponsored by John Deere. The BFC program is a group of about 400 people that obtain pledges from individual and corporations to benefit charities. Visit for more details on the program.

After the Wilsons died and the land was mined, Katherine and William Butterworth acquired the farm in 1924. Katherine was John Deere’s granddaughter.

“Mr. Butterworth passed on in 1872, and Mrs. Butterworth died in 1936 and had no children,” Saelens added. “Mrs. (Patricia) William Hewitt, the daughter of Charles Deere Wiman, and the grandniece of William Butterworth had their home in Rock Island and used Friendship Farm as a top Arabian horse farm.”

Wanting to keep the land preserved, Saelens said, “The Hewitt children eventually sold it to Deere with the natural setting preserved for the golf tournament course.”

This land now serves as the home of the famous John Deere Classic golf tournament, where John Deere crossed the Rock River at the Wilson’s ferry, and the place that his grand-daughter and great-granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter and family lived on the land.

This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.