This Quad Cities Birdie found her perfect John Deere Classic nest

Micaela Booth
Rock Island resident Micaela Booth, director of the Birdies for Charity program, stands in front of the donor board, Wednesday. June 29, 2022, during Pro-Am day at the John Deere Classic in Silvis. CREDIT JOHN SCHULTZ

Fireworks are hardly a Fourth of July priority for Micaela Booth.

Instead, after a week full of golfing pyrotechnics at the John Deere Classic, a proverbial time bomb goes off on Ms. Booth’s main job for the local PGA Tour stop.

The 31-year-old Sherrard High School grad is in her first year as director of the Birdies for Charity program – having previously worked in a support role to her predecessor Kristy Ketcham Jackson, who retired last October after 19 years running the charitable arm of the fundraising tournament.

“For everyone on staff, tournament week is 90 miles an hour,” Ms. Booth said, noting her chief worry is reminding charities of the Friday deadline for Birdies pledges.

“Once the tournament is over, that is also one of the busiest weeks for Birdies for Charity. It’s when we finalize the rush of last-minute pledges and then turn right around and get invoices out to donors and reports out to charities within seven days of the tournament ending. So, we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.”

Ms. Booth is perfectly suited for her new position as a born juggler.

“I thrive off of a lot of things going off at once, and that’s when I perform best — when there’s a lot of balls in my court — just not the actual ones,” she explained.

“People actually laugh when they hear that I found my way to a job in sports because I really don’t have much athletic ability. I lack coordination, which is funny because I love to coordinate a million tasks at once. But when you ask me to swing a golf club — move my body this way while my arms are going that way, I just kind of shut down.”

The closest Ms. Booth came to sports in high school was acting as a manager for the football team as a freshman and sophomore.

However, she found her stride after transferring between Moline schools — from Black Hawk College to Western Illinois University’s riverfront campus and the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration (RPTA).

Most significantly, the program’s broad course of studies introduced Ms. Booth to non-profit management and special events programming.

That led the 2014 WIU grad to a summer internship for the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District, where she worked on special events such as Gumbo Ya-Ya, Ya Maka My Weekend, and the Rock Island Grand Prix.

Ms. Booth was quickly hired full-time after the internship ended, and less than a year later inherited the top job at The District from another retiring local legend – Catherine Rodgers-Ingles.

“I was so honored to get moved up to her position because she was such a great mentor to me,” Ms. Booth said.

However, the job’s focus shifted away from event management, so Ms. Booth moved to Sales and Marketing late in 2016 at the JDC’s home course, TPC Deere Run.

She hoped her proximity to the local PGA Tour stop would pay off with an opportunity one day with the non-profit tournament’s small but resourceful staff. The chance came even quicker than she had hoped a year later in Dec. 2017 when she started as the office administrator.

“I was the first person you saw at the front desk when you walked in the door,” Ms. Booth said. “I was the first person taking those phone calls and fielding questions. That position gave me the opportunity to really get to know every side of the business.

“Everybody on staff wears a lot of hats – and I joke that I’ve been here four years and I’ve had four different titles. But it’s a great place to find what you’re best at and where you can make the most impact. I am so fortunate because the rest of the staff and the leaders here really pick up on your strengths.”

So, Ms. Booth quickly discovered her calling working on Birdies for Charity.

“I love Birdies because I love details,” said the rural Milan native. “I love to organize, and Birdies has an incredible amount of information that comes in each year. Everything has to be accounted for and organized very cleanly. So, this just fits who I am.”

Ms. Booth proved more than worthy of the new job in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic required the JDC to tweak the PGA Tour’s charity standard – and in turn made the Birdies for Charity program even better.

The changes spearheaded by Ms. Booth started when the usual April Birdies kickoff was postponed — preventing charities from picking up and distributing printed pledge forms for donors to fill out and return.

“We didn’t know if the tournament was going to be canceled for sure,” Ms. Booth said. “But even before it became more likely, it was decided very early on, if that happened, Birdies for Charity would continue. So, we had to address every part of the system.”

Pledge forms were available online for participants still wishing for a printed copy, but most of the nearly 500 local charities participating followed the JDC’s shift to an online donation page where donors receive a receipt instantaneously.

Without a tournament in 2020, Birdies also had to move away from pledges of a penny or two cents for each birdie scored during the JDC and require donations in nice, round, easy-to-calculate numbers.

The American Red Cross used to lend volunteers for the post-tournament cause of data entry, too – but now most donors enter their own data to cut back on that time-consuming work.

“Donors still guess the number of birdies to try and win prizes in the fun, contest portion of the program,” Ms. Booth said. “But we found ways to make it quicker, easier, and more efficient – which is key when you have a staff that’s small in terms of the size of the event.

“I get goosebumps just thinking about the fact we raised more than $12 million for local charities in 2020 despite not even having a tournament. That just goes to show how amazing and generous the Quad Cities community is, and they’re willing to support all of these charities that do good work in our community.”

Considering Ms. Booth’s own good works, she was the first replacement considered when Ms. Ketcham Jackson decided on a retirement timeline before last summer’s JDC.

“It wasn’t a surprise when it came about, but it’s definitely not any less humbling,” Ms. Booth said. “What a legacy she left us. I feel very thankful that the leadership at the John Deere Classic saw in me, even though being young, I was ready for this position. The confidence they had in me was just really amazing. What a great feeling.”

The PGA Tour has recognized the Quad Cities as its most engaged community multiple times over the past two decades because of the Birdies for Charity successes.

That in turn led the JDC to license the name – and now more than a dozen other PGA Tour events use some form of the program for fundraisers in their own markets.

“We are so blessed because we receive so much support,” said Ms. Booth, noting that the October announcement of the Birdies fundraising totals ranks as her favorite day annually.

“All the spectators we get tournament week helps boost the bonus pool for our charities. And John Deere offers a very generous matching grant of $325,000 for all the direct donations and special events throughout the year.

“It’s been a minimum (bonus) of 5%, but it’s been as much as 10%. So, charities are getting $1.05 for every $1 donated to their charity.”

And that makes Ms. Booth’s job especially rewarding as a hometown girl.

“Honestly, the favorite part of what I do is I love driving around and seeing one of our charity organizations has an event,” she said. “I always point out to my family if I hear on TV or see in the newspaper, ‘Hey, that’s one of our Birdies organizations!’

“It’s just so great to see the work they’re doing in the community.”

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