How To Help

To contribute to the Ranken Jordan junior golf program or to ask any questions please e-mail me at This blog is not affiliated with Ranken Jordan. The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and not those of Ranken Jordan. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Favorite Things

At this point, for regular readers of this blog, everyone should realize that the one thing I most look forward to every week is Wednesday afternoon.  Most people look forward to a weekend and having the opportunity to wind down for a long week at work.  However golf professionals are different.  Our "weekends" typically fall at some point during the regular work week.  Saturday and Sunday to us means our golf course is busy and we know we will be at work from sunrise to sunset.  However I do not look forward to Wednesday afternoon because it is my normal day off.  I look forward to it for the same reason as the kids at Ranken Jordan:  Golf Day!

Every time I walk through the door at Ranken Jordan it is a great day.  Any opportunity I have to spend time with the kids is a wonderful experience.  During the past 4 1/2 years there it has become obvious that you can never know why it will be a special day.  It could be something as simple as seeing one of our junior golfers smile after making a putt or the laughter that is sure to follow after they hit one of the "human targets."  Other times we will watch 13 year old A.J. reach his goal of learning to walk again or over time watch Cooper progress from hitting golf balls from his hospital bed to wheelchair to walker to being steadied with a gait belt to no assistance at all.  Every day there, just like each one of the kids, is special for its own reason.

Before a recent "Golf Day" got started, I looked up when I heard one of the therapists calling my name.  She was bringing over one of our regular junior golfers, May, who told me she was being discharged to go home very shortly.  May wanted to be certain she saw me before she left and my ear-to-ear smile showed I was thrilled that she did.  Prior to her time at Ranken Jordan she had never touched a golf club.  During her time there she made significant progress and told us she wanted to keep playing after going home.  Every time the golf clubs came out May wanted to hit her favorite red U.S. Kids driver.  To help her continue playing golf after she went home, we made sure May left with her favorite red U.S. Kids driver.  While I was crouched down talking to May (I try to always do that with the kids in wheelchairs so we are looking eye-to-eye) she said she had one more thing to tell me before she went home.  May got this huge smile on her face and suddenly got shy.  One of the therapists who was standing there with us prompted her by asking May what her favorite part of being at Ranken Jordan was.  Her response was short, sweet, and very humbling.  May said "my favorite part of being at Ranken Jordan was learning to play golf."

At that point May had to go finish up a few things so she could go home.  That is probably good so she would not see the tears of joy rolling down from behind my sunglasses!  Moments like this will remain with me forever.  They also show just how important of a role golf can play as a healing tool in the lives of children of all ages.  Golf provided May with the opportunity to learn a new game that she can play for the rest of her life.  It also allowed her to get extra therapy, without realizing that was happening, while smiling, laughing, and having fun with her friends.  Having these wonderful memories that will be treasured forever is an indescribable feeling.  However knowing that golf is playing a small role in the recovery of so many children is on an entirely different level.  While May's favorite part of being at Ranken Jordan was learning to play golf, my favorite thing is watching amazing kids like May get better while learning to play golf.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Tellin' a Story

"I wanted to tell you how inspiring the Best Practices you wrote was.  It was so refreshing to read an article that wasn't solely based on financial gain.  We currently work with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in hosting a fundraising event, but I never thought of doing something in that capacity.  I am going to reach out to our contacts on Monday and discuss this possibility."

"Great to hear about you going to the Children's Hospital for golf clinics! It is all about the smiles! Keep up the great work."

"I really appreciate your article and what you do for the kids at the Children's Hospital.  I'd like to do something similar at our local Children's Hospital as this has definitely been on my heart in helping these kids "forget" about current physical situations for a short period of time."

"Just opened my new PGA Magazine and read the article about your program in the back of the magazine.  I am just so impressed, and it's truly heartwarming to read about something so truly giving--made possible through golf.  My younger brother was born with all kinds of health issues (healthy now, thank goodness) so I have this soft spot for sick little kids.  I don't know of a "best practice" or program that's resonated with me more, ever, than yours. Two thumbs way, way up."

Each of the quotes above came from e-mails I received from fellow PGA Professionals following a recent article in the October issue of PGA Magazine (read the article HERE) and a "Best Practices" e-mail blast that the PGA of America sends out on a weekly basis.  To say these words were very moving would be a gross understatement.  The fact that these PGA Professionals would take the time out of their day to send a message was very much appreciated.  This type of feedback was not limited to just PGA Professionals.  A close friend of mine, unknowingly to me, shared the article on her Facebook page telling me after the fact "I knew you wouldn't share it so I just did it.  I wanted to share something great."  That post, which included a link to the article, was shared dozens of times by golfers and non-golfers alike.  The comments from those shares made it obvious that people were moved by the amount of good being done through golf.

