UNI grad tees up tournament operations for PGA’s John Deere Classic

UNI grad tees up tournament operations for PGA’s John Deere Classic

Anna Flanders /
Marshal Lamb driving a golf cart

The John Deere Classic annual pro golf tournament is one of the longest standing events on the PGA TOUR calendar. More than 150 golfers participate in the tournament and, last year, attendance for the event was more than 13,000 at any given time. Each year, it provides millions for nonprofit organizations through its Birdies for Charity program. 

At just 27, UNI alum Marshal Lamb has risen through the ranks at the John Deere Classic to become manager of tournament operations. This puts him on a small team that organizes each year’s outing in Silvis, Illinois. 

Lamb’s position requires year-round communication with numerous suppliers and contractors. His planning and communication skills, honed at the University of Northern Iowa, coupled with his own experience as a collegiate golfer, prepared him to perform at a high level. Lamb’s job is a dream come true. Having grown up in the Quad Cities, he has fond memories of attending the John Deere Classic as a child with his father. 

“It’s really special to have seen the John Deere Classic as a bystander who didn’t understand what all went into it as far as TV contracts, electrical work, generators and everything else,” said Lamb. “Now I get to see the whole thing from start to finish, and that’s extremely rewarding.”

In his role, Lamb oversees more than 80 contracts.  He works with vendors on everything that is on the John Deere Classic property during the tournament, from scaffolding to property tenting and everything in between. Because he must communicate with a wide variety of vendors, his strong relationship-building skills are used daily, in person and throughout the budgeting and negotiations phases of the tournament. It is these areas in which Lamb credits his strong UNI education and foundation. 

“Whether it was in a group project or the classroom setting, I learned how to come out of my shell and put myself out there,” he said. “Pursuing new opportunities and meeting new people was really important for me to get to that point.”

Not only was Lamb a golf fan early on, but he began playing golf at the age of eight. By high school, he elected to pause other athletic pursuits to put his energy toward competitive golf. John Panek, a local PGA club pro who attended UNI, connected Lamb with John Bermel, the university’s longtime head golf coach. Lamb had offers to play at other schools, but the relationships he’d already forged at UNI made the decision to attend college in Cedar Falls an easy one. 

The close connections at UNI continued on the golf course, and in the classroom, where he pursued a communication major.

Marshal Lamb golfing

“I wanted to understand people better,” said Lamb. “I wanted to understand how people think and make decisions, and communication allowed me to do that.”

Lamb’s teammates soon became close friends, and those friendships are still strong today. The group will be taking turns being in each others’ weddings (including Lamb’s) in the coming summers.

Lamb admits that even by the time senior year came around, he still wasn’t quite sure what he pictured himself doing for a career. So, after graduating from UNI in 2018, he applied to grad schools and ended up earning his master’s in sports law and business from Arizona State University.

It was during a visit to his hometown while he was still going through his master’s program that he ran into Clair Peterson, the then tournament director for the John Deere Classic who he knew in passing. Peterson suggested Lamb apply for their summer intern position. The following summer, Lamb began what was supposed to be a temporary gig that morphed his career as an integral part of the John Deere Classic staff. 

“I told myself, ‘I’m really enjoying this. I’m going to do whatever I can during this time to make them hire me,’” he said. “I would do as much as I could and always go above and beyond.”

“I told myself, ‘I’m really enjoying this. I’m going to do whatever I can during this time to make them hire me.' I would do as much as I could and always go above and beyond.”

Lamb’s plan worked because he ended up being hired full-time to be a project coordinator. Two years later, he was promoted to the manager of tournament operations.

Being completely immersed in the golf world hasn’t changed Lamb’s love for golf. If anything, being able to form relationships with more people in the golf industry has deepened his passion for the sport.

“I think golf is one of the few things that I can do and just really forget about everything else,” said Lamb. “I also think it's one of the few things that gets me in my flow state.”

That being said, Lamb’s favorite part of his job isn’t the golf itself — it’s the fact that the John Deere Classic gives back to the community.

“Giving back to the community that shaped me is really special,” he said. “I get to see how the decisions I make have an impact on our charitable giving, and that’s very motivating.