Reading the comments and feedback from professional colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, has been incredible.  It is also one of the results I was hoping we would see from the article and the Best Practice.  When I started the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan in May 2011, I wanted to see a few different things happen.  First and foremost, obviously, was and is to put smiles on the faces of all the kids and help them get better physically and mentally while they are in the hospital and after they go home.  I also wanted to see this program be the impetus that led to the creation of similar programs at other pediatric healing facilities around the country (and world for that matter).  The other thing I have tried to do from the beginning is raise awareness of Ranken Jordan.  With comments coming from across the Midwest and around the country, this has certainly happened.  Ranken Jordan is a unique facility doing miraculous work and it is an honor to be able to share that with other people.

Through everything that has been written about the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan the message has remained the same:  golf is a healing tool.  The stories that were told in the PGA Magazine article and the Best Practice are indicative of the things golf can do to heal someone physically.  Golf also provides mental healing, even though it drives most of us crazy at times!  Watching kids improve physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially through golf has been mind-blowing.  In the past few weeks it has been wonderful to be able to share a small sampling of the way golf can heal with a nationwide audience.  Thank you very much to Sandy Cross from the PGA and Roger Graves from PGA Magazine for making the telling of these stories possible.  As I have said many times in the past, for anyone who wants to learn more and potentially start their own program, please contact me with any questions you may have.  You will quickly arrive at the same realization I did.  Starting a program like this will be the best thing you have done in golf and you will wish you had started it sooner!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Giving Through Education

Having worked at golf courses for over 20 years I am always amazed at the things you hear and the people this game allows you to meet.  People from all walks of life play and enjoy the game of a lifetime.  Every day on golf courses around the globe business deals are being completed, contracts are being signed, and sales are being made, while other people are simultaneously using the game to enjoy time outdoors or unwind from a stressful day at work.  One of the more interesting places to eavesdrop on stories of great shots (real or imagined), trash talking, or debate on the baseball game the night before is the practice area.  Walking around the driving range and talking to golfers on a weekend morning is one of my favorite things to do while at work.

This is just what I was doing one morning of Labor Day weekend when a golfer stopped me and said they wanted to talk to me.  A big part of the reason for spending time on the range is to answer questions about the course, offer a quick tip, or just thank players for coming out to play.  Being stopped is not uncommon but this golfer called me by name and I unfortunately could not recall their name as he was not one of our regular players.  He quickly told me he was in from out of town and this was his first time at Innsbrook.  While he was doing some research on the internet about our golf course he learned of the junior golf program at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital and had some questions about it.  Most of you who have regularly read this blog know that one thing I never have a problem talking about is Ranken Jordan and the amazing kids there.  I gladly answered his questions and during our conversation he told me that prior to coming to play at Innsbrook he had never heard of Ranken Jordan.  While we talked he mentioned he had read almost all of my blog posts (without falling asleep) and asked by name about Cooper, Dakota, Abbey, Catherine, Zyron, and Michael.  He also commented that he looked forward to learning more about Ranken Jordan and planned to do more research on the hospital and the great work that is done there on a daily basis.

This conversation on the driving range was very indicative of how Labor Day weekend went at Innsbrook.  Many but not all golfers know that Labor Day weekend is Patriot Golf Day benefiting the Folds of Honor Foundation (  Started by PGA Professional Major Dan Rooney in 2007, Folds of Honor "provides scholarships and assistance to the spouses and children of those killed or disabled in service to America."  The work done by Major Rooney, Major Ed Pulido, and the entire team at Folds is nothing short of inspirational and heroic.  During Labor Day weekend golfers are asked to donate to Patriot Golf Day so we can provide assistance to those who have given so much for our great Country.  As I mentioned, many but not all golfers know about Patriot Golf Day and Folds of Honor.  Just as I had the conversation with the gentleman about Ranken Jordan, my staff and I had the privilege of raising money for Folds and explaining to whom and why the golfers were donating money.  Please take a few moments to visit the Folds of Honor website by clicking the link above to learn about their Mission, Major Dan & his team, the Patriot Golf Club, becoming a Wingman, and all of the other ways you can support our military heroes.

Raising money for whatever charity is near to you is always a wonderful thing.  However, quite often what is more important is raising awareness for that same charity or charities.  Spreading the word and informing people about charities they likely would be interested in supporting can potentially do far more good than making a financial contribution.  This is another great thing about the game of golf -- the opportunity to raise a significant amount of money and reach a huge number of potential donors in a small amount of time.  Labor Day weekend allowed us the opportunity to tell in excess of 450 golfers about Folds of Honor and Ranken Jordan.  Hopefully those golfers who so generously donated to Patriot Golf Day went home and told their family and friends about the charity they contributed to.  Whether it is Folds of Honor, Ranken Jordan, Tony LaRussa's Animal Rescue Foundation, the V Foundation, or any charity you are passionate about, talk about it.  Spread the word.  Let people know why it is important to support the wide array of charities that are out there.  The more people who know about the charity the more contributions that charity will receive.  You spreading the word and helping to bring in more financial contributions mean more people (and animals) get the help they need.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Children Get A Chance

Beginning something new can be a very daunting challenge for anybody.  Think about the last time you decided to pick up a new hobby or start a new job.  Imagine not being a runner and signing up for a half-marathon.  Do you think the training plan to complete the 13.1 mile run will be very intimidating?  Maybe you have been watching PGA Tour events on television and the Get Golf Ready commercials finally convinced you to find a PGA Professional and learn how to play golf.  The first time you walk onto the driving range you very likely will still be a bit tentative.  Now imagine you want to learn how to play golf but you are in a wheelchair or a hospital bed . . . and in a pediatric hospital.  You would likely think this should be virtually impossible, correct?  Wrong.  Every week this very thing is happening and those children who experience the tentativeness quickly fall in love with the game.

Golf is an incredible game for a myriad of reasons.  One of those is the opportunity for everybody to learn to play the game, play the game well, and be competitive on a level playing field.  These are all some of the things we discuss with the children at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital in St. Louis, MO.  Quite often we see kids who are hesitant to pick up a golf club and learn the game of a lifetime.  It is not uncommon to hear things like "I can't play golf in my wheelchair" or "these tubes and cords will get in the way while I swing."  The hesitation and uncertainty that they have is easy to see.  Many times the kids will just sit and watch for a portion of the clinic or even through the entire clinic.  However it is not long before the smiles and laughter from the other kids entices them to grab a golf club.

This is exactly what happened recently with a young lady who initially had no interest in learning to play golf.  She would come to the clinics to watch the other kids, but spent most of the time talking to the therapists or playing games on her phone.  Two or three weeks of the same scenario played out until one day she asked if she could give it a try for a few swings.  A few swings turned into about an hour of hitting golf balls!  What initially began as an unwillingness to even give golf a try from her wheelchair turned into a full-blown golf addict.  Several weeks after first picking up a golf club Carissa was ready to go home.  When she left Ranken Jordan she did so with a brand new U.S. Kids driver.

While reading this you might be thinking to yourself, "how in the world can a child hit a golf ball or even swing a club from a wheelchair or with pulse/ox monitors, feeding tubes, or breathing tubes?"  The physics behind getting a golf ball in the air do not change regardless of who is hitting it.  What changes is how the player gets the golf club to the proper position to produce a good golf shot.  With many of the kids at Ranken Jordan that is where a bit of creativity, and trial and error, comes into play.  Go to any driving range or golf course and you will see every play setting up differently to hit the golf ball.  The same is true with people with different abilities.  There is no one "correct" way for a child to position their wheelchair to hit a golf ball.  Every child has a slightly different position that feels comfortable to them.  With each child we find the best position for them, often times this varies from week to week, and sometimes can even be from the other side of the golf ball!

Hang around golfers for very long and you will likely hear them talk about "the secret" to the game.  So what is "the secret" to teaching golf to medically complex children in a pediatric hospital?  Very simple:  Give them the opportunity to learn and do it with a smile on your face.  Having the opportunity is the biggest hurdle to clear.  As an industry, we need to do a better job of welcoming all players to our golf facilities.  Everybody should have the opportunity to play this great game but unfortunately that is not always the case.  I feel very lucky to be able to offer this opportunity to all of the kids who spend any time at Ranken Jordan.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hidden In Plain Sight

Over the past couple of months I have been asked by several people why I am not putting up new blog posts as frequently as I was in previous years.  The simple answer to that is it is golf season and I am a PGA Professional.  However there are also those days when I sit down at the computer with the intent of writing a new blog post and my feeble little mind goes completely blank.  Then there are the times like the topic I am going to attempt to write about in this post.  Quite often I will see or hear something at Ranken Jordan that I immediately think I want to write about.  However after a bit of thought I realize that I do not possess the ability to adequately discuss that particular topic.  That is the case with this one but I am going to give it a shot anyway.

A couple of months ago I was at Ranken Jordan one evening for an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of being in their current building at 11365 Dorsett Road.  During that event Ranken Jordan's President & CEO, Lauri Tanner, and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Nick Holekamp, gave amazing speeches.  Every time I hear them speak I am blown away by their eloquence and passion for helping medically complex children.  That night one of them discussed the significance of the address and I have thought about it daily since hearing the explanation.  I mentioned that address just a few sentences earlier:  11365.  What is so significant about those 5 digits?  Think about it for a minute.  1 mission, 1 child at a time, 365 days a year = 11365.  Want to know what Ranken Jordan does and what makes them so unique?  You can see it on the side of the building every time you pull into the parking lot.

Hopefully our junior golf program lives up to that lofty standard.  I certainly hope that it does.  In the weeks and months that have followed hearing that explanation while in the PHRS gym at Ranken Jordan, I have frequently reflected back on the past 4 1/2 years since we started the junior golf program.  While my opinion is slightly biased, I believe we have met, and continue to meet, that standard.  One of the kids I think about was one of our "regulars" a couple of years ago.  Because of a recent surgery he was confined to his hospital bed while he recovered.  Many might think that would slow him down and prohibit him from playing golf.  All those people would be wrong.  One morning his grandmother was visiting him and she came with him to golf.  She even commented to me that "he can't play golf from his hospital bed."  I got a big grin on my face and said simply, "watch this."  After watching him hole a few putts she was not convinced so he moved on to hitting some wedges.  Apparently those wedges were not enough proof so he started hitting some drivers.  That seemed to do the trick and while she looked on with a combination of pride and disbelief, she smiled and said, "my grandson is playing golf from his hospital bed."

Many of the kids come to play golf in hospital beds, wheelchairs, or walkers, and have gait belts, pulse/ox machines, casts, braces, stitches, staples, etc.  We have children come to "Golf Day" with a myriad of complex medical conditions.  Every one of them gets a golf club in their hands, receives instruction on how to swing the club, and then they hit some of the most impressive golf shots I have ever seen.  Thousands of golf shots have been hit at Ranken Jordan and thousands more will be hit in the future.  The best part of all of those shots are the smiles on the faces of the children swinging the golf clubs. When I first approached Janine Roe about starting this program we both had the same goal:  put smiles on the faces of the kids.  Through all of the good shots, "practice swings," and holed putts, the children have smiled.  Many times while helping and watching the kids I will look at Janine or one of the other volunteers/golf professionals and just smile.  Words are not necessary to convey the significance of watching Carissa bang drivers off the windows or seeing Tony make another putt.  Mrs. Jordan was correct when she said "consider the children first in all that you do."  I am proud to say our golf program does just that.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A New Start

This past Monday was the annual Ranken Jordan golf tournament.  Every year I am amazed by the incredible outpouring of support from the community for one of my favorite places.  I tend to smile quite a bit during that day as I think about all the funds being raised that will do so much good in giving kids their lives back.  This year there was a great turnout and everybody was treated to a new tradition. For those who know me best, they know that my favorite week of the year culminates the second weekend of April.  Many might think it would be the week prior to coincide with what is typically Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  However there is nothing I look forward to more each year than the Masters golf tournament.

Beginning in 1963, the Masters has had a tradition of having honorary starters begin the tournament early on Thursday morning.  Jock Hutchinson and Fred McLeod were the original two who held the position of honorary starters.  Currently Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player, hit my three favorite golf shots of the year when they officially start the Masters.  At this year's Ranken Jordan tournament we had our own "Big 3" as Sam Ward, Michael Tekeser (Mikey T.), and Jessie Rodriguez performed the duties of our honorary starters.  Just as you can see Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and other PGA Tour players gather around to watch the tee shots at Augusta National, the players in this year's Ranken Jordan tournament gathered at the first tee to watch a new tradition.  Everyone was rewarded by seeing our very own honorary starters rip a drive down the first fairway leading to the Ranken Jordan event being officially started!

A new tradition begins!
As our honorary starters were hitting their tee shots, I made it a point to look around to see the reactions from the golfers who had gathered to watch.  I was thrilled to see every person with a smile on their face.  Some of those smiling faces were like me and also had tears in their eyes.  The tears in my eyes came when I looked at each of the kids.  Seeing the look of pure joy on the faces of our "Big 3" is something that I will never forget.  Those who saw the three tee shots had the reason why they were playing in this tournament driven home in a spectacular way.  It underscored what "care beyond the bedside" is all about.  As everyone returned to their golf carts to head out to their respective starting hole on the golf course, I saw and heard very similar reactions from the golfers.  Many were simply silent, lost in thought at the amazing sight they had just witnessed.  Others spoke softly as they expressed how fortunate they felt to have been there to witness this great new tradition.

Memphis, TN native and former Ranken Jordan day treatment patient Sam Ward watching another drive go right down the middle of the fairway.
My feelings on that hot July day were very similar to those of the golfers I just described observing.  However I am always amazed by the incredible kids at Ranken Jordan and feel fortunate to get to spend the amount of time I do with them. Folks who spend time helping kids from any walk of life understand these feelings.  If you have never had the opportunity to give a little to experience a huge return I encourage you to create that opportunity.  Everyone has a charity or group in their area who would welcome the help.  And if you do not want to take the time to locate a charity to help, use the e-mail address at the top of the page to get in contact with me and I will find one for you.  There is nothing more rewarding than putting a smile on the face of a child.  Every day at 11365 Dorsett Road you see Mary Ranken Jordan's favorite words in action; at the annual golf tournament those words were also on display:  "Consider the children first in all that you do."

Mikey T. is everywhere!  Here he is "watching" over Ranken Jordan CEO Lauri Tanner's group as they line up a birdie putt.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Volunteers Provide Success

Far too often I sit down in front of the computer to write a new blog post and wind up staring at a blank screen.  Sometimes I am distracted by the Cardinals game and get caught up watching it instead of what I had intended to do.  Other times my brain is fried from successive long days in the golf shop.  Yet other times I simply cannot decide what I want to write about.  When you spend regular time in a pediatric hospital interacting with the kids on a consistent basis you have so many stories swirling around in your head that you have a difficult time prioritizing which ones to tell first.  Every week at Ranken Jordan I am learning something new from the kids or a golfer will come into the golf shop and inquire about the junior golf program.  Typically these occurrences are ones that I want to elaborate on and tell the full story on this blog.  Unfortunately I am not smart enough to write down the ideas when they pop into my small mind!

One of the topics that I always enjoy writing about and sharing with others is the reaction from new volunteers the first time they come to Ranken Jordan to help with the junior golf program.  Regardless of who it is, their background, or what they do for a living, they all have the same initial reaction:  "we're in a hospital?"  When you pull into the parking lot at 11365 Dorsett Road you do not believe you are looking at a pediatric hospital.  Walking through the front doors does nothing to change that feeling.  Ranken Jordan does not look or feel like a typical pediatric hospital because it is not a typical pediatric hospital.  It is a unique facility with unique, special doctors, nurses, therapists, staff, patients, families, and volunteers.  This point becomes evident to those new visitors almost immediately.  "Care beyond the bedside" is not a slogan; it is a belief that has been carried out since day 1.

Recently I have had the good fortune to introduce several new volunteers to Ranken Jordan.  Thanks to their willingness to share their time and compassion with the kids, these wonderful people have learned why I am so passionate about Ranken Jordan and why I believe so strongly that golf is a healing tool.  Prior to the start of the golf clinics, I share with all new volunteers the same thoughts about the golf program that I have shared on here in the past.  This program is not a typical junior golf program.  Each child derives a different type of benefit from learning to play golf.  Quite often there are multiple benefits for the children.  Yes the kids learn how to play golf but that part is secondary to other more important benefits.  The physical, social, and emotional healing and improvements they get from learning to play golf and being involved with a sport far outweigh learning how to get the optimum launch angle with their driver or get a putt rolling perfectly.

The people who come to Ranken Jordan to help with the junior golf program see how important "play" is to the healing of children.  For lack of a more eloquent way of saying this, they get it.  They see how important it is to put a smile on a child's face, get them to laugh, or teach them something new.  More importantly, they see how great of an impact they can have by simply carving a little niche out of their schedule to spend some time with the kids.  That is the real reason why the junior golf program is so successful.  It is not because we can teach the game to the kids at the hospital regardless of the complex medical condition they are fighting.  Simply put, the program is successful because wonderful people, both inside and outside the hospital, care enough to take the time to do anything they can to put a smile on the face of a child.  I may be the one who presented the idea to Janine Roe and the folks at Ranken Jordan, but the reason for the week in and week out success of the program lies with each and every person who has given of their time to help a child in need.  For that I cannot say "thank you" enough